Monday, December 27, 2010
*** *** ***
A SUNDAY IN PARK SLOPE
One Sunday in July, I was reacquainted with the
part of Brooklyn where I taught school from 1964
to 1979. Then it was a sleepy old area with no
place to eat lunch; now it's a vital community
repletewith wonderful eateries.
Park Slope is a neighborhood originating at the
northern edge of Prospect Park, sloping down to
the Gowanus Canal including some of the most
glorious brownstone row houses and other
dwellings of the same vintage. The 526-acre park
of this neighborhood's moniker encompasses
rolling meadows, scenic bluffs, a 50-acre lake,
Brooklyn's last remaining woodlands, a rocky
ravine, and a zoo. It also boasts a 1912 carousel
and a 1905 boathouse.
Clad in my Reeboks and the scantiest exercise
clothing I dared to wear in public, I eagerly
embarked on an early morning aerobic walk
around the historic tree lined park drive. Absent
vehicles allowed changing traffic lights to be
disregarded as I perambulated in a peaceful blend
of quiet infused with Sunday morning activity.
Hushed by the weekend lack of engines, the road
teemed with multitudes of people of all ages,
colors, ethnic backgrounds, physical conditions,
Bicycle teams whirled by in brightly colored logo
shirts revealing wetl-defined muscles. Kick boxers
punched the breeze dreaming of bouts to be won.
A synchronized roller blade trio was
choreographing a new routine. Dog walkers
chatted affectionately to their "best friends."
Babies in aerodynamic carriages, pushed by
hurried jogging mothers, slept peacefully as the
breeze whooshed by their soft faces.
Armies of people were strolling, walking, jogging,
race walking, running or trotting. They had dread
locks, pony tails, shaved heads, bald heads, and
earphoned heads. Some had washboard
stomachs, some cellulite thighs. Some with
pregnant bellies were covered from head to toe in
observance of Orthodox Jewish modesty; others
were bouncing braless with no modesty
whatsoever. A profusion of sweaty, panting racers dashed as
if in a high speed police chase. In the field, soccer
players called out in Italian, Spanish, Greek, and
occasionally English. Stimulated by a smell of
horse manure, chirping birds, rustling leaves,
whirring bike wheels, purring roller blades,
blurring bright colored team shirts, panting and
grunting strenuous runners, and multilingual
chattering, I absorbed the refreshing atmosphere
of a renaissanced neighborhood on the move.
The sky darkened, foretelling rain, and exercisers
were on their way to the New York Times and
good bagels, content to hobble down Carroll
Street mopping perspiration from exposed skin.
leaf laden branches outside the wrought iron
gated ground floor window started to sway. A
pristine brownstone awaited afternoon visitors,
steak was defrosting on the slate kitchen counter,
fresh com from the Grand Army Plaza Green
Market awaited shucking, and the grill cover was
off and folded.
"Slopers" are the new Greenwich Villagers. Their
neighborhood became a reflection of their
diversity and grew into a lively, interesting
environment. Historic gems such as the Brooklyn
Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
and Museum, and the Grand Army Plaza library
provide culture that rivals any similar resources.
Restaurants and shops are the equal of the best
in the city. Wealthy families live in two million
dollar homes on the park blocks. Access to
Manhattan is easy. The schools are good, ethnic
foods are plentiful,·and they have a Barnes and
Noble and an Office Depot. I might like working in
that neighborhood again, were I not retired and
living in Florida!
*** *** ***
Thumbs Down on Pro Football
While I cannot deny that the games on TV are very enjoyable, I really cannot bring myself to root for, or be a fan of, any of the professional football teams. Why? The bottom line is that professional football has crossed the line from being a sport, like basketball or baseball, to what amounts to an exercise in controlled violence. Sure, the players are so highly skilled and such magnificent performers that almost any team can come from behind and win a thrilling victory! That’s why they are fun to watch. But I cannot see why anyone would enthusiastically root for, or be a “loyal” fan of any team made up of overachieving, overweight and overpaid professional athletes whose stock in trade, when you get down to it, is violence. These players are out to win, and to do so, they must physically attack their opponents. They are well versed in precisely how far they can go in hurting an opposing player without incurring a penalty. Life expectancy for retired professional football players is turning out to be diminished and the controlled violence of the sport is the reason.
College football at the BCS level is no different. Teams from major conferences such as the SEC, the Big Ten, the Big Twelve, etc. are really training grounds for the professional teams. Their games are just as violent as those in the professional NFL and that is what the pro scouts look for. The major difference between fans of the pro game and fans of the BCS college game is that the latter have some justification for their enthusiastic support of the sport because they attend or once attended the institution fielding the team. On the other hand, merely residing or coming from the Oakland area, for example, is not a real justification for someone being an avid Raiders fan.
Drop down one level, however, to teams like the Mid America Conference’s University of Toledo and the Sun Belt Conference’s Florida International University. These teams, from which the professional teams will probably draft few if any players, recently met in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl game, won by FIU, 34 to 31 with a last second field goal. Although the players weren’t at the proficiency level of the pros or the BCS teams, it was by far one of the best games I have ever seen and I found myself rooting for both teams interchangeably, as the lead changed hands repeatedly in the last quarter. I’ll take FIU versus Toledo any time over the New England Patriots versus the Philadelphia Eagles or Oregon’s Webfeet versus Auburn’s Tigers. In fact, other than not being able to view them on TV, even watching a small college like Muhlenberg take on another small school like Franklin & Marshall or Gettysburg can be very enjoyable too, particularly if you don't mind driving to Pennsylvania.
*** *** ***
A WEEK AT CHAUTAUQUA
Suzanne J. Wertheim
The Chautauqua Institution is not only hard to spell
but has an off-putting connotation. It's not what the
word "institution" implies. I need eighteen words to
do it justice .. Here goes: charming resort, music conservatory,
college campus, repertory theater, summer
music festival, Victorian village, spiritual retreat
and dance festival.
With its beginning as a Protestant summer retreat for
teachers and clergy to study and to be refreshed, it
grew in 131 years into a rich, ecumenical atmosphere
and fosters a wide range of learning and entertainment.
Now designated as a National Historic Landmark, a different
theme is programmed for each week of the nine-week summer calendar.
The Institution is a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center
beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York
State, where approximately 7,500 persons are in
residence on any day during the season, and a total
of over 142,000 attend scheduled public events.
Over 8,000 students enroll annually in the Chautauqua
Summer Schools that offer courses in art, music,
dance, theater, writing skills, and. a wide variety
of special interests.
The village is navigated almost entirely on foot and
bicycle. Magnificent historic homes sport wicker furniture
on expansive porches where vases of multicolored
gladiolas are an accustomed sight. Imposing
Victorian-style homes peer down gracefully sloping
hills to the lake. Bestor Square is the center of
activity, calling to participants of all ages to enjoy the
tranquillity of strolling on the grass or reposing on a
bench. There's a 5,000-seat amphitheater and indoor
theaters for operas and plays. Music students
can be heard plying their talent in small practice
structures or planted somewhere on the square, for
passers-by to enjoy.
The Chautauquan Daily prints the most accurate
schedule for two days at a time. Every morning at
10:45, a speaker of renown lectures on a topic related
to the weekly theme. Approximately 100 lecturers
appear at Chautauqua during a season. My
daily morning ritual of a walk to the Farmers' Market
rewarded me with luscious, homegrown tomatoes
and lovingly baked morning breads and pastries,
In the space of one week, I attended three symphonic
concerts, an opera, a play and a chamber
music performance. All were excellent. I also ran
into my junior- high-schoo! science teacher who
spends the whole summer there in residence at the
historic Athenaeum Hotel.
A friend says Chautauqua is for nerds. l was there
and I'm not a nerd. However, for one week, I was
immersed in delicious culture and tailored my attire
to be plain and unadorned. Up-to-the-minute styles,
jewelry and makeup were best left at home. Sneakers
worked well all day, every day. Chautauqua is
not about food, 50 dining choices are minimal. We
did picnic lunches at the lake and made oatmeal for
breakfast in the microwave in our spartan hotel
I've only touched on what this special environment
offers. To get into all of its purposes and activities
would fill many pages. If you want to know more
about this unusual place, go to www.ciweb.org,
There you can read about the history of how Chautauqua
started and grew into what it is today. You'll
find out about its fine and performing arts schools,
the weekly themes that were scheduled during the
recent season, all the performers who appeared, the
lecturers who spoke, and much more.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
*** *** ***
When I was going to elementary school, I recall the stage curtain in the school auditorium having been adorned with the words “JOYEUX NOEL” during the holiday season. Few of us spoke French, and perhaps putting the message in that language was supposed to be an incentive for us to study that language when we went on to high school. In any event, some of us didn’t have the slightest idea what the words meant. And this confusion was augmented by the way the folds and draping of the hanging curtain obscured and distorted some of the letters, in particular, the lower portion of the “E” in “JOYEUX.” Resultantly, to some of our ten and eleven year old eyes, the words on the curtain read “JOY FUX NOEL.”
Now there were a couple of girls in the fifth grade named Joy. Could this be referring to one of them, we wondered. But there wasn’t anybody in the school that we knew of named Noel. Maybe Noel didn’t even go to Peshine Avenue School. Possibly he went to Saint Charles Borromeo School just down the street. But why would the auditorium teachers who were responsible for the curtain even put this message on it? Why would they bother to announce Joy’s habits to the entire assembly?
These were the thoughts that went through my head as the Assistant Principal, or whoever was speaking, droned on about something which failed completely to hold the attention of the fourth and fifth graders who were more concerned with what they were planning to do over the Christmas-New Year school holiday.
Joyeux Noel to all of you.
*** *** ***
“Good morning, Charlotte,” I said as I placed her breakfast tray on the overbed table beside her bed. “Do you want your breakfast now?”
Charlotte fluttered her eyes open, gazed groggily up at me, and mumbled “Not just now. But would you please take the plastic wrapping off the dishes for me?”
“Of course. How about I cut up the sausage patty and the peaches? Shall I butter your bagel?”
“Sure” she answered softly as she struggled to fully awaken. “Would you open the milk carton and the cold cereal too? I have such trouble with the arthritis in my fingers.”
As I began to prep her food, I announced, “My name is Sid. I’m one of the volunteers here. Do you need me to feed you?”
Fully awake now she smiled and with an impish glint in her eyes quipped, “No. I can still do that by myself. But it is sure a delight to have a tall, good-looking man serving me breakfast in bed. Nobody has ever cut up my food for me like this. What a treat!”
As I elevated the head of the bed to a sitting position, placed a towel across her chest as a bib, and held the carton of orange juice for her to sip, I took note that she was somewhere in her 70’s, quite attractive, and sported a perky, naturally grey bob hairdo. “Must have been a beauty in her youth”, I thought.
Her sharp mind engaged me with continued banter and orders…”Position the TV so that I can reach the controls. Open the new can of diet coke; the old one is flat. I love your eyebrows.”
For the next few minutes the foreboding reality of her situation dissolved, and we were two strangers bantering gently…just being kind to each other. I sensed that she felt the connection between us as I did. It was another instance of magic that can manifest, even in a hospice care center, when thoughts of past and future are trumped by the power of now.
With some sense of reluctance we part company…she to engage her breakfast, me to bring trays to other patients.
When I return later to check on her progress, Charlotte is all smiles and cheerfully chirps, “”I’m so glad you came back. I wanted you to see me with my dentures in place. I’m still vain enough to feel embarrassed that I didn’t have them in when we met earlier. Thank you so much for making me feel like royalty.”
We gaze silently at each other…each knowing that in the coming weeks her slide into the end of the rainbow will deepen, and soon I would be just leaving her tray with no need to unwrap the food.
But for now we had shared moments of magic.
Friday, December 24, 2010
ANOTHER CHRISTMAS TALE
With the onset of evening three foreign kings, who were worn out and at the end of their tether, sauntered into view, each leading a heavily laden mule. For weeks they had been walking up and down mountains, valleys, and across streams, spurred on by prophecy. The royal trio were on a quest, led by a bright Star which they’d been following from their land to the east. Would tonite reward them with success?
Now, as midnight approached, the weather turned. There were no more signs and wonders, just the beginning of a heavy snow fall. No use looking for guidance from the Star. They came to a town. Where to now?
Coming upon an inn at the towns’ center, they entered. They asked the inn keeper if he’d recently seen travelers. “Yes,” he said, “A woman riding a donkey came by a while ago, led by her husband. She was heavy with child.”
“They wanted a room, but they had no money. So I sent them on their way.” Joined by some of the late night patrons, he laughed coarsely.
The scowl on the face of one of the kings cut off his laughter. “Too bad. We would have paid their fare.” The king took a large gold coin and flipped it. The inn keeper’s eyes followed its trajectory and he reached to intercept it. But the hand of the king was faster and it disappeared into his maw. “Yes, too bad.”
The trio left the stunned man and went back outside. One remarked “Be not surprised. Didn’t the prophet warn that eyes would not see and ears would not hear.” Another spoke. “Let us pray that God gives us a sign or else all this effort is for naught.”
Very slowly they took hold of their mules, laden with gifts, and began walking. But to where? Snow fell and in its soft white blanket all was still. Then one of the men said “Listen. I hear barking.” The other two stopped and strained to hear. “Yes, me too. And it also sounds like a cat is meowing. ” And the third exclaimed how the barking and meowing were getting louder. Was this a sign?
They stopped as the intensity of the commotion grew louder. Then, through the swirling white powder they saw a calico dog and a calico cat charging up to them. Pooch and Kitty Kat started circling around the trio, barking and meowing with all their might. Then, having gotten the trio’s attention they darted off, down one of the streets. The trio started following, hoping that this was what they’d been seeking. Every now and then Pooch and Kitty would stop, turn to see that the men were on track, and start off again, barking and meowing.
They trod about a mile, through the business area, the residential area, and toward farmland. Beyond the last farm there was a snow covered field. Because the snow had suddenly abated they could see a hut in the distance. From the hut came a glow. As they got closer, the royal entourage saw it was a place to house the cows. The light from the glow was soft and adequate. They saw sheep, four kneeling shepherds, and some cows standing by. The sheep were bleating. The cattle were lowing. And as they came round to the front the royal trio saw a man, and a mother, with her new born child, The glow, radiating brilliance, came from the child.
As the kings knelt in awe and reverence to the new born King, the promised Messiah, Pooch and Kitty Kat snuggled up to the babe and licked His face. He laughed with glee.
One king spoke, saying “Here He is, the Prince of peace, born to lead us to a better world. Isn’t it curious that the dog, cat, sheep, cows and shepherds recognized Him, while people of the world, like the inn keeper didn’t?” Would you?
** ** **
Another Take on the Three Kings
The other night, on one of the educational channels on TV (History, Discovery, National Geographic ... I forget which), I saw a "documentary" which Harvey's story brings to mind. It seems that about 700 years ago some monks wrote a book entitled "The Revelation of the Magi." It is a very rare document, and I believe the original copy is in the collection of the Vatican Library in Rome. In any event, the book describes the three kings as seeing an enormously bright star in the heavens from which a golden baby emerged, descending to earth ... and this was the baby Jesus. The TV program included illustrations from the book. This is a little different from the traditional story of the three kings but it was the way a medieval monk related it.
There are many forms which the Japanese poetry style known as “haiku” takes. The easiest to compose usually describes something in nature, with five syllables in the first and third lines, and seven in the middle line. They need not rhyme. An example might be:
Snowflakes will not grow
Into three foot drifts if they
Land upon your tongue.
But a haiku can be about anything you wish. Try writing some (in that 5-7-5 pattern) and send them to this blog at the E-mail address indicated in the heading. Here are a few ideas.
If your feet are cold,
That’s what you get for wearing
Sandals in the snow.
Banks too big to fail
Can do exactly that if
Uncle Sam allows.
Monday, December 13, 2010
** ** **
A Moment in Time
Who is the child captured in the seventy-six-year-old picture
The one so engrossed in his one-year-old birthday cake
And what to make of the nine relatives surrounding him
His parents, grandfather, uncle, aunts, cousins
Oblivious to what is to occur ten months later
Unknowing of what is to befall them
All stare into the camera, the silent witness
To this celebration, this moment in time
To become known as “the time before”
In the stories told and retold to the child
By the twenty-four-year-old widow to be
** ** **
People without steady employment have difficulty paying for housing, be it rental accommodations or a mortgaged home, subject to foreclosure. They also have difficulty putting food on the table for their families. Unemployment benefits are a temporary help, but they are rarely enough to cover more than the basic necessities. When a search for a way of earning a living repeatedly hits a brick wall, public assistance (welfare) can be turned to, recognizing the sad fact that for the unemployed, once whatever savings they have are exhausted, poverty becomes a permanent way of life. Many Americans today lay awake at night thinking about nightmares such as this.
Here in beautiful South Florida in a county which advertises that it has “The Best of Everything,” almost 12% of families have incomes below the poverty level, more than 45,000 homes are in foreclosure and the unemployment rate exceeds 12%. The people are hurting. We close our eyes to much of this and watch American Idol or whatever NFL game is on TV. But the people are still hurting out there.
They were beginning to feel the pain back in 2008 when they elected Barack Obama to be our 44th President. But that didn’t stop the pain from growing worse. We have no guarantees that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives will do anything to stop America from hurting either.
History teaches us that when situations like this exist, the people become restless and uneasy. They begin to wonder if they can do anything to allay their feeling of helplessness. In today’s world, Hamlet’s thought of taking “arms against a sea of troubles” is impracticable for them, even with our Constitution’s Second Amendment behind them. People in such circumstances will take rash actions, including following leaders who offer solutions, often radical ones, to their problems. This is the story behind the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. Without a “hurting” populace, neither would have succeeded. Robespierre and Lenin both offered solutions which included overthrowing and killing those in power. Despots in power today in Cuba and Venezuela got to where they are because the poverty-stricken people in those countries had nowhere else to turn. It was the same story in Argentina where Evita Peron gained the support of the “descamisados” (the shirtless ones) to put her husband, Juan, in power.Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have a true rapport with America’s increasingly large number of “descamisados.” Bill Clinton often said “I feel your pain,” but I doubt that he really did. The greatest danger in America today is that someone will come to power because of the people out there who are “hurting” and will turn to anyone to relieve their pain. The Germans did this in 1932, and didn’t know what they were buying into until it was too late.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
There are too many varying theories explaining the mechanics of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in our world for us to be able to find a basic and immutable truth underlying what we call “economics.” Unlike the accepted principles underlying such bedrocks of the physical sciences as Newton’s Law of Gravity or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, economic theory rests on mushy, ever-changing and often diametrically opposed principals put forth by renowned economists with diverse viewpoints. Well, Merlin the Magician was renowned too, and look what happened to the Knights of the Round Table.
Look what is going on in Washington. We are in a recession. Our national debt is astronomical and increasing daily. Should we raise taxes to deal with it, or lower taxes and cross our fingers. We have to get people back to work. For that we need jobs. We have to keep up the value of our currency. Or do we? And “entitlement” programs such as Medicare and Social Security are costing too much … but no one wants to cut them, at least in this generation.
Listen to the economic theory being used to justify dealing with these problems. Is there real and long-term agreement between the Federal Reserve Chairman, the Secretary of the Treasury, the President and both Houses of Congress as to what do? Frankly, I think they are throwing globs of mud at a wall hoping some of it will stick. That is what listening to economists will do. So we should stop listening to them, all of them! Unless you are in the market for a formula for an elixir to turn sand into gold.
The recession can be ended by creating jobs. Employed people will consume, spending money and pay taxes and then, everything else will fall into place. Jobs are the answer, the only answer.
The way to accomplish this is to bring back the millions of jobs which have been outsourced to lower cost labor countries. The simplest was to do this would be to put high tariffs on imported goods. Who would pay $70,000 for an imported car when a similar car made in this country could be bought for $25,000? Who would pay $100 for an imported shirt when a similar one produced here costs $40?
But “economists” will tell you that such “protectionism” won’t work; it will lessen the amount of dollars going overseas which are ultimately used to buy American goods and cause foreign countries to put up tariff walls against our products. It would mess up international trade. Such practices were tried in the 30’s (Smoot-Hawley Tariff) and failed! And all of this is correct, except for the fact that the present way of doing things is destroying the United States of America.
We are not that far from the collapse of our country's economic system (it almost happened in 2008 when we almost lost our banking system) and the dropping of our standard of living to that of a third world country … or worse. Look around at what is happening here. Sooner or later, the government will recognize this and find some sugar-coated way of instituting enough “protectionism” in our laws to save our country.
** ** **
And here's a short story I wrote six years ago. I hope you enjoy it.
“Mary, I’ve been thinking about Cheryl. It’s been three years since the accident and it might be good for her to start getting out socially. Your sister can’t live in the past forever.”
Looking at Tom, she knew he was right. Since that spring evening three years ago when Cheryl’s husband and their fifteen year old daughter were killed coming back from a cheerleading competition in an accident with a drunken driver, she had understandably withdrawn into a shell, immersing herself in her job, and doing little else.
“I know,” Mary replied. “Do you think we might take her out to dinner, and bring someone along for her? Oh, we wouldn’t surprise her. I’d talk to her up front, of course, and so long as we’re there, she might go along with it. It’s worth a try.”
“I think so,” Tom nodded.
“Do you have anyone in mind,” she inquired.
“Come to think of it, I do,” Tom answered. “There’s that new lawyer with the firm. I think he’s divorced and from what I know about him, he’s a nice guy. I’ve worked on a few projects with him and we’ve gone to lunch a few times too. I don’t think he has any serious attachments going, either.”
Mary’s face lit up. “Are you talking about the fellow who drove you home a couple of months back when your car wouldn’t start? Very impressive looking guy.”
“Yes, that’s the one. And if it’s okay with you, I’ll speak to him tomorrow, and you can touch base with Cheryl.”
And so it was that the following Thursday evening, Mary and Tom picked up a freshly coiffed Cheryl and drove to the restaurant they had carefully selected where they would meet Doug Ferris. He was waiting at the bar when they arrived, and took his drink with them to the table overlooking the riverfront which Mary had specially asked for.
While the food was fine, the evening wasn’t working out as well as they had hoped it would. After Tom introduced Doug to Cheryl, and reintroduced him to Mary, everything rapidly went downhill. No matter in what direction Mary and Tom steered the conversation, and even when Doug made a few jokes about his prior marriage, which broke up when his wife ran off with a Hungarian nobleman, nothing seemed to help. Cheryl was stony-faced, unresponsive and about as talkative as an iceberg. She nibbled at her food and looked downward most of the time. That’s why, after dessert and coffee, Mary and Tom where shocked when Cheryl, seemingly awakening from the stupor in which she had been all evening, turned to Doug.
“Doug,” she said, “I’m having a wonderful time, but I do have to get to work in the morning. I think we all do. So, without my being the party-pooper, can I suggest that we all call it a night? Mary and Tom have really gone out of their way to make this a fun night, and I don’t want to inconvenience them even a bit more, so could you drive me home? I’d just love that. Really”!
Tom and Mary, still a bit dumbfounded, took care of the check as Cheryl and Doug walked out of the restaurant, arm in arm.
Once in Doug’s car, and out of the parking lot, Cheryl turned to him brusquely. “Mr. Ferris. I recognize you, but I don’t think you’ve recognized me yet.””
He fixed his eyes on her for a moment. “Have we met before this evening?” he asked.
“Yes”, she said. “You were the defense attorney for the murderer who killed my husband and daughter three years ago. You got that rotten bum off with three years probation and I lost my family. I’ll never forget the smirk on that bastard’s face in the courtroom after the judge announced the sentence. And I’ll never forgive you for convincing the judge and jury what a poor unfortunate victim of a dysfunctional family he was. You bastard”! Cheryl’s hand reached into her pocketbook, where she fingered the silverplated revolver she had carried with her ever since she had been left to live alone in the house.
* * *
Driving in the opposite direction, Tom turned to Mary. “You know, I just can’t figure your sister out. She looked like she was having one miserable evening and all of a sudden, she brightens up and asks Doug to take her home. You women are just too much.”
“Tom,” Mary interrupted, a worried look crossing her face, “What did Doug do before he joined your firm”?
“Was in practice in the next county, I think. Mostly criminal law, I recall. He had quite a reputation, a real crackerjack, but he told us he was sick of it. Didn’t like the kind of clients with whom he had to deal. That’s why he moved over to the corporate world, and we were glad to get him.”
Mary was silent. Then she let out a gasp, “Oh, my God”! Tom looked at his wife who seemed to be catching her breath, and gathering her thoughts at the same time..
“Oh, my God,” she repeated. “It’s all coming back to me, Tom. Doug Ferris was the lawyer who defended the drunk who killed Cheryl’s husband and daughter, and got him off with practically nothing. I thought there was something familiar about him, but I couldn’t pin it down until you mentioned his being in criminal law.
And if I finally remembered him, Cheryl certainly has too, and probably a hell of a lot sooner than I did.”
“That explains why she was so cold toward him at dinner, but why did she suddenly warm up and ask him to drive her home? We certainly could have done that,” Tom said.
“Turn the car around, Tom! Head for Cheryl’s house. And quickly. I hope we’re not too late. Tom, since my sister has been living alone in that big house, she has been carrying a gun. I saw it in her purse in the ladies’ room tonight. She knew who she was going out with and I think she intends to use it on him.”
* * *
Cheryl pointed the revolver at Doug. “I would prefer to be pointing this at the man who destroyed my family, but since you were the one who set him free, I have no problem in killing you. I don’t care what happens to me since my life is over anyway. I died three years ago.”
“Are you going to shoot yourself after you shoot me,”? Doug asked.
“Maybe. I don’t know. I haven’t given it much thought.”
“Don’t. It’ll make things messy for your sister. It always does.”
Looking directly into Cheryl’s eyes after pausing a second, his voice suddenly took on a new warmth as he continued. “You know, right after that case, I quit criminal law. I was really good at getting my clients off, but when I stopped and thought about the kind of people I was defending, and what most of them had done, it made me sick. That’s how I ended up working with Tom’s firm. Actually, your husband’s and daughter’s deaths were what finally convinced me. You may not believe it, but after the judge fell for my impassioned plea and didn’t give my client a day in jail, I went out to the men’s room and vomited.”
“Really,”? Cheryl replied, still pointing the gun at Doug.
“Put the gun down, Cheryl. Shooting me won’t help. It’ll only make things worse.”
Cheryl started to cry and put the revolver back into her purse just as Tom and Mary pulled into Cheryl’s driveway where Doug’s car was parked.
“Cheryl, Doug, is everything alright.”? Mary called out, jumping out of her car.
“No problem, little sister,” Cheryl answered. “We’ve just been talking about old times. You know, some of the people both of us knew in the past, but everything’s just fine now.” Cheryl was no longer crying.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
** ** **
Today is December 7. It is 69 years since Pearl Harbor was attacked. As kids, we were taught to "Remember Pearl Harbor," and we did, throughout World War Two and the Cold War. The enemies, and potential enemies are different today. They may not even be "nations" as we have come to think of them. They may not even be foreign. Nevertheless, we should all "Remember Pearl Harbor" because as Thomas Jefferson may have said, "Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty."
** ** **
“Remove the pen from your shirt pocket!” yelled the TSA agent who lunged at me as I stood at the conveyor emptying my pockets as usual of all metal that might set off the alarms.
“Take everything out of your pockets! Even the papers!” he ordered loudly. “Your belt too!”
His loud aggressive actions flustered me because I hadn’t had to do this when I flew to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. Now on my return flight I seemed to have entered an alternate universe. Even the agent monitoring the conveyer had harped at me like a drill sergeant about whether my toiletries were in the appropriate plastic bag, tore into my case on the conveyer, and ruthlessly collected my loose toothpaste tubes to jam them into a plastic bag in my case.
“What about my wallet?” I asked. “Yes! Yes! That too!” he brusquely commanded.
I obediently plopped it atop my shoes, jacket, and belt, even adding the pen from my back pocket…just in case.
As he herded me toward the entry of one of the new full-body scanners, I asked, “What about the cash in my pocket?”
“Give it here!” he commanded, thrust a dish at me, and handed it to another agent with my cash in it.
Now I was fretting about the cash and the exposed wallet travelling on the conveyer behind me.
A female agent led me into the scanner, gruffly snarling, “Place your feet on the marks, raise your hands beside your ears, and do not move!”
After ten seconds she grabbed my bicep, turned me ninety degrees, drew me out of the scanner, instructed me to stand once again on another set of markings, and called over a third agent.
“Chet, it’s on his left side.”
“Left side?” I wondered. “What could the machine have found? Could it be the golf-ball-sized clump of cartilage built up over the years along my left ribs?”
Chet was a large, mustached man, looking much like the agent on the news recently, shown groping a traveler while grinning almost lecherously. I assumed I was about to have my own experience with “bubba”.
“Now, sir, I’m just going to pass my hands over you.” Chet said courteously as he placed his gloved hands on my collarbone, moved them down my chest, and asked, “What have you got in your shirt pocket, sir?”
“My shirt?” I stuttered. “I’ve nothing in my pockets. I emptied all of them, even the papers.”
I reached my fingers into the pocket, made contact with the culprit, and pulled it out slowly, carefully…like a gunman relinquishing his pistol by holding onto it with only two fingers.
I presented it to Chet, explaining, “This is the lens of my eyeglasses that hang around my neck. When my son dropped me off, he hugged me so hard that the lens popped out.”
As Chet patted my shoulder, he softly explained, “The scanner is so sensitive that it can pick up even a small anomaly like the lens. Sorry for the inconvenience. Have a nice trip.”
And I did…retrieved my cash, found my wallet in the basket on the conveyer, departed on time, had a great flight, supped with friends who picked us up at the airport, and savored the memories of Thanksgiving with our sons and their families.
** ** **
Their car snaked its way through the dark and desolate rain soaked streets. Portentous weather for the beginning of Spring. The plant was straight ahead. MARK INDUSTRIES said the sign at the entrance which was barely lit by a street lamp. Deserted and unoccupied. This mission was easy. Tuva smiled calmly, confident.
They parked the car, with its heavy load, near the southwest corner, a vulnerable spot which walled in thousands of gallons of a corrosive and flammable liquid. The two men were happy with the knowledge that in a few hours absolute chaos would cover the city and the nearby metropolis. Casualty estimates were to be over ten thousand. Men, women and children. Beautiful. What terrorist could ask for more.
MARK INDUSTRIES was chosen because it fed the nation’s arms and explosives industry with the raw materials it needed to make weapons such as bombs and rockets. Tuva and Espania had been chosen because they were intelligent and brave. Moreover they had experience with explosives. Who knew how many buildings, cars, trucks, and police stations they had decimated. These masters of disaster had killed and maimed hundreds of people, all in the name of their cause. Yet this mission promised a quantum jump in mayhem.
Espania opened the trunk and set the timer. “Nine sharp,” he blurted. “Nine tomorrow morning and ka-boom. Goodby downtown Marksburg”
“Right. Now close the truck and let’s get out of here.”
Espania listened to his boss and climbed into another car they had parked earlier in the day in preparation. This mission was easy. Too easy. A piece of cake. As they drove away he noted the time that appeared digitally on a billboard advertisement placed in a deserted field, a half mile away. Ten thirty p.m. What a waste of a Saturday night.
He thought of his wife and two kids at home, happily ensconced in the safety of the Green Zone. The Leader’s army protected the families of his army. But the Leader wanted more than being a war lord. He wanted to expand, seize power and control. That was his goal. Espania went along with him and his terror attacks geared to overcome the big powers. It was not a question of philosophy. It was all about the money. Money. Lots of money. Enough to cause him to abandon his family for a week. He hated to do this. But did he have a choice? People in his country were impoverished. Only those who worked with the Leader had a chance to live decent lives. Realizing this, Espania did as told in a perfunctory but effective manner. Some day, maybe soon, he’d have enough for freedom and a new life for his love ones.
Tuva, he realized, had a different view. While he liked money, he loved the results of his work. Body counts were what counted. With tonight’s work he was anticipating a sum of over two thousand. The evil ones he served would be most pleased. Blood and gore, blood and gore, the demons of hell, they want more. The look upon his face sent shivers up Espania’s spine.
Their motel was atop a big hill, ten minutes from MARK INDUSTRIES. Walking around it in the muggy air they could easily see their target. Tuva smiled in anticipation. Espania just shrugged. Another day. Another dollar.
Before they lay down to sleep, Espania notified the front desk to give them a wake up call at 7. That would give them plenty of time to rise, go to the toilet, shower, eat the breakfast muffins they had bought, drink the room brewed coffee, dress and get packed for their departure. Tuva, strange fellow, wanted to be outside looking at MARK INDUSTRIES when the explosives went off. They’d be in the car so they’d be safe. Anticipation!
The seven o’clock wake up alarm sounded. Rise and shine. Espania looked at the motel clock. Weird. It read 6. He thought to tell Tuva but decided against it. No telling how that nut case would react. Instead Espania waited for Tuva to shower before he put the TV on. TV time said 15 minutes past 7. Perplexed, he adjusted the motel clock and their wrist watches accordingly, satisfied that he’d done right. The TV said something about time and saving daylight. Espania had no idea what they were talking about. After all, this was not his country.
The next hour and a half went smoothly. Tuva had them out of the room and situated to survey the blast by 8:55. Sitting in their rented car they looked at MARK INDUSTRIES and waited. As the second hand of his wrist watch began its final sweep of the hour toward 9, Tuva jubilantly began the count down. “Three, two, one, zero, boom!” he shouted. But there was no boom. He turned to Espania and screamed “You idiot. You didn’t set the timer right.”
“Yes I did,” his henchman spoke to the livid face. “I set it correctly. Maybe the primer was bad.”
“Maybe the primer was bad,” repeated Tuva in a mocking tone. “Bull! I bought it myself and checked it out. I’m telling you, you didn’t set the timer right.” For fifteen minutes they argued back and forth. Finally Tuva said “We’ve got to retrieve the car and examine it away from the factory. We’ll figure out what went wrong and try again tonight.” Espania didn’t want to go back down there. Something was wrong. He could feel it. He just wanted to go away. Far away. But fear of Tuva forced compliance. Retrieving the car was what Tuva said he had to do so he did it. Involuntary obedience.
Espania drove the explosive laden car.. He remembered the field with the sign and its display of time. That was his destination. Tuva kept looking back to make sure they weren’t being followed. When they got to the field the time on the sign was 9:56. Tuva noticed. “Stupid country. Why do they need to post time out here?” He looked at his watch which Espania had reset back at the motel. “9:56. Well at least they got that right.” Espania said nothing. In the back of his mind he remembered the TV message of saving daylight time. Something else. What was it? Something about turning the clock ahead.
He stopped the car in a corner of the field, away from prying eyes and chance onlookers. He walked back with Tuva who opened the trunk. The timer’s red numbers read 8:59. Tuva was furious. “Idiot! You set the timer wrong. It’s an hour late!” He grabbed Espania shaking him.
Espania broke free and began to run. He shouted back, “No, it’s that saving daylight and time thing. The clocks were to be moved forward an hour last night. The timer wasn’t.”
It was the last thing he said before he and Tuva were atomized.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Haiku, as I have pointed out in the past, is a form of Japanese poetry, usually inspired by nature, and not necessarily rhyming, which maintains a five syllable, seven syllable, five syllable pattern in its three lines. There are other versions but this is the most simple. Here is a Haiku called “August Branches” which I hope you enjoy. (You are invited to submit your Haiku, as well as other original contributions to this blog.)
Twigs cold in winter
Awake when warmed by sunshine
Calling forth new buds.
The sweet smell of rain
Mixes with the aroma
Of green things growing.
Leaves and flowers weigh
Heavy on August branches
Refusing to snap.
A bird sees all this
And circles down from the sky
Looking for its lunch.
With your brush and ink
Commit this scene to canvas
Or leave it as words.
* * * * * *
CELIA AND JAKE
SID BOLOTIN 4/3/05
Celia leaned against the wall and watched her spittle dribbling from her mouth in a long string toward the ground. The concrete rasped into her forehead, and she dry-heaved once more as tears leaked from her eyes. She had just raced out of Benny’s Ice House, a local watering hole filled to capacity for the nightly happy hour.
“Oh, God,” she whimpered, “why did I let Jake kiss me in front of all the guys at the bar? He’ll kill me when he finds out about me.” She turned her head and saw Jake approaching, beer in hand.
“Hey, hon. what’s the matter? I thought you wanted me to kiss you. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m sorry, c’mon back inside.”
Celia squinted at Jake’s bulk through her tear-filled eyes, and her heart filled with gratitude as she saw the concern in his eyes. Looking past his shoulder she caught sight of his beloved Harley parked outside the bar’s door. When she first arrived in Florida from Texas, Jake and his band of local Harley riders who hung out at Benny’s had befriended her. Melinda, her cousin who tended bar there, had told her how great the group was…especially Jake. What had started out innocently enough had blossomed into a deep caring for this gray-haired, slightly paunchy, grandfather who was the leader of the pack of bikers…the alpha male.
“Oh, Jake,” she blubbered into his shoulder as he hugged her, “I’m sorry that I freaked out when you kissed me. I never expected it. I care for you, but I didn’t expect that from you. You don’t know anything about me. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Celia, darlin’ I know all I need to. We all have pasts. It don’t matter none. All my kids are grown, and my grandkids are scattered. All I got now is my Harley and my pack of riders. I just want you to be my riding buddy, my woman, and my friend. I know from your cousin, Melinda, that you’re not much younger than me with no family of your own. You’re a handsome woman with a great body, green eyes, and reddish hair. So why not let me be your man? These past weeks we’ve gotten to know each other and to like each other’s company. You can’t deny that, Celia.”
“Jake, in my heart what you say rings true, and I’d love to be your woman; but things need to be said about my life before I came to Florida. This last month has been a dream come true for me. We’ve boozed, schmoozed, and ridden together, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to go all the way with you. The truth is that I’m scared.”
Jake removed the bandana from around his head and wiped Celia’s eyes and mouth gently in an action that was unexpected from a burly, pony-tailed, grizzly-looking, aged biker. “Sweet thing,” he cooed as he coaxed her back toward the entrance to Benny’s, “ I know all about you. After Melinda told me your whole story, I was blown away, and a bit angry; but then I realized how much I cared about you, how much I wanted to be with you. You can start a new life with my pack and me. They all love you too, and moreover they admire your guts. Now come back in, and let’s tell ‘em all that you and I are a twosome.”
Celia let Jake’s arm support her as he guided her to the door and whispered, “Thank you, God, for letting this be the happy ending to my year-long transformation from Saul to Celia.”
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
LOIS IN LOVE
Lois played out the last bridge hand of the afternoon with her usual skill and announced, “ Small slam, bid and made. Thanks, girls. Now I have to scoot home to make Jack his favorite supper. He’s coming over tonight for a romantic evening.”
The other card players in the clubhouse of Cascade Lakes were also departing to return to their homes after the usual Tuesday afternoon bridge games, and Lois felt delicious to be part of this retirement scene in Florida. She and her new boyfriend, Jack, had recently moved from up North into this gated, retirement community. She as a single woman from New England, he as a widower from New York whose wife had suddenly died shortly after they had bought their retirement home.
“You know, Adele,” Lois said as she walked to her car arm-in-arm with her new best friend, “I’m so glad that I joined the Singles Club. That’s where I met Jack and fell in love with him. I’ve never been so happy. At 55 I’m one of the younger people here, but this is a wonderfully accepting community in which I can make a new life.”
“I’m delighted for you, Lois. Everyone comments on what a lovely couple you two are. Your pale skin, bright, green eyes, and long, reddish hair compliment his olive, tanned complexion. He’s only slightly balding and a very trim 65. You both play tennis and are physically fit. He was so, so sad before he met you. Now, you two can rebuild your lives together. I know that you told me that you’re all alone because your family died off so unexpectedly.”
After dropping Adele off at her house, Lois drove into her driveway, parked her car, and sat staring through the windshield. “God,” she mused quietly to herself, “I’m so lucky. My whole life has turned around. I feel like I belong, that I’m finally in the right place. It’s taken me so many years. The decision that I made five years ago was the right one, after all. No one knows me here, and I’ve made a brand new start. Jack loves me, and I certainly love him. He doesn’t probe with lots of questions, so my earlier life can remain a closed book. Like me, he’s just happy that we’ve found each other.”
Five years earlier in the therapist’s office the loud wailing bounced off the soundproofed walls: “I can’t live like this any more, Dr.Myers. My mental anguish gives me no peace. I’m in turmoil all the time. I can’t take it anymore. I’m ready to commit suicide rather than continue this way. Talk-therapy and spiritual counseling have done nothing. I’m stuck with who I am.”
“Well,” Dr. Meyers said, “maybe it is time for you to take the final step. That probably would be best for you. With my continued support you should be able to cope. And, hopefully you’ll flourish. We’ve talked about this for a long time. You’ve certainly exhausted all other possible avenues. It’s worth a shot in my opinion. But the final choice has to be yours.”
“ I know that, Dr. Meyers. You’ve been great this past year, and I believe that I’m physically and mentally ready. I know that my surgeon, Dr. Zarren has spoken to you, and he’s in agreement.”
“What name will you settle on for the new you, Larry?”
“Lois, I’ll be Lois. That was my mother’s name; so I’ll be Lois after my sex-change operation.”
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
And here is a short story I wrote a few years ago. If you have read Hamlet, you might enjoy it. And if you haven't, you still might like it. So here's
“Betty, I just cannot stand him any longer! One day he says he loves me, and caresses and kisses me. And the next moment, he turns his back on me, and mumbles curses about me. And calls me a whore. I just don’t understand. I don’t care what my father wants. I will not marry him! Even if someday he might be King. Sometimes I get the feeling he’s out of his mind and I don’t want a lifetime of that. And sometimes, Betty, sometimes, I think that I cannot live without his love.”
Elizabeth, Ophelia’s companion and handmaiden, turned to the distraught girl, stroking her hair. “Ophelia, I wish I could help you. But this is all between Hamlet and you. Oh, I too see him walking around dreamily, with that blank expression on his face, and I can understand how that puzzles you. But, you have to make up your mind. Why don’t you go for a walk by yourself and think it all out. It’s so nice and calm alongside the brook down past the elm trees, with the fragrant breezes wafting in over the water. Go for a walk, Ophelia. Maybe it will clear your head.”
Ophelia nodded, and with a wave to her friend, slowly walked down to the brook. But however peaceful it was there, the questions which perplexed her still had no answers. Removing her slippers, she stepped into the brook and let the cooling ripples flow over her feet. For the first time in weeks, she smiled, as the water acted almost medicinally on her being. She took another step into the water, and another. She was no longer thinking of Hamlet. The water was up to her knees now, as she waded toward the center of the stream, where the water might cover her completely and then she would not have to seek answers to questions any longer.
* * * *
“Ophie,” Dr. Strong replied. “Even if there were such a thing as reincarnation, and you had been someone else in another life, you wouldn’t be able to remember that prior existence. People who believe in reincarnation believe that some sort of life force continues on and on, but the people who have been reincarnated, are just incidental to the process. They are just vessels, carrying it, and don’t remember the prior vessels, or people, who may have carried the same life they are carrying, but with another identity in the past.” “But Doctor Strong,” the girl answered, “I feel so strongly that I actually am her!”
“Listen,” he continued. “Ophelia was not even a person. She was a fictitious character in a play by William Shakespeare. If you had been someone in the past, in another life, it would have to have been a real person, or living thing. Ophie, if there is such a thing as reincarnation, how can you be the reincarnation of someone who was never alive in the first place, and just a figment of a writer’s imagination?
“I don’t know,” Ophie replied as Dr. Strong got up and looked out of the window. “Shakespeare wrote about her four hundred years ago, and she is still with us, whenever Hamlet is performed, or someone reads the play. You know, Dr. Strong, thousands of students read that play every year, all over the world. Could it be that all of that attention over the years has actually given real life to her, even if the only birth she had was in Shakespeare’s mind? I often think about that. And I really feel that I am the original Ophelia, recreated in my twenty-first century body. And it so bothers me that nobody believes me. At least you aren’t laughing at me, Dr. Strong, as the others do.”
“I think you have been reading a bit too much, Ophie. How many times have your read Hamlet?”
“About thirty,” the girl responded, obviously getting no satisfaction from her discussion with her favorite professor at the college where she was a senior.
“Look, Ophie. It’s a lovely autumn day out there. Why don’t you just take a walk and try to think this all out. I was just glancing out the window and noticed the sunlight glancing off the ripples of the stream down past the elm trees. It’s very calm and restful down there and a walk in the brisk air might be all you need to clear up some of these ideas in your head. And I have to get to a class in about five minutes.
Ophie got up and with a farewell wave to her friend, left his office and slowly walked down to the brook. But however peaceful it was there, the questions which perplexed her still had no answers. Removing her shoes, she stepped into the brook and let the cooling ripples flow over her feet. For the first time in weeks, she smiled, as the water acted almost medicinally on her being. She took another step into the water, and another, and then suddenly, her reverie was broken by the sound of someone splashing into the stream behind her.
A firm hand grasped her around the waist and pulled her back toward the shore.
Ophelia looked at the young man who was now helping her onto the grassy bank of the brook. She was sure that she had never seen him before, but yet he was vaguely familiar.
“Ophelia,” he said with a smile. “I’m not going to let you do that again. You may have gotten away with it once, but I’ll be damned if I am going to let you do it a second time. You know, dear, that I love you.”
“Hamlet?” the dripping girl tentatively inquired, her voice quivering with a growing, almost electric, recognition of the fulfillment of four centuries of anticipation.
“You don’t recognize me, after all the happy times we’ve spent together, Ophelia?”
Ophie looked down. “Some of them were not so happy, Hamlet. You know, you can be quite cruel,” she answered.
“If I have been cruel to you, Ophelia, I am sorry. I have had a lot on my mind lately.”
And with that, Hamlet kissed her gently on the cheek. By that time a small crowd had gathered, and the wail of an approaching siren could be heard in the distance.
(What do you think happened? Did she drown and as she died, she imagined that Hamlet had come to rescue her? Did a passer-by rescue her, but in her mind, she believed him to be Hamlet? Or, was it actually Hamlet, or the reincarnation of Hamlet, rescuing the reincarnation of Ophelia, in which case it wouldn’t matter if the girl were alive or dead. That approaching siren might be an ambulance or police car, called to the scene of a drowning, or a near-drowning. It might help to ask the people in the small crowd whether the girl were alive or dead. But does it really matter, so long as in her mind, she was reconciled with Hamlet.)
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Using credit cards (or debit cards for that matter … which are like writing an immediately- cashed check out of your checking account) costs money. Even if you pay your outstanding credit card balance in full each month, and presuming there is no annual fee for your card, you still are incurring a significant cost for the privilege of using the card. That cost is reflected in the increased price of merchandise which reflects what the merchant pays Visa, MasterCard, etc. to “belong” and the additional bookkeeping his accepting the cards entails. All of his customers, including those who pay in cash, pay about 3% more to cover these costs through his higher prices.
The rewards which accompany most credit card programs rarely come close to making up this 3% hit which purchasers pay. Those that offer apparently generous cash rewards usually do so for a limited period on specific types of vendor charges (5% reward for purchases at gas stations or drug stores from July to September for example) but are extremely skimpy on other rewards (for example, .01% on other purchases up to $1,000 a month, 1% over that amount) making up for their apparent generosity. I have a friend who carries around about half a dozen cards at all times, each with a piece of tape on it, indicating for what and during what period it should be used. He wears out his wallets frequently.
The best way to avoid the overcharges with which the use of credit cards has universally infected our economy is to pay cash and get a discount for doing so. Some restaurants do this by offering lower priced “specials” but on a cash only basis. Others publish 10% off coupons which specify “cash only.” Some do not accept credit cards at all, and hopefully, their prices are lower. But such generosity seems limited to the restaurant business. Nevertheless, it should not embarrass the customer to ask a merchant if the price for an item would be less if it were a cash sale rather than a credit card transaction.
And from Sid:
For a moment we are teenagers in love.
Then bride and groom.
Bursting into parenthood as mommy, daddy.
Suddenly we're in-laws, and
Nearing the trail's end.
All in the blink of an eye.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I have been visiting museums and art galleries for many years and I don't hesitate to say I appreciate works I can come close to understanding. My favorites include Edward Hopper, many of whose works hang in the Whitney Museum in New York, Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet. You look at their work and generally can understand what they are all about. I recommend them. I might also include Pablo Picasso among my favorites. Although some of his work is difficult to understand, most ultimately get through to me. Many artists, however, leave me wondering what their paintings are all about. These include abstract expressionists and other avant guard (although abstract expressionism is almost 75 years old!)schools. When Jackson Pollock walked over a canvas spread on his garage floor, repeatedly dripping paint from cans, his work represented, in my words, its specific lack of intending to represent anything more than dripping paint on canvas, a concept which might be stimulating to some. These canvases are worth millions today, but don't ask me why.
When I see an incomprehensible canvas before me, I like to look for something by the same artist which demonstrates that he is not just blindly slinging paint, but is capable of painting something skillfully representative. If you look at paintings from Picasso's "blue period," you know he was more than a pigment slinger and worth the intellectual effort required to start to understand his cubist paintings such as "Woman in a Mirror" or "Guernica." I reiterate then that it is the viewer's responsibility to see something indicating a painter can produce a reasonable and recognizable picture of a cow before throwing a splash of white paint on a canvas and calling it "Milk."
The Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan is now undergoing a resurgence. Vacant warehouses and garages are being turned into art galleries. (When in New York, check out the streets from 21st to 24th between 10th and 11th Avenue.) The interior of all of these establishments are painted stark white and usually have no more than a dozen paintings hanging within them. Most are totally incomprehensible and carry exorbitant price tags. If a gallery sells one at the asking price, its rent, salaries and overhead are probably covered for a couple of years.
In the middle of this on 21st Street is the Chelsea Museum of Art. When I visited it, they were featuring their permanent show of the work of an abstract impressionist named Miotte. His work was too abstract to impress me. They also were featuring a show by a Japanese artist who products consisted of images of ostriches and some decorative floral arrangements which resembled wallpaper samples. In my opinion, these pieces were far below the quality which warrants being in a museum, but probably a shade better than the incomprehensible and expensive "aahhtt" on exhibit in the neighborhood's galleries.
It's back to the Whitney to look at some Hopper for me.
If you would like to look at some of Edward Hopper's work, check out http://www.museumsyndicate.com/artist.php?artist=54. (I can't reproduce them here due to copywrite laws.) There are 184 of his paintings there; just click on the small image to enlarge it. Don't miss "Nighthawks" which you probably have seen before with slightly altered faces.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The Worst Ballplayer on the Field
Jerry was the worst baseball player of all the kids at the ball field in the park. Every time there was a choose-up game, he was picked last. Whenever he swung at the ball, he missed. In games, he always struck out. In the outfield, where he always played, he couldn’t catch the ball, even if it came straight to him. The others often laughed at him.
One afternoon, as Jerry was walking to the park, he heard a voice coming from the hedges beside the sidewalk. “Hey, Jerry, are you on your way to the park to play ball?” Jerry stopped and looked behind the hedge. To his surprise, he saw a little man with a wrinkled face sitting on a rock smiling.
“Jerry, I’ve a present for you,” the man said.
“Who are you, Mister?” Jerry asked, despite having been taught never to speak to strangers.
“I’m an elf! The kind you read about in fairy tales. I’ve been sent by your fairy godmother to help you.”
Jerry looked at him, replying, “I don’t believe in elves or fairy godmothers! But tell me your name. And what’s this about a present for me?”
“Well, I’m glad you’re being reasonable, Jerry. My name is Mr. Fafuffnick, and whether you like it or not, you do have a fairy godmother. Everyone does. Anyway, yours doesn’t like what has been happening to you at the ball field. So she asked me to give you these.” And with that, the elf took a well-worn baseball glove and a bat from a satchel he was carrying. “Use these, Jerry, and you will never have any more problems at the ball field.” And with that, the elf vanished in a puff of smoke.
That afternoon, as usual, Jerry was picked last and sent to play in the outfield.
The very first batter hit the ball high and far toward that part of the field where Jerry stood. He didn’t even see the ball, but somehow found himself running backwards toward the fence at the edge of the field. Sensing that it was time to leap up, he flew almost three feet off of the ground and reached over the fence. When he came down, the ball was in his glove.
The next batter hit the ball to another part of the outfield, where one of Jerry’s teammates futilely chased it as it rolled and bounced along the grass. Jerry ran, with a speed he never knew he possessed, across the outfield and picked up the ball which was continuing to elude the other outfielder. By this time, the batter was rounding third base. Jerry cocked his arm back, and from the farthest part of centerfield, threw it toward home plate, where it landed precisely in the center of the glove of the catcher, who easily tagged the runner out.
When the inning was over, Jerry’s teammates cheered him. When his turn at bat came, he hit the first pitch far over the centerfield fence for a home run. Each time he came to the plate, he hit another home run. At the end of the game, Jerry’s hand was sore from the number of times his teammates had high-fived him.
Walking home, as he passed the hedges where he had met the elf, he heard a voice. It was Mr. Fafuffnick.
“Nice game today, Jerry, baby,” he called out, offering still another high-five. “That last shot of yours must have gone 450 feet! And now, may I please have the bat and glove back?”
“No way, Mr. Fafuffnick,” Jerry answered. Suddenly, the bat and glove, which he had been carrying, dropped from his grasp and, as if they had legs of their own, they waddled over to the elf, leaving Jerry’s hands stinging.
“Jerry, you underestimate the power your fairy godmother has given me. In the future, when I ask you to give something back, I hope you will comply, and not force me to repeat what I just had to do. You see, part of my job is to take the bat and glove back to your fairy godmother each night so that she can recharge them. But don’t worry, I will be behind these hedges every day to give them back to you when you pass by on your way to the park.”
Mr. Fafuffnick was true to his word, and every day, he gave Jerry the glove and bat. Jerry continued to catch any balls hit his way, throw runners out at the plate and get hits each time he came to the plate. All of the other players, and even some of the grown-ups who came to the ball field, agreed that Jerry was the best player who had ever played at the park. At the end of the summer, they even gave him a little trophy saying exactly that.
“Pssst,” a voice came from behind the hedges, as Jerry headed home from the park for the last time that summer.
“Hello, Mr. Fafuffnick,” Jerry greeted the elf. “Here’s the bat and glove back. The season’s over now, and I really want to thank you and my fairy godmother for all that you have done for me.”
“Think nothing of it, Jerry, and this time, you get to keep the bat and the glove. They’re yours permanently. Good luck with them!” Mr. Fafuffnick replied.
“But how is my fairy godmother going to recharge them if I don’t give them back to you each time after I use them,” Jerry asked.
Mr. Fafuffnick looked at the boy. “Jerry, baby, I thought you might have caught on by now. After the first week or so, I stopped taking them back to her for recharging. You know, fairy godmothers exist to give you a hand once in a while when you need it, but no fairy godmother has ever guaranteed anyone a free ride for the rest of their life. From now on, Jerry, what you accomplish is up to you.”
And with that, Mr. Fafuffnick disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Monday, April 5, 2010
WHERE DID I COME FROM?
“Grandpa, where did I come from?”
“Well,” he answered, “if you mean where do your roots lie, my grandparents came from the Ukraine in Russia…same as grandma’s.”
“No, no! That’s not what I’m asking. I already know about my Russian heritage.”
“Oh,” he smiled, “you mean like from your mommy’s belly?”
“Oh, gramps,” giggled Brooke, “I’m nineteen, and I know all about sperms and eggs. Remember I had sex education in grammar school. I’m in college now studying to be a child-psychologist.
“Okay, Brooke, then just what are you asking me about?”
“Well, I’ve been learning about the ego and the id and the brain and psyche, and I thought with your explorations of spirituality you could tell me where my ‘I’ came from. Was ‘I’ in the sperm or the egg? Was one half of my ‘I’ in the sperm, and the other half in the egg? And, what about the millions of other sperm? Did my ‘I’ hop from one to the other until ‘I’ landed on the one that fertilized my mom’s egg? Or, did each have a different version of my ‘I’? if you say that ‘I’ was not in the sperm nor the egg, was ‘I’ in space, on a star, or just out ‘there’? If so, then how and when did ‘I’ enter mom’s belly…at conception, at movement, at birth?”
“Whew, my munchkin,” groaned the old man, “you ask some deep, deep questions.”
“Yeah, everyone says that I take after you, gramps. We’ve chatted along these lines before. That’s probably why I’m also taking a course in Philosophy and Spirituality.”
This was not the first time one of his grandchildren had posed such an esoteric inquiry. As Gramps sat and pondered his granddaughter’s gushed questions, his mind swept back through the decades of his own search for such answers by exploring religion, philosophy, mysticism, and science. He sat silent and pondered possible answers…knowing that none were black and white. Then he said, “Brooke, honey, you know that I have no absolute answer to your questions. Throughout my own exploration of such matters, the one certainty that I’ve discovered is that there is no conclusive answer. Science has not devised a test that can address the question. In my opinion it boils down to personal belief based on a person’s private study. For example your brother, Jared, believes that his path to such wisdom lies within the teachings of the Orthodox Jewish Sect called Chabad, and he’s pursuing his learning at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
“Most people don’t even involve themselves in such subjects. When your cousin, Zach, was discussing his college course in Philosophy with me, I told him that learning about such subjects and discussing them with people of like minds was the best way to develop a personal understanding. That’s the best that one can do. It’s really a personal experiential journey.”
Hearing grandma call everyone to come and eat, he stood, threw an arm around Brooke’s shoulders, and said, “Let’s eat and continue our discussion over a cup of tea.”
* * *
One Thing Leads to Another (or “Can you get kosher filet mignon in Tel Aviv?”)
At lunch the other day, a close friend asked me if I knew the reason why meat from the hind portion of a cow was not kosher. After thinking for a moment I replied that I supposed that was the unclean end of the animal, and that the cuts from that part of the animal just couldn’t be kosher. “Just as I had thought,” my friend replied. “But that isn’t the case. Actually it comes from the story in the Bible about Jacob wrestling with an angel who, in the struggle, pinched his sciatic nerve leaving Jacob lame. Because a cow’s sciatic nerve runs through its hind portion, some rabbis years ago deemed that because of what happened to Jacob, any meat coming from a portion of the cow close to the sciatic nerve couldn’t be kosher.” My friend had also heard that in Israel, where beef has to be imported and is not as common as in this country, they have the expertise to remove the entire sciatic nerve from the cow, making cuts of beef from the hind end of the animal kosher! Such a procedure is not economically feasible in this country, however, even though it is done in Israel.
A few days later I repeated this story to a physician, who happened to be orthodox, who confirmed it all. This led to a discussion of kashruth in general, the reasons for it, and mention of an interesting book, Judaism – A Way of Being, by David Gelertner, a computer science pioneer on the faculty at Yale University.
Gelertner’s book, written from a modern orthodox standpoint, attempts to offer answers to some key questions regarding Judaism: Why are there so many rules observant Jews are supposed to follow? (and kashruth is just one of them), how can Jews believe in a God whose name and image are hidden from them?, what about inequities between men and women in Judaism?, and finally, why has God allowed so many bestial things to happen to Jews and all of mankind throughout history? I’ve read the book and his answers are thought provoking.
But this all goes to show you that one thing can lead to another.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
New York Haiku
Manhattan is no
Place to raise kids nor keep dogs,
Unless you’re wealthy.
What passes for a
Elsewhere is a joke.
People are so used
To being ripped off that they
Do not feel the pain.
Sitting in Starbucks
Hypnotized by their laptops,
Is the lifeblood of commerce
In New York City.
* * *
CV puffed hungrily on his custom cigar and spat into the spitoon. "Butterfield," he told me, "her plea for King Willie’s life is most touching. She almost swayed me. Almost." He chuckled complacently, befitting the well fed and super rich man who he was.
"He is a very striking fellow sir," I stated. "In a few years he proclaimed himself president of the two countries which he established. Why, our own government recognized his independent land right down here. And last year, in his visit to the states, he was treated as a hero. They had parades for him, wrote songs and stories, and even put on a Broadway show recounting his exploits."
CV was miffed. "Yes, he even wrote a book, The War in Nicaragua, which garnered him support for his latest ventures. Fools!"
"But sir, he is surely a dashing fellow, a leading exponent of our policy of Manifest Destiny. That was the term that John O’Sullivan coined."
"John O’Sullivan, that bombastic newspaper man. He certainly started something didn’t he by declaring it was the God given right of Americans to grab hold of everything west of the Mississippi, south of the Rio Grand, and North of where we currently are."
"And we have done quite a bit sir. California, Texas, Arizona territory- these are all part of our growing country. As his concubine just pointed out, all William Walker was guilty of is continuing the American dream."
"Dream", CV asked me, "the man is like a nightmare. He formed a group of filibusteros in California back in 1853 and invaded Baja. They defeated the Mexican Army at La Paz. He declared Sonora an independent government and himself as president. He even had a flag designed and he sold land grants, on land that he didn’t even possess, to potential followers. What gall! They flocked from Tennessee, Kentucky, and many slave states, to help push the Manifest Destiny dream. The free and independent country of Sonora. Ha! The only free people there would be Anglo-Saxon whites. Slavery would be legal and Sonora and her sister province were to become slave states, adding to the power of the South."
I had to admit that CV was correct. "He did have a lot of followers though and almost pulled it off."
CV smiled. "King Willie bit off more than he could chew. Due to poor planning, his troops lacked proper supplies. The Mexican banditos harassed him, and the Mexican Army attacked. He and his rag tag bunch fled back across the border. Adios Sonora."
"He was lauded as a hero, sir. When they arrested him on violation of the laws of neutrality, the jury took only eight minutes to acquit him."
"Yes. After he gave an impassioned speech about our rights to grab. What a lot of bull."
I reminded him "What of the gold rush? Fremont took over California, stealing it from the Mexicans. Countless adventurers flocked to the new territory, establishing it as a potential state. That’s where you saw an opportunity and entered the Manifest Destiny race."
"Yes Butterfield. It took months to sail from New York to California or back, rounding the Horn. My company, the Accessory Transit Company, the ATC, acquired the rights to the Isthmus of Nicaragua. We had a a steamboat route from the Atlantic to the west end of Lake Nicaragua. Then we provided a mule train from there to the Pacific. Coast to coast travelers had their travel time cut in half. It was also safer, avoiding Cape Horn and its stormy weather."
"So, how did you and Walker get involved?"
CV reminisced. "We needed help. The company, ATC, was being gouged by local politicians and war lords. I sent for Walker and his filbusteros from the states. We joined forces and in no time defeated the Army of Nicaragua. My initial gratitude turned sour when he declared Nicaragua a free and independent state with him in command, and of course, a new flag!. That’s when President Franklin Pierce recognized his newly proclaimed country. Then King Willie turned on me, joining my ATC aids in seizing control of my company. He even went further and declared war against neighboring Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. Big mistake. No one crosses me. I ruin people!"
CV filled me in on how he hired agents to infiltrate and fight Walker and his cronies. He had flooded the market with ACT stock, devaluing it. The holdings of his former aids became worthless. CV also got the US to withdraw recognition of Walker’s new country. And he helped get Costa Rica to attack him.
"In 1856 King Willie, President of Nicaragua by, believe it or not, an election, had to flee. He came to New York where, as you mentioned, he was hailed as a hero. Walker used his notoriety to garner funds and backers. Again and again he set sail for Nicaragua or Honduras to conquer and rule. He was stopped by either the US navy, cholera epidemics, or local armies. He sacked the old Nicaragua city of Granada and overran the Honduras city of Trujillo. Finally the British had enough of him. Their navy rescued King Willie after his last venture against the Hondurans ended with him and his men sick and defeated. That’s when they turned him over to Honduran authorities."
"Yes," I said, "and that’s where he is now, rotting in jail, sentenced to death tomorrow morning by firing squad. As his concubine stated, it seems a nasty ending to a brilliant career."
"What career? The man was a filibustero, a rapist, a killer, a thief. He acted in the name of Manifest Destiny. If he is spared he’ll be like Napoleon. He’d flee and return to attack somewhere, bringing death and misery as he proclaimed himself king or president or emperor."
"But sir, haven’t you, through the ATC, taken over part of Nicaragua? Isn’t that acting according to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny? "
CV thought and then said "In a sense. But I’m using economic means. People I deal with make money and can live a better life without fear from bloodshed. There is a difference, a big difference. We build. We don’t tear down. I hope you realize that."
With that, Cornelius Vanderbuilt left the consul’s office. Though I knew that a word from me to the authorities today would spare Walker’s life, I did nothing. The following morning the past president of Sonora and Nicaragua met a firing squad which rendered his ultimate destiny.
A few months later, led by men with the same mind set as Walker the filibustero had, the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union, causing the issue of the South’s Manifest Destiny to be settled in blood.
Monday, March 8, 2010
ONCE UPON A TIME
Sid Bolotin 3/6/10
Fifty years ago he is three.
And I am twenty-six.
I kneel behind him.
My arms embrace him and the fishing rod
Clutched in his tiny hands.
The pond’s water laps at his feet.
Twighlight’s glow lights the shore.
The bobber flutters,
And goes under.
I help him snap the rod upward
To set the hook, to reel in the Sunfish.
My son squeals with delight.
I swell with joy.
He’s my first-born
Learning to be.
While I learn fatherhood.
* * *
MY GAL LINDA
I know that Cindy and I were wedded for eternity. But that was the past and I must deal with today. The wedding rings we exchanged said "You Are Mine Forever". We meant it. But then she died. What was I supposed to do?
Fifty five years we were married. Kids, grand kids, we had everything one could wish for. Papa and Nana. That was us. We baby sat once a month and ate with our family quite often. We felt blessed by God and thanked Him each morning. Then the accident happened. And Cindy was laid to rest. I asked God, "why"?
I was assured that while her body or shell was interred, her soul is with the Master, waiting for me to "come home." I know she expected me to remain true, to avoid getting involved with another female, even if I were lonely. I was to have faith and be stalwart, a man true to his love, even in death. Sounds great and noble. Try it. Try living by yourself after fifty five years of having a companion.
I told my friends that I would never cheat on my wife, and getting involved after Cindy’s demise constituted, in my mind, cheating. Oh, I know plenty of guys my age who are widowers- ugh, I hate that word- have started a new life. They date, go over the houses of single women and have supper, and even stay the night.
"Joe" my friend Elliot said to me, "it’s a new lease on life. You spark a romance, go on trips, share new aspects of life. Don’t be a stick in the mud. Get out, get around, and get going- before it’s too late. You realize, you’re not getting any younger!"
I must confess, I was tempted. Going to bed alone each night was not fun. I missed home cooked meals, the sharing of watching TV together, shopping at local stores, comparing day’s events, and even having someone to help clean the house.
At first I tried to replace Cindy with her image. I would walk around the house talking to her. This lasted a month or two and then I realized, as Elliot told me, "I was going nuts". I needed someone to share my life with. But how could I bring a new female friend with me when I visited my kids or grand kids? And did I want to get chummy with hers? These things get complicated. You don’t only take on a new life, you lose parts of the one you had. I had a great thing going with Cindy. I didn’t want to lose one iota of our mutual companionship, one that I was still convinced would continue on beyond the Pearly Gates. Oh, what to do?
Elliot had the answer ready. "The world we live in centers itself around our own selves. That’s not the world’s doing, it is ours. We are an ego-centric bunch who even claim to be made in God’s image."
Well an image is an image- like a shadow. Not much resemblance between the object and the image, is there. Or do you enjoy looking through a glass darkly? If we are in God’s image then He has a great sense of humor. I mulled over what Joe was firing at me, and eventually came to a conclusion. I needed a companion. I longed for someone to talk to, to share my evenings with. And even to hug. But definitely, no sex.
So I let him fix me up. First there was Anna, or was she Hanna? She was comely and demure and a good conversationalist. That is to say, she kept her mouth shut as I talked.. I laughed inside, knowing that if her dream of a new companion ever came true she’d pay him back a thousand words to his one. Then there was Jenny or was it Ginny? She kept telling me how lonely I must be as she caressed my arm without ceasing. She exuded physical attraction and I couldn’t wait for the evening to end . This went on for a couple of months till I told Elliot, "all right all ready. Stop!" I made it abundantly clear that I’d find my own female friend, if indeed I wanted one.
I’ve experienced that God is good and satisfies. Two days later as I was walking in the mall I went into a store and that’s when I saw her. I knew right away that she was meant for me.
I think the feeling was mutual. I say that because as soon as she saw me she gave every indication that she wanted me to come over and say hello. So I did. We were properly introduced by the store manager. I looked at her. Long blond hair. Big brown eyes that captivated my heart. A slender muscular body. And happy. Her vibrating body indicated that she was overjoyed to see me. Her name was Linda, and I just knew that God intended her to be my gal.
The next day Linda and I spent some time together, perambulating through the park. I told her of my Cindy and how there was a lonely place in my heart. I told her of my need for female companionship and asked her if she minded being secondary. I’d always treat her well, but she had to understand that Cindy was number one. She gave no indication of resentment. That clinched it.
Linda is living with me. Elliot learned of her, came over to see her, and left shaking his head. He’d never be able to understand. That’s all right with me. Linda sleeps in the same bed room with me, but not in my bed. I drew the line, though at first she tried to climb in. "Sorry young lady. The marriage bed is sanctified." She wasn’t happy, but seemed to understand, and yielded.
Our daily routine is pretty repetitive. We eat breakfast together, go for walks, and enjoy each other’s company through suppertime. I’ll turn on the TV for evening relaxation and she curls up on the couch by my side as we spend time together. I often talk to her about the world’s affairs and politics and the economy. She looks at me with her big brown eyes and hangs on my every word, never interrupting, just moving her self back and forth as she snuggles closer to me. Now and then she’ll lean up and give me a big wet kiss with her long pink tongue. Heaven! Just me and my Gal Linda. Too bad she sheds.
* * *
Idea for a Screenplay
So there’s this senior citizen rich guy, a widower, who begins to feel that he is finally losing it and decides to retire from the hands-on management of his life. Two of his daughters agree to split his real estate holdings and investment portfolio in exchange for a promise to take care of him in his declining years. His other daughter, somewhat of a free spirit, won’t have any part of what she sees as a sleazy deal on the part of her sisters. Dad promptly disinherits her and she runs off to Paris with a Frenchman.
Before long the two daughters are fighting over which one can do less for Dad and finally, fed up with them both, he sneaks out of the house in the middle of the night in a driving rainstorm. One of his old buddies, whom he doesn’t even recognize, manages to get him out of the torrent into a cheap motel and tries to convince him to go back to his daughters, but the old guy refuses. He realizes that he was wrong in disinheriting his third daughter and his old buddy tells him that she is actually coming back from Paris to help him, having heard of the shoddy treatment her sisters were providing.
While this tragic story was unfolding, a retired senior executive of the rich old guy’s former business was having his own family problems with his two sons, one of whom was a real bastard who spent his time lying, cheating and trying to convince his father that he was a better son than his brother. It’s clear that he’s after the full inheritance. This father also got involved in attempting to shelter his old boss when he was out in the storm. For doing that, the sadistic husband of one of the old man's daughters brutally beats and tortures him, blinding him in the process, to which his bastard of a son quietly acquiesces, allying himself with the two sisters who are just as greedy as he is!
Meanwhile, the sisters, tipped off as to their kid sister’s return from Paris and fearing that they might lose their inheritance, heed the advice of their new-found friend, the one whose father had been tortured and blinded, who helps them call in some tough guys to take care of the situation. By then the third daughter had found her father at a Motel 6, but sadly, the bad guys capture them both. One of them chokes the girl to death, but the old man manages to clobber him with a two by four and escape. Then, mustering his last bit of strength to carry her body out of the place in his arms, he dies. How sad.
As for the sisters, one of them had lost her husband in a fight with a servant over how she was treating her father. The other sister’s husband files divorce papers after he finds that she was having an affair with the rotten bastard whose father was blinded. The two girls end up fighting over him before he is deservedly killed by his brother. Finally one sister poisons the other and then commits suicide.
A few weeks later, we find the old man’s old buddy and the surviving son of the blinded man, also dead by this time, in a sleazy bar. After commiserating with each other over a few drinks, they agree that life sucks and wonder if they should tell this whole sad story to their writer buddy, Bill, who might even use it for the plot of a screenplay or something.