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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, September 30, 2015

Russia in the Middle East, a Short Story and Mondegreens

What The Hell is a Vacation?

Here's a short story I recently submitted to our writing group.  Hope you enjoy it.
Jack Lippman

For a sixteen year old, I considered myself rather fortunate.  Technically, I suppose, I was a resident of Manhattan where my Mom and Dad owned a penthouse apartment overlooking the East River on one side, and Central Park on the other side, which we could see off to the west because our place was on the 70th floor of our building and you could see almost everywhere from the swimming pool deck outside, even all the way to LaGuardia where Dad kept the Learjet.  But I really didn’t spend very much time there.

About six weeks ago, I got back from Dad’s summer house on the Italian Riviera.  It’s in a neat town called Portofino and is really a lot nicer than Mom’s place in Cap de Ferrat, not too far from Saint Tropez.  I spent a lot of time water skiing and sailing on our forty foot sailboat.  I really got along very well with the crew who taught me a lot about seamanship, and incidentally, introduced me to weed.

Before that, I did spend some time with Mom.  The two of them weren’t divorced, but most of the time they each went their own way.  Nice, the nearest big town, is a pretty boring place and when I told her so, she was glad to send me off to Paris for a week.  She had her maid’s pretty eighteen year old daughter come with me for company, and we really, really, if you know what I mean, had a good time.  I would have liked to go back there again next year, when I’m a little older, because it really looked like quite the place.  Anyhow, the French are much nicer than the Italians who are sort of common people and also messy eaters.  The only Italian I met whom I liked was the Pope, who came over to Dad’s place one evening for dinner, but later I was told he was really from Argentina so I guess my opinion of Italians was right.  Actually, he was looking for a donation from Dad for some dumb charity.

This past winter I really improved my skiing.  Dad took me to St. Moritz and Zermatt in the Alps where we spent a couple of weeks in a really neat lodge he borrowed from some Arab shiek who owed him a favor. All the bathroom fixtures were solid gold, I think!  The place came with a helicopter which whisked us to the various mountains we wanted to ski.  And back in the United States, Mom and I skied Aspen and Vail.  Our winter places in both places are really beautiful and our full-time ski instructor lived there with us.  He’s a great guy, even filling in as our chef when our kitchen staff was off. 


The weather was warmer than usual this winter so we put our skis away in the middle of February and flew down to our place in Barbados, all three of us.  That’s where the big sailboat and the yacht are permanently docked.  We fished and ate and swam and really had a lot of fun together all spring.  For my birthday, Dad brought down Beyonce’  who put on a great show for us and some old business friends he flew in.   The Arab shiek who had that place in the Alps even came, complete with that towel wrapped around his head. Ha, Ha.  Dad thought that next winter we might want to alternate visits between our ski lodges and our Caribbean house (which is much bigger) every two weeks or so.

You might wonder when I went to school.  I don’t think I mentioned that Mom and Dad had three teachers permanently on staff for me.  There was always one living with us wherever we were at the time.   They told me I am doing at least as well as the top students at those schools like Groton or Phillips Exeter where some of my friends go.   Since Dad and his father both graduated from Harvard and were in all the right clubs there, I don’t think I’d have any trouble getting in there.  Anyhow, our family foundation gave them a few million or so every year, so there wasn’t any problem that way.

Back in the city, I tried to see whatever was hot on Broadway, and we had a box for everything, and I mean everything, they did at Lincoln Center as well as boxes at Yankee Stadium and at the Garden.  Most of the time we ate in those French restaurants with names I can’t pronounce, but it was important for me to be in New York at least some of the time, so I could get used to the place.  That is where I would be going to work I guess when I finished school.  I figured it ought to take me about four or five years on Wall Street to make enough to retire just like Dad did at age 28.

Now, all of that has changed.  Last month Dad shot and killed Mom when he found her in bed with the ski instructor and then jumped out of the window.  That really fucked up everything.  Remember, I told you our place was on the 70th floor.  What happened that night made me feel really sad since Dad had been really nice to me. Seriously. Really!  They sent me to live with Mom’s sister who put me in a regular high school here in Syracuse.  The lawyers told her that a trust would provide enough for her to take care of me until I was 21 at which time I’m supposed to come into some money, but they say there may not be very much left by then because the government is trying to get their hands on it.  The lawyers used words like inside trading and a money laundry, stuff I’ve never heard of before.

Meanwhile, the teacher gave us a fucking assignment to write a short story about what we did over our vacation.  She looked at me kind of stupidly when I asked her what a vacation was.  I am puzzled.  Seriously.  Really! What the hell is a vacation?

The Middle East, Russia, Israel and Beyond

Strange things are happening in the Middle East.  Russia is now dropping bombs in the battle against the Islamic State just as we have been doing.  They, however, are doing it to prop up the Syrian government which we oppose, which means they may be bombing other opponents of Assad rather than ISIS itself.   Iran, which also supports Assad in Syria, is another fighter against ISIS, and one willing to put troops on the ground, which we are not willing to do.  Both Iran and the United States also support Iraq, but that country's recent agreement to share intelligence resources with Russia, Iran and Syria seems to put the U.S. and some of its Western allies, particularly Sunni states such as Jordan, on the outside, the general consensus of these others being that keeping Assad in power is preferable to creating the kind of dangerous vacuum which occurred when the undesirable leaders of Egypt and Libya were overthrown. 

This is not unlike the unspoken position of Israel which has tolerated Assad's government as an unfriendly but acceptable neighbor so long as they don't make trouble on the Golan Heights.  To them, Assad is the devil they know, and preferable to a more extreme Islamic government in Syria.  So long as Assad keeps Hezbollah and other extremist groups in Syria from bothering Israel, apparently they are not interested in seeing him thrown out, by either ISIS or his other opposition.

A few weeks before Russia became more involved in Syria, and Syrian-Russian-Iranian-Iraqi intelligence sharing was announced, Benjamin Netanyahu paid a call

on Vladimir Putin in Moscow.     I don't recall reading a report on what they discussed but It is my guess that Putin told Netanyahu what he was planning to do in Syria ... and that it would pose no additional danger to Israel, in fact it would better Israel's position since Russian support of Assad would enable him to crack down on more extreme Islamic groups opposing him  such as Al Qaeda and Al Nustra, as well as ISIS , all of which are more hostile to Israel than Assad's actions have shown him to be.  Bibi was accompanied by several Israeli military leaders which suggests the nature and extent of Russian military involvement in Syria was discussed.  It is inconceivable to me that this information was not passed on to the United States government by Israel so Barack Obama and John Kerry were probably not surprised by Putin's current actions.
Russia's involvement is like a chess game.  The pieces on the board include all of the countries and leaders mentioned above as well as the Ukraine and the Crimea.  Everything is interrelated.  This is a time for Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky.  And of course, all of this is within the context of the Sunni - Shiite division within Islam, which can never be ignored.  JL

ISIS - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - Implies that it is located in these countries. Most common usage.
ISIL -  The Islamic State in the Levant -  Implies that it is located in that region of the world, without naming countries and is the preferred usage by U.S. government.
Islamic State - Caliphate - Implies an unlimited domain. 


What is a Mondegreen?
About sixty years ago, a writer named Sylvia Wright wrote an article about new and unintended meanings which people attach to certain words when they "mishear" them.   A typical "mondegreen" (for that is what these things are called) would be the lines from the Twenty-third Psalm which describe a kindly Irish woman who watches over you, sort of a super-nanny for adults. The psalmist tells us that "Surely good Mrs. Murphy will follow you all the days of your life..."

Two mondegreens relate to our National Anthem.  Some Latinos believe it starts off  with the words, "Jose,  can you see ..."   And the following words of that opening line describe to many a solid lighthouse perched on a rocky New England coast, and known to all as "The Dawnsery Light." 

https://blogger.googleusercontent.com/img/b/R29vZ2xl/AVvXsEjLjXlByc9rsSpCYULn6j14Oa55K1Yb-DEfWWeknSzhNh2eRAI4V32kpnFuCNju7JW_3H_UkbbfkngVmgzpNyrEWdR5ZnSUG57t3lRmWDHJgM4AcnudBlY_M2ER4SUITAt8B-8Yu7nQdvBl/s1600/Moray.jpg http://images.halloweencostumes.com/products/15376/1-1/renaissance-wench-costume.jpg

 Earl O'Moray and what Lady Mondegreen might have looked like.  No actual portraits of her exist.

There's a 17th century Scotch ballad about the Earl of Moray.  It seems, according to the poem, that "They slew the Earl O'Moray, and laid him on the green."  Many take these words to mean that when they he was slain, his girlfriend, Lady Mondegreen, was also killed, for don't the words clearly say, "They slew the Earl of Moray and Lady Mondegreen"?  And that, my friends, is why these things are called "mondegreens,"  at least since the aforementioned Ms. Wright gave them that name.



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Jack Lippman