Saturday, April 19, 2014

That was the year that was.

Those of my vintage remember a tv show in the 60s called, That Was the Week that Was.  David Frost was one of the regulars. It was a humorous review of the news of the week. When WINS in New York-- a radio station that had been rock and roll--went to an all news format, the television program spoofed the transition.  They suggested that a report on new tax policy at the IRS might be introduced on WINS as "I Want to Withhold Your Hand." Stuff like that.

For me and my immediate kinfolk, this has been the year that was.  I was very fortunate to have had my folks for nearly ninety years.  They were ethical people who loved me and defaulted to doing the right thing modeling that behavior for my brother and me.

A year ago today, right about now in the evening, my mother shouted something to my dad while he was in the bedroom. He came to find my mother slumped in the kitchen. She had had a stroke.  I'd spoken to her just four days earlier and had had a good conversation.  That would be the last normal conversation we would have. After the stroke, she occasionally would recognize me, but the words came slowly. And occasionally I would ask her who I was and she would shrug an apologetic, "I don't know."

She died six weeks after the stroke and my father never recovered. During the time my mom was in rehab, dad neglected his own health and once she died, he was not the same guy emotionally or physically.  He'd become irascible during his visits to the doctor and no news, no matter how uplifting, could bring him out of the depression of losing his sweetheart.   He passed nine months after she, and anyone who had spent time around him during the time after she had passed, knew that it was inevitable that he would soon be joining her.

So a year ago today I went to sleep with two parents who both had all their marbles, mobility, and sense of humor.  Then around 6 a.m. dad called to tell me the news of the stroke.  (Characteristically for him, waiting until 6 so as not to disturb me during the night).  In less than 11 months, I've buried them both.

I have my moments of sadness--I lost two very loving people--but as I mentioned I was fortunate to have had them for a lot longer than most of my contemporaries.  The take-away for me is simply that things change.  And if you don't take advantage of the time you have, you are foolish.

 Andrew Marvel's great poem, To His Coy Mistress, is a poem of seduction, but one line can be extracted from it, that is--metaphorically at least--very apt.  The line: "The grave's a fine and private place. But none I think do there embrace."

Time to embrace good food, good company, nature, the Red Sox, those you love.


It was a year ago today when the city of Boston and several surrounding suburbs were in what was called "lock down."  We could not leave our homes because the miserable deranged savages who bombed innocent spectators in the name of an irrational political agenda were, allegedly, on the loose. As it turned out one of the killers was dead and the other was wounded lying in a boat in someone's backyard.

But at the time nobody knew for sure what was the case. So we all sat in our houses at the request if not order of the governor waiting for resolution.  In the evening they ended the lock down and shortly thereafter found the remaining killer.

Patriots Day is something to see if you have never been to Boston on that day.  It is a big city party. There is a baseball game at 11 a.m. and the Red Sox fans spill out of Fenway at the game's conclusion to complement the throngs of spectators lining Commonwealth and Boylston streets to cheer on the runners.

The city is hopping, kids are there with balloons, seniors sit on the sidewalk in folding chairs, friends cheer their running buddies along, runners make sure that there are supporters by writing their names on t shirts.  A Karen will write Karen on her shirt, and the crowds yell Go Karen Go when Karen whisks by.

I suspect that the energy in the air will be augmented this Patriots Day on Monday.  It will be more than the runners and the baseball game and the kids with their balloons.

There will be an undercurrent of "Go to Hell you miserable bastards" that will energize the crowd.

You tried to stop this.

Take a look.

We're here.

We're back.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Block Ice

My dad and I were sent on a mission. It was a very hot memorial day weekend, 1964.  And it was the day that we were hosting a reception in honor of my brother's bar mitzvah.

My folks had decided to have the reception in our home.  It was May so the idea was that people would come into the house, but then eventually move to the backyard where we had tables set up.  We had a large, but not enormous yard.  A delightful feature was that there was a covered patio where we often ate meals in the summer, most enjoyably.  It could be pouring but we would bring the food down to the patio level and eat on a picnic table on the covered patio.

On this day it was not pouring. A bit overcast which caused some nervousness because our house could not hold the guest list if some couldn't spill out into the backyard beyond the patio.  The forecast was that clouds would dissipate and that is what, as it turned out, occurred.

But it was hot.  Humid 90 plus degree energy sapping hot.  In those days we did not have any air conditioner units in the house except for some window units in upstairs bedrooms. The living room was a furnace.  Add onto this the fact that maybe a hundred people would be parading through the house, and the plan was for some food to be warmed up--our not inaccurate feeling was that we would broil in the living room.

The general atmosphere pre party was frenetic. We kids were sent to this room and that with a rag to clean something or other.  Some item had to be moved from one storage spot to another.  We had to arrange the chairs in the backyard and put some sort of paper table cloths on the tables we opened up.

One job was to put cans of soda and beer in a large new garbage pail purchased specifically for this purpose.  One thing we should have, but did not, foresee was a need for ice to keep the soda and beer cold in the 90 plus degree day.

Much was presented as crisis during the hours before guests would arrive. I am not sure exactly what my mother said when she realized that the cubes of ice we had might be enough to put in glasses, but were not nearly enough to keep the cans of soda cold in the garbage pail. It was probably something like two screaming words, "Meyer! Ice!"

My father's sputtering response probably coming out staccato--because he had been sent in five directions at once to (a) check the tables in the backyard, (b) see if there is enough toilet paper, (c) make sure the bridge chairs are washed down,  (d) take our coats out of the closet for guests even though nobody sane would arrive that day with a coat, and (e) dust the coffee table)--his response to "Meyer! Ice!" was probably a stammer of "Ice...What... What... Ice...?"

My mother's compassionate retort was likely something akin to, "Ice, Meyer. I-C-E. Ice."  Again dad probably sputtered, "Ice? Why? We don't have ice?"

"Meyer, if we had enough Ice, would I be standing here spelling Ice for you.  Ice. Let's offer our guests a nice hot soda. Ice. Meyer. Ice."

So, dad and I went on a frenzied mission. Frenzied because people were coming shortly and we had the tables to clean, coats to take out of the closet, etc.

The beverage barn had ice machines. We'd been there before on other occasions. Put in a quarter you got a bag of cubed ice.  For 50 cents you could get block ice.  We never got the block ice.  Dad kept putting in quarters for bags of ice cubes.  This was going to take forever. We needed a lot of bags of cubes to fill up the entire garbage can so that the soda would get cold.

So, I made a suggestion.  Why not get the block ice.  I figured instead of a bag filled with cubes, we would get a bigger bag filled with blocks of ice more likely to do the job.  This was not something we ever did, but the bags of cubed ice were already melting as we were buying the next bag. So, he reluctantly agreed to the block ice idea, put two quarters in, and pushed the button that read, "Block Ice."

And instead of a bag of anything coming out of the chute, out kerplunked a huge cinder block of ice. The look on my dad's face when that block of ice slid out will forever be etched into my consciousness. The ice staring back at him as if saying, "You wanted block ice, you got block ice."

What the hell were we going to do with this block of ice?  The thing was melting as we were staring at it.  I started cackling hysterically. Dad was not amused.

The block was too big for either of us to pick up ourselves. Plus where were we going to put it. It was not in any sort of bag.  Dad found some newspapers somewhere, spread them in the trunk, and the two of us carried the ice like a boulder from the machine to the car.  It nearly slipped out of our hands a couple of times as we were carrying it. We plunked it down in the trunk and then got in the car and drove home fast, before we had a flood in the trunk.

We are coming up on fifty years since this incident.   Today it crossed my mind as I was driving to work, thinking about my dad. Until the day he died,  this was a live joke for us.  If he asked for ice for a drink, I'd ask him if he wanted block ice.  I tried to explain it to others and almost always would start crying from laughter before I finished the story when I recalled my dad's face when that huge block of ice slid out.  But the thing is, it is one of those events that just he and I shared.  How precious it was to have had that shared memory and connection and laughter.

Shared memories and moments are value added elements to true love--familial and romantic and fraternal.  It's rarely a bad time to dwell on those moments and immerse ourselves in them when we feel the pain of having lost romantic, filial, or fraternal love.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Someone-Book Review

It has been a while since I have read a book worth reviewing.  I just finished Someone by Alice McDermott. This is a book worth reviewing and worth reading.

Someone is not much of a story, but it is not intended to be one.  It is a depiction of a character, Marie, a girl and then a woman who grows up in Brooklyn during the thirties. If you are looking for an action novel or one with an intriguing plot line, this is not it.  It is more like a puzzle, as if the author provides pieces of Marie and at the end we can put these pieces together to form a complete picture.

The book is not told in sequence. We meet Marie when she is young, but readers are taken to when she meets her husband; her baking lesson with her mother; walks with her dad, and interactions with her sweet brother Gabe. We meet her first boyfriend of sorts, characters in the funeral home where she worked for a spell, her children, the doctor who presided over the birth of her first child, and several others.  And not a lot is sequential.  She can be with her mother in one section- and in the next, she is 70 or so sitting with her daughter in a doctor's waiting room---and in the next is giving birth to her first child.

At the end of the first part of the book Gabe consoles Marie when her heart is broken. She wonders if anyone will ever be interested in her again.  Gabe assures her that "Someone" will.  I thought when I read that, that the title of the book would prove to be about this person who Marie will meet.

But it is not. The title refers to the person who is the composite of the puzzle pieces, Marie.  Her life is not especially unusual, except in the way that everyone's life is unique.  Who we meet, love, are parented by, have as siblings, spend work hours with--for all of us, we are "someone"--a composite of puzzle pieces.

Beautifully written novel.  McDermott is able to depict the nuances of Marie's interactions and her thoughts in a way that will make one marvel at the author's skill.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Union College is a small school located in Schenectady, New York.  Since I had a brief stint as a toll collector on the New York State Thruway I can tell you that Schenectady sits at exit 25, one exit west of the junction of Interstates 87 and 90.

I am not much of a hockey fan so was startled to read a few days ago that Union College was in the Frozen Four competing for a national championship.  Union is not a big time sports school. They play Division 3 football and for a while the hockey team was also Division 3.  Twenty plus years ago the school went Division I in hockey.

Nevertheless this tiny school--that sits in a town that has seen its heyday come and go (and go far)--won the national championship tonight. On Thursday Union beat perennial power Boston College in the semi-finals and then, just an hour ago, Union defeated the mighty University of Minnesota Gophers in the finals.

The Union players were as jubilant as one can imagine when the game ended. The managers without skates threw caution to the wind and ran onto the ice--slip sliding their way--so they could join the shaking mass of athletes cavorting in a pile. Players were tearing as they were being interviewed.  Not likely anyone on this team will make a living playing hockey, yet each player said words to the effect that this was the biggest game in their lives.

It probably will be.  Financial rewards are overrated.  I have never seen a bunch of faculty colleagues jumping up and down because they had negotiated an extra percentage point worth of raises.

A tiny school of 2200 has just won the national championship. Well done Union.  Of course the real reason they were victorious is that my cousin Gary is a Physics professor at the school. .

Thursday, April 10, 2014

juxtaposition 2014.

I was on the elliptical last night watching a sporting event that went to commercial break.  Up came soft music and testimonials for a product called e.harmony.  This is a dating service that claims to have success finding mates for those looking for them.  I have noticed a proliferation of such services.  For a while a company called Christian Singles was buying a good deal of advertising time.  There is a related product called J-date, for Jewish people seeking romance.  When I go to Pandora for internet radio, my screen fills up with photos of attractive women who all, it is intimated, are out there and waiting for a partner.  I even saw an ad for a company that seemed a bit like a spoof. It was a dating service for farmers.

The e.harmony ad had a voice over that reported data about the number of marriages that have resulted from the use of e.harmony and how it was not like rival companies. Yet, the rival companies all make similar claims. They all suggest that if you sign up, romance is in the near future. Since these companies are not there to do a public service,  and there are so many of them, one suspects that there is a big market for these services.

The e.harmony ad ended with some sweet music and a couple embracing.   There was a quick cut and a transition to the next advertisment.

The next ad... A fellow is standing behind a desk in a shirt and tie.  He said he was, let's say, John Smith, from the legal firm of Smith and Smith.  What does Smith and Smith do?

Smith and Smith are divorce attorneys that specialize in helping those who are in the legal and financial throes of a break-up.  Smith says that there are issues with homes, cars, and bank accounts. Smith and Smith is the perfect firm for this need.

I thought this to be an odd juxtaposition. E.harmony followed immediately by divorce attorneys. And, again, I mused that companies don't advertise unless there is a market.

Seeing the divorce attorney after the romantic couple, coupling, reminded me of what happens when I buy a stereo or tv or furniture.  The salesperson spends the first hour trying to tell me how swell the product is, and then after I buy, immediately tries to sell me a service contract listing all the reasons why the item is going to fall apart because it is not what it claims to be. Same thing?

e.harmony and divorce lawyer.   An interesting juxtaposition for we baby boomers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

new app

I am a member of something called the Zaremba-Sukenik web site that is affiliated with MyHeritage. My father's mother's sister married a man named David Sukenik many years ago.  As could be deduced, My father's mother married a man named Zaremba.   All descendants of the two sisters are on this website.

Occasionally, the website sends us "notifications" which are reminders of upcoming events.  My cousins' anniversaries and birthdays, for example.  Open the "notification" and you will see that a Zaremba or a Sukenik has an event and readers are invited to send a greeting to the person.

I got such a notification the other day. It reminded me that a first cousin had a birthday on the 7th and then was taken aback when I was "reminded" that my mother's birthday was upcoming (today, in fact) and was invited to "send Helen Zaremba a greeting."

Sending Helen Zaremba a greeting will require a new app with a very sophisticated algorithm since my mother has been dead for several months now.  A particularly powerful wifi system would need to be in place.  I read in today's Globe that the city has invested in free outdoor wifi that is so strong that not only will people be able to use it in public places, but local apartment dwellers will be able to use. it. Still don't think my mother would be able to access the net.

The Zaremba-Sukenik website has apparently not been updated, but I am reminded now of a paper I heard delivered at a job talk. It was about how the internet has become a place to somehow keep people alive. The candidate made the case that on facebook and other sites, people continue to send messages to others who are gone and conversation takes place on these sites.  I have looked in the past for a buddy of mine who died a few years ago.  Her facebook page is still active with visitors writing in and wishing her well or commenting on how she is missed.

It is an interesting concept to consider that people who are gone from this earth are still in some way here because of cyberspace.  Don't think we are likely to get much of a response to any of our postings, but it may be cathartic to send a note now and again.

Happy birthday, Mom.  I think you can hear me even if you don't have the new app.  Happy birthday.