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.