About Me

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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Brave New World

Enough of politics for a while.  Here's a favorite short story of mine which I did about five years ago. I enjoyed re-reading it, so I am sharing it with you in the hope that you'll like it too.  Next comes an excellent piece about orchids, beautifully illustrated by the author's camera, sent by a contributor to the blog.  Finally, I also include some comments on what is becoming of communications in our culture.  This is the kind of stuff I am certain the readers of this blog are capable of writing.  Give it a try.  Just send your work to me for inclusion on "my Blog and yours."

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                             Brave New World  

                                           Jack Lippman

He was leaning against the store window in the mall watching the people walking by.  The sign above him read Barnes and Noble, and some of the people were staring at him as they strolled by, particularly those who were going into the store.  His mind was in a state of utter confusion, almost to the point of panic.  He knew who he was, of course, but he could make no sense whatsoever out of where he was, who all these peculiarly dressed people were and how he had gotten there.  The last thing he remembered was sniffing some green colored powder that one of the hags with whom he had been out drinking had concocted in her bowl from the leaves of some strange-looking plants.  He scratched his beard.  It needed a trim, he thought.

“Hey, buddy,” a passer-by called out.  “Are you part of some kind of promotion, or something?  Is there a Shakespeare sale going on in the bookstore?  You an actor they dressed up to look like him”?

“An actor I truly am, for certain, but how cometh you to know my name, Sir?  I do not believe we have met before.” he answered.

“Come off of it, buddy.  They got you dressed up like Shakespeare to promote some books, I bet.  And I bet they told you to pretend you really are him, right, when someone stops to talk to you.”?

By that time a small crowd had gathered.  A woman approached, inquiring brusquely, “What’s your real name, Mister?”

“Forsooth, William Shakespeare is my name, madam,” he replied.  And pausing, he added, “I am a playwright and actor, and cometh from Stratford, although most times, I work in London.  And this place where we find ourselves, how distant be it from London?

“Real far, Mister, real far!  You’re in Boca Raton, Florida, in the good old U.S. of A.,” the woman replied, walking off.

He felt more confused than ever.  He knew it must have been that green powder the hags had mixed up at the tavern.  By that time, the manager of the bookstore had come out to see what was going on.

”Fella, I don’t know who you are, but I don’t want you standing in front of my store, dressed up like Shakespeare.  I don’t want to make any trouble for you, so just get moving, or I’ll have to call Security.”

Looking the manager over, he replied, “But I truly am William Shakespeare.  Something is dreadful wrong.  Canst thou fetch me to a doctor?”

A voice from the crowd could be heard, “Probably a fruitcake, escaped from some hospital.  But he really does look like Shakespeare, at least some of the pictures I’ve seen of him!”

“Hast thou seen pictures of me?  Where?  Who hath painted them?” he called out to the crowd.

The store manager took Shakespeare by the arm and led him into the store, gesturing to the crowd to move on, which they did.  Turning to him, he smiled.

“You know, I don’t know who you are, what you’re up to, and we certainly didn’t hire you to stand out there, but I have an idea … and it may sell some books around here.  Come along with me.”

Shakespeare couldn’t believe what was in the store.  He had never seen anything like it before.  The room, as big as a palace, was brightly illuminated by globes, each of which must have had a thousand candles within them, yet there was no smoke.   There were hundreds of bookcases and tables filled with more volumes than he had ever imagined existed, most in bright colors.  The manager led him to a shelf and pointed.  There, lined up, were books which had, in what looked like English words, but not the English he was used to, the titles of many of the plays he had written: Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, King Lear, Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello… in fact almost all of them were there.  He stood dumbfounded.  Turning to the manager, in a strangely lowered voice, he spoke.

“I knoweth not who ye be, nor where I am, nor what transpired to bring me hence, but believe me, I am William Shakespeare, and I wrote the plays in yon bookcase.  But how came they to be there, I know not.  Please, please, help me,” he pleaded.

The manager was about to call Security, but a nagging thought within him said not to.  “If you really are William Shakespeare, you ought to know what’s in those books,” he replied and reaching for the end book on the top shelf, he opened it randomly, and started reading:

“The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is the madman.  The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt,
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth … “

“Stop, stop,” Shakespeare called out.  “Thou hath the words right, but you pronounce them all wrong … and in no semblance of the rhythm I intended.  Thou art no actor, forsooth!”

“What did I read from?,” the manager asked.

“Why, Theseus’ speech from Scene 1 of Act 5 of Midsummer’s Night Dream, of course.  Are you testing me, fool?  Choose another.  I will show you that I truly am William Shakespeare, the playwright, and none other!”

The manager grabbed another book and opened it and started reading:

“O, I have passed a miserable night,
So full of fearful dreams, of ugly sights ….”

“Marry, that’s an easy one!  Clarence speaks those words, just before he is murdered in the Tower of London in Scene 4 of Act 1 of Richard the Third,” Shakespeare smiled. 

The manager took another book from the shelf and started to read from it.  In an instant, Shakespeare identified the passage.

“Thou art convinced; I can see it in thine eyes.  But what, pray tell, are you going to do about me?  What canst thou do about me?

The manager turned to him, and led him to his office.  Over coffee, he tried to explain where they were, what year it was, and what had happened in the world over the past four centuries.  Oddly, Shakespeare seemed to understand.

“Look, I ought to turn you over to the police, but I know a Professor in the English Department at FAU; that’s a university near here.  I am going to introduce you to him.  He may be able to come up with an answer.”

“That wouldst please me,” Shakespeare responded, as the store manager reached for his telephone.

And then, feeling an elbow prodding him on his side, he awoke and turned to his bed partner, exclaiming, “Zounds!  What a dream I was amidst!  You wouldst not believe it! I dreamt I visited the place I wrote about in my play, the Tempest!  It was four hundred years hence, and by damnation, I was right on the mark when I described the place! 

‘How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!  O brave new world
That has such people in it.’

“Willie,” his mate replied, sitting up in bed, “Methinks thou art crazed. Get thee back to sleep, but first, pray tell me from whence cometh that peculiar hat thou wearest.  I know not the letters ‘F A U’ emblazoned upon it.”

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Suzanne J Wertheim

When I learned that I could attach orchids to trees and let nature nurture them, I felt empowered to become an orchid-grower.  So I started tying those rare beauties to any tree on my property and said au revoir to them.  Years have passed and those loyal babies have grown up and bloomed repeatedly.  They don’t have affection for any particular tree; they willingly hug any trunk I marry them to and mostly drink in the humidity that’s ever present in our south Florida climate.  You might say I’m a bad mother; I don’t water or feed them.  I guess they appreciate the rain.

At first, I tie them on with that elasticized green tape that you can get in a garden department or you can use a nylon stocking.  I take them out of their pots and keep them in the medium they come with.  If you have Sabal palm trees with those old leaf stem “boots,” you can just tuck them into that cozy space; they will stay put and eagerly let their roots caress their little compartment.  Then they take nutrition from the tree.  I’m off the hook!

After the roots have grown and clung to the host tree, I remove the tape and these obedient kids of mine stay put and do just what they were meant to do…bask in the Florida climate and shoot out their colorful blooms periodically.  Sometimes, they rest and I know they will visit me again after some time. 

(Ed. Note:  This piece will appear shortly in Cascade Lakes News & Views but not with the beautiful pictures in color you see above.)

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The Price of Brevity

Brevity is one of the hallmarks of the abbreviated communication which texting on our handheld electronic devices encourages.  Why key in a lot of letters when you can abbreviate, particularly if doing so keeps your monthly cell phone bill down?  “Laughing Out Loud” becomes LOL, “In My Humble Opinion” becomes IMHO and so on.  That’s fine when you’re “texting” but what bothers me is when such barebones communications become part of our speech.

A decade ago, when someone wanted to disagree with something that was said, it became fashionable to merely say “Not!”  Now this negative can mean a lot of things.  I generally take it to mean that what it refers to is untrue … but it doesn’t really say that.  It says whatever the hearer wants it to mean along the broad spectrum of negativity which the word implies.  It leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding.

A similar abbreviated usage, an example of which I have heard in a TV commercial, is the use of the word “bad” as a noun to admit doing something wrong.  As far as I can see, it is used as a synonym for the word “error.”  But saying “My bad” is much milder, since it borders on baby talk and how guilty can a two year old be?  Using it, I suppose, minimizes the nature of the error.  When the doctor amputates the wrong leg, can he get away with saying, “My Bad.”?  “Not”!  

And while on the subject of commercials, another word whose meaning is changing is “ride.”  It has turned up used as a noun, referring to one’s automobile, but it can also refer to any means of travel one possesses including motorcycles, boats or even airplanes.  Flo, the lady in white who sells Progressive Insurance on TV, tells us that her company insures all kinds of “rides,” and automobile commercials occasionally feature a working class, outdoorsy-looking male with a deep voice telling someone to switch their “ride” from whatever they now drive to the make he is selling.  

All of these examples, “Not,” “My Bad” and “Ride” as well as the texting abbreviations I’ve mentioned, illustrate the imprecision with which we are beginning to communicate.  By using them, we are allowing our language, which provides us with the words to say exactly what we mean, to wither away.  Soon we may just be grunting, as early cavemen did, when we are not texting. JM2C