SOMEWHAT FEWER

This is round three on this prompt. At least. Maybe four. This post is also a rerun because my school days are a million years past and I don’t have anything more to say on the subject. However, I like this post and don’t mind rerunning it. Hope you don’t mind, either.

I have to point out — again — that by the time one is collecting social security, the issue of school memories is moot. It really doesn’t much matter what happened in school. What matters — maybe — is what happened during the rest of ones life.

But stories are stories and this one’s not bad. It was a long time ago … more than sixty years. I might as well write it down because I’ll probably have forgotten it soon enough.

My 6th Grade class.

In sixth grade. Still wondering what I’m doing there. Probably so were most of the other kids.

I’ve arrived. School has begun, if you could really call it school. I’m the youngest kid in the class, only four, but somehow, here I am anyhow. I’m certainly the smallest. All the others kids are way bigger than me. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. After that, they stop measuring.

P.S. 35 is tiny but to me it looks gigantic. Monstrous. Many years later, I will come back here and see this school as the miniature it is, but not yet. Even the stairs are half the height of normal stairs. I don’t know about stairs. Kindergarten is on the ground floor. Always. They don’t want us little kids getting run over by bigger ones. Or lost in the hallways.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling. Very tall. To open or close them, Miss O’Rourke uses a long hook on a pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like at home. Our windows open by turning a crank. Anyone can open them. Even me.PS350001

Teacher is pretty old. She’s got frizzy grey hair and glasses. She dresses funny. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever or at least none I can remember. Anyway, I don’t have a blanket. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and no shoe box.

Worse, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones in the big box in the classroom for everyone to use are broken, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring crayons either. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff all the other kids mothers know.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It gives Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just that the walk home is all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this? I could have stayed home and played with my own toys.

By the time I know the answer, I will be 19 and graduating from college. Even after I know the answer, I don’t understand the question. I read so much on my own — that’s where I really learn everything.  School will forever be where I sit around doing everything slowly so other kids can catch up with me.

Except for math. And French. But who needs that stuff anyhow? I’m going to be a writer. Unless the ballerina thing works out.

DOUSING SANDY

A bunch of us gathered at Sandy’s house. She was an excellent cook. Aspiring to be a professional. When she invited us for a meal, it was a treat, always a good feeding and delicious. We were her test subjects, never knowing what great idea she’d come up with. Whatever, we were happy to eat it.

On this day, Sandy was dressed — as always — in a floaty Indian blouse and long skirt. The blouse had angel-wing sleeves. Very pretty, if a bit inconvenient in the kitchen. All of us had been smoking a little appetizer, building up hearty appetites.

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“Hey,” I said. “Sandy! You are on fire.” Sure enough, the wings of her blouse passed smoldering — I’d missed that — and were now in flames.

“Oh,” said Sandy, flustered.

All the friends stood there frozen, staring at the pretty fire. So, I put out the fire. Sandy thanked me profusely for something I’d have done for anyone. What was more interesting was how the rest of the gang just stood there with their mouths open. Not good in a crisis, I surmised.

“No one else tried to put out the fire,” said Sandy.

“Not a big deal,” I said, and it wasn’t. I still don’t understand why I was the only one who realized that “Sandy is on fire” should be followed by putting out the fire.

Sandy stopped wearing loose clothing in the kitchen and stopped inviting those friends for dinner. Shortly thereafter, she moved to San Francisco and opened a chain of take-out restaurants. I visited her there. She’s doing better than fine. All’s well that ends well.

SERENDIPITY PHOTO PROMPT 2015-6

SERENDIPITY PHOTO STORY PROMPT

WEDNESDAY – 2015 #6

Welcome to Frisbee Wednesday where we celebrate … well, whatever. Mainly, we try to write something about a picture. This week’s picture is my own, beloved plastic pal, Toni — by Ideal. She is older than she looks, having be born in 1953. Yet there is not a single wrinkle in her face!

Please try to add your own ping back (links). If you aren’t sure how to do it, put your link in a comment. That works too.

Every Wednesday or until I throw in the towel, I’ll publish a picture and write something about it. You can use any of my pictures — or one of your own — as a prompt. If you find my subject interesting, by all means, extrapolate. Any length is acceptable from a couple of sentences, to a chapter from your upcoming novel.

Please link it back to this post (ping back) so other people can find it.

WHAT DO I MEAN BY “STORY” AND “PICTURES”?

Story. Words. Poetry, prose, fact, or fiction. A couple of lines, a fanciful tale.

Pictures. Video if that’s your thing. Scanned pictures from your scrap-book. Weird pictures from the internet. Cartoons. Pictures of your family vacation and how the bear stole your food. Any picture you ever took and would like to talk about.

SIMPLE

It sounds simple. It is simple. Every picture has a story or ought to. There are no rules. Follow my lead, ignore me, follow someone else’s idea. Any picture plus some text. Short or long, truth or fiction. Prose or poetry.

One final thing: If you want to get notices of these posts, you’ll have to subscribe to Serendipity. I’ll try to title relevant posts so you can easily recognize them.

My effort for this week follows.


 STILL PLASTIC AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

My mother gave me Toni for my birthday the year I turned six. She was not my first doll. Annabelle, a lovely, blond girl from Madame Alexander, had that distinction.

Annabelle was (is) a class act, but Tony has better hair. In fact, Toni was and remains, all about the hair.

Toni - From 1953, still beautiful and young after all these years. One of my favorite plastic friends.

She came with a little box containing doll-size curlers and a “permanent wave kit.” These were the years of the “home perm.” Toni perms were the most popular home perm kids, and were quite the “in” fashion statement, the quintessence of early 1950s chic.

The success of a home permanent wave depended on the skill of the administrator (aka “mom”) and luck. Little girls typically subjected to this procedure were those with absolutely straight hair. Ten years later, their ramrod straight hair would be “The Look of the Hippy Generation.” Girls would iron their hair in an attempt to gain what their mothers tried to erase.

In the 1950s, Shirley Temple was the way a proper girl should look. To this standard mommies everywhere aspired on behalf of their daughters.

Shirley Temple Doll portrait

The curlers were teeny tiny and the “permanent wave” was sugar-water. It didn’t so much curl Toni’s hair, as make it sticky and attractive to flies and ants.

From my doll collecting days, I have perhaps 20 versions of Toni, from the compact, economy 14″ size, to the super-size luxury 24″ model. I have her with red, blond, auburn, brown, and dark brown hair. She is still plastic after all these years … and is still all about her hair.

WHEN FEASTING ON CROW INCLUDE THE FEATHERS

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Hola! Daily Prompt! We did jealousy last week. Really. Exactly one week ago, on May 8th, 2015. It was a good one too and I invite all of you to read “DON’T COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS.” And if that’s not enough, you can also read my original response from August 2013, “MONEY CAN’T BUY IT.” 

Instead of something more on this worn out subject (not a favorite from the beginning) because I have nothing more to say about jealousy, here’s a favorite anecdote. It’s funny, and a cautionary tale for assholes everywhere.

MOTTO: Make sure, when you set out to humiliate someone, that the shoe does not wind up in your mouth. And that is all the metaphor mixing I can handle for today.

NOTE: The photographs are irrelevant to the story, but I like them, so I’ve used them.


In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was never a developer, just a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and all other relational databases emerged. Cool beans, right?

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

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The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

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The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

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Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

Hyannis show window

It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

SCHOOL DAYS WERE NOT SO EASY

Childhood is a challenge.

Many of us struggled, had serious problems at home and lived with daily bullying at school. With the attention these issues get in the press today, things have not changed much. Bullying is as much — or more — of a problem as it was when I was a kid. Teachers ignore it. Parents dismiss it. Kids won’t talk about their problems because they (rightly) believe it might make everything worse.

These days, it’s all about awareness, as if somehow, knowing that there is a problem is the same as solving it. Awareness is not a cure. Publicity does not change what happens at home or in the schoolyard.

elementary school

I was a precocious child with limited social skills. Inept at sports, lost in math. Among outcasts, I was an outcast. I was bored in class, terrified in the schoolyard. In third grade, I hid in the cloak room in the hopes no one would miss me. I found a stack of books and read them in the semi-dark by the light of one dim bulb.

My teacher was furious. I had finished the readers for my grade and through sixth. I would have read more but they found my hiding place and made me come out. The principal called my mother to complain I had read the readers. My mother pointed out I might benefit from a more challenging curriculum. She reasoned if I could read all the readers in an hour, the work was too easy. The principal and teachers missed the point. Entirely.

They wanted my mother to punish me for reading too much. She didn’t stop laughing for days. She thought it was hilarious and retold the story at every family gathering. I didn’t think it was nearly as funny, because that teacher hated me from that day forward. It made third grade a special kind of Hell.

I started high school at thirteen. Blessed by a few teachers who made learning exciting and fun, the rest of the lot thought reading the textbook in a monotone was the way to go. I chipped a tooth one morning when I fell asleep and hit my head on the desk.

I was off the charts in English and history while falling further behind in math and hard science. I was in my thirties — reading Horatio Hornblower before I realized trigonometry had a purpose. It was used to calculate trajectories and navigation! A revelation! Pity I didn’t know that when I was supposed to be learning it …

I survived school and had a life. It’s a bit late to wonder what might have been …

HOUSEWORK

My mother hated housework. She did it only under compulsion and had a terrible attitude. She was also a dreadful cook and hostile. The kind of cook who tosses food on the table, glares at you, daring you to say anything other than “Thank you Mom” while choking on overcooked veggies and overdone meat.

I’m pretty sure she wasn’t entirely sold on motherhood either. But having birthed three of us, she did the best she could. Nurturing didn’t come naturally to her, though she made an effort. Her mother hadn’t been much of a nurturer either. It was an apology in the form of a story. I understood.

On the up side, she was a great mentor. She loved books, she loved learning. She an infinite curiosity about how things worked, history and art. She loved movies, laughter, and trips to Manhattan, which we called The City. It was just a subway ride away.

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As soon as I was old enough to have a conversation, we talked. Not like a little kid and a mom, but like friends. She told me stories. About growing up on the Lower East Side when horses and carts were common and cars were rare. How, when she was little, she lived at the library. If she stayed after dark, she’d run all the way home because she thought the moon was chasing her.

Mom grew up doing pretty much as she pleased. In turn, she let me do pretty much as I pleased. Freedom and a passion for knowledge were her gifts to me.

Some of my happiest memories were the two of us walking through Manhattan arm-in-arm. Like pals. Buying roasted chestnuts from the vendor in front of the library. Sitting on the steps in the shadow of the lions, peeling chestnuts and talking. Going to the ballet, which was Balanchine’s company.

fuchsia on the deck may

New York was culture central. Our local ballet company was Balanchine. Our local opera was the Met. If we wanted to see a show, we went to Broadway. We had the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and the Guggenheim. City museums were free admission and the rest were not expensive, even for a kid on an allowance.

She wasn’t a great housekeeper. Stuff got done, and I did a lot of it because I was the older daughter. It turned out to be a good investment. The time I shared with my mother gave me tools to understand her world. It took me years to put the pieces together, but I got most of those pieces while I ironed my father’s shirts … and we talked.

I hate ironing. But I know how.

ALIYAH

Once upon a time, in another life, I had a home in Jerusalem, just down the road from Jaffa Gate. When I remember Jerusalem, the edges are soft. “My” Jerusalem is gone, replaced by housing projects, shopping malls, and office parks.

I didn’t know I was arriving at the end of an era. Those would be the last years the Bedouins would cross their sheep through the middle of town, stopping traffic on King George Street on their way to the greener grass on the other side of the mountain.

Those would be the final years during which you could stand on the edge of the wadi by an ancient olive grove to see the great golden Dome of the Rock glowing in the first light of dawn. Now, the wadi is filled with condos. A promenade has been built where ancient olives trees grew.

At the end of January 1979, my son and I arrived at Lod airport. Neither of us had ever been to Israel. Owen knew absolutely nothing of the place. I had read a great deal about it … history, legends, guidebooks and novels. We had no friends or family in the country, nor were we familiar with the language or customs. Despite this, we would make it our home and both of us would grow to love it.

My mother said she thought me very brave to leap into the unknown. I enjoyed the role of intrepid heroine. But I was not brave, just hungry for adventure and yearning for culture shock.

I was running toward a new beginning, a different reality I could not find by staying where I’d always been.

When we arrived, exhausted and anxious at the airport, I scanned the faces in the crowd, wondering who would be there to take charge of us and get us to our destination. Remarkably, someone was there. Somehow, we recognized each other.

We were collected, processed and given official identity papers. A small amount of money. I had no idea how little it was worth. It was a while before I learned to do exchange rates in my head.

I remember that the taxi driver played the radio loud and sang along. The music was 1960s American rock and roll. The driver spoke no English. I spoke no Hebrew. It was images tumbling one on top of another.

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The apartment  in which we were to live had a living room, a hallway with a kitchenette, a small bedroom, and a tiny bath with a half-tub.

No closets. You buy closets and install them. Israeli closets combine closets and dressers. Lacking any place to put our things, we used our trunks as dressers.

We had nothing to eat. The refrigerator was empty. Hunger was gnawing at us, but we had no car nor a clue where to shop. No other choice, so we ventured out. Found a grocery store. All the labels were in Hebrew. Bread was sold in whole, un-sliced loaves. Cheese was sold by metric weight. Mostly, I recognized the fruits and vegetables, but even some of those were unfamiliar.

Culture shock really struck when I tried to buy milk. Finding milk required asking everyone until I found someone who spoke English. He then led me to the dairy case. This was unsettling since I’d thought that a dairy case is a dairy case and would be easy enough to recognize.

Milk was sold in plastic bags. Not cartons. Not bottles. Bags. What in the world was I going to do with a bag of milk? Finally, I bought a pitcher. After tearing the bag open with my teeth – not having thought to bring a pair of scissors – I poured the milk into it.

It turned out that there are special containers to hold milk bags and you just snip off a corner and pour the milk directly from the bag. Who knew?

We finally slept. The next morning dawned into brilliant sunshine.

“Let’s go see our city,” I said and we found the bus to Jerusalem, rode down Hebron road, and got off at Jaffa Gate.

The walls rose up tall around us and I shivered with excitement (I suspect that Owen, lacking my expectations, was merely stunned into silence). This was what had brought me to Jerusalem. Thousands of years of ghosts floated through those narrow streets. You never walked alone in Jerusalem. Generations of ghosts walked with you wherever you went.

Donkeys, so heavily laden that they looked as if they would collapse under their loads, plied the stone streets, cruelly prodded by small brown boys armed with sticks and shrill voices. Vendors called from their stalls, garments brightly ornamented with intricate needlework. Everything rustled in a light breeze. Stall owners stood in the lanes accosting passersby.

“Come in, come in,” they called. “I make you a special deal.”

Small open spaces housed spice markets that filled the air with the most exotic smells, the scent of ginger mixed with cinnamon, cumin and saffron. Just breathing was a joy. As the day moved on, more and more people arrived, filling the shuk until it seethed with activity and noise. Everywhere, people were haggling over prices, making deals, grabbing up bargains, filling their bags. The shuk was vital and alive.

Everyone was buying or selling. Voices echoed off the stone. Jerusalem of gold, Jerusalem of stone, and in the springtime and summer, Jerusalem of flowers.

All around you, embedded in the walls, is the architectural history of the city. “Yerushalmis change their minds a lot,” I was told. The walls tell stories. You could see the outlines where arches and windows had been but were now closed and see how the ground level had risen.

That first day, we wandered. The city led us into herself. She twisted us around until we found ourselves atop a hill, looking down at the Temple Mount, the golden Dome of the Rock shining in the sun.

The walls, the golden dome, the stones made my bones resonate. I fell in love. No matter how difficult my life became, the city would lift me up. Jerusalem sang to me, called to me, made love to me, and now, so many years later, in my dreams, I am still in love with her.

Journey