MY TWO CITIES ARE WAITING AND I’M GOING IN STYLE!

A Tale of Two Cities

If you could split your time evenly between two places, and two places only, which would these be?


Easy choices! I’ll take Jerusalem, Israel and New York, New York.

I’m (of course) assuming you will be supplying attractive housing and unlimited plane fares. Furnishings and appropriate wardrobes, and of course, a generous stipend.

Jerusalem_old_city_panorama_5

That would work for me and my husband. You are paying his way too, right? And all my best friends and close family as well?

Naturally, suitable transportation will be provided at each location. You know … cars, taxis, limos as needed? And support personnel? Cleaning staff, cooks, personal assistants? Dog walkers?

This is going to be our reward for a long life of hard work and challenges no one should have to face, so I’m expecting great things.

new-york-city-housing

Thanks for your kind offer. I’m not even going to pack my bags since I’m sure your people will be in touch and make all the necessary arrangements. Have a good day and thanks again.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.

WHY TERM LIMITS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA — AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN

Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?

Why do you want amateurs making your laws?

Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.

When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.

The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?

The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.

A little more history

Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families.

Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution’s aims to get professionals into government.

Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a very hard temp job with no future.

Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid

Maybe they are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?

Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.

Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.

Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.

Skill and experience count

Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.

We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of old guard, the folks who understand how to work with the opposition to make the process work. It’s the newly elected morons who are stopping progress. Sadly, our experienced old-timers got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.

Above and beyond the skill it take to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob DoleTed Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.

Term limits eliminate all chance of having great legislators

Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?

Garry and Tip O’Neill

If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.

If you don’t elect them, they won’t be in congress

We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates suitable to be President?

We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with others to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.

The President doesn’t run the country

Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault

The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one will want.

It’s close to that already. Mention going into politics to an ambitious young person. Watch him or her recoil in horror.

Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.

96-CityNight-93

I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. That’s New York, a city divided into 5 boroughs, each with its own character. Folks think New York is all Manhattan. Wall Street, the Empire State Building. Fifth Avenue. Skyscrapers. But most of New York isn’t Manhattan — and even Manhattan has neighborhoods. Greenwich Village, Harlem, Park Avenue, the Lower East Side. Manhattan’s small, but diverse. From the carousel in Central Park to the open air markets of Rivington Street, to the canyons of the financial district, there’s something for everyone crammed in one small island.

Small is the word for Manhattan, which is how come most of New York’s life happens in the other boroughs. Most families live in Brooklyn or Queens, though Staten Island’s finally come of age and the Bronx has improved a lot. I grew up in Queens. Holliswood. It was full of big old houses, woods and fields back then. I suppose it’s changed. Living less than a mile from the subway , I was surrounded by farms. Ducks, geese and chickens. Horses and donkeys were my neighbors. In those days, Brooklyn was more urban than Queens, but I think it’s all the same now.

When I say I grew up in New York,  people get the wrong idea. I didn’t grow up on mean streets. I lived in a rambling old house surrounded by trees … except I took a subway or bus to school and had access to all the neat stuff New York offers. From a teenager’s point of view, it was as good as it gets. The first time I lived in a city was Jerusalem, which is urban, but not  like New York. It’s ancient, full of ghosts and history. Mythology. Thousands of years hang heavily on its walls. Not your average city. When I moved back to the US, I settled in Boston.

Boston Commons and Statehouse-HP-1

I like the city, but not the parking, traffic, noise, or constant gridlock. After ten years in Boston, we moved to … Uxbridge. No, not Oxford. South central Massachusetts down by the Rhode Island border. Due south of Worcester. The Blackstone Valley. South of the Pike. It turned out neighbors are neighbors, no matter where you are.

I’ve lived in lots of places. Life is more alike than different, regardless of venue. Big city or a tiny village, everyone knows your business. You don’t have to tell them. They hear it through walls, pick it up in grocery stores, church, from your kids, friends and family. People talk. If you are doing anything interesting, they will talk about you. Even if you aren’t doing anything interesting, they will talk about you because people talk about each other. It’s a people thing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our town isn’t exciting. Not much crime. Not a lot of activity. No public transportation. Teenagers have a hard time until they can drive. Mostly, life is people spending time with people. Hanging out with friends. Watching a movie together. Shopping. Celebrating holidays and birthdays. Barbeques in the back yard in summer. Trick or treating on Halloween.

No matter where you live, it’s about relationships, not architecture.

City and country are not so different except for scenery. People are people. Suburb, city, or middle of nowhere, it’s your friends and family who comprise your world. Not your town, city, or state. Where you live is a state of mind, not of the union.

WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE: SAME OLD WORLD

Daily Prompt: It Builds Character — Star Struck

I met my first celebrity while working at the Steinway building in New York. Down the street from CBS Studios. It was 1967 and the filming of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was finishing up. For several weeks, each lunchtime I bumped into Sidney Poitier on his way to lunch. He was tall. I’m short. Tall people — even non-celebrities — awe me. And he was oh my wow handsome.

sidney-poitier-barack-obama1We crossed paths at least a dozen times during a three-week period and never once did I have the courage to do more than look yearningly in his direction. Later, I could think of lots of cool stuff I could have said, but I was tongue-tied and incoherent. I  could just look. That would be my pattern with celebrities for the rest of my life, at least on first meeting. If I was able to spend time with them and get past awe, recovering my ability to form words, I could have a conversation.

So while I passed by, mute, other people stopped him, asked for autographs and he graciously complied. But not me.

The area was crawling with celebrities. CBS wasn’t the only studio in the area. NBC’s 30 Rock was not far. And the Russian Tea Room, a very popular eatery for stars of stage and screen was across the street. One day, at the deli where everyone ate — it was the only fast lunch place on West 57th street — I found myself sitting next to George Hamilton. 55 years ago, he was unreal, so good-looking he might have been molded from dreams. What did Marilyn say? He was right next to me at the counter, knee to knee on stools at the counter.

George Hamilton 1“Pass the ketchup, please?” I squawked. It was the only thing I could think of. There’s a very small possibility our hands brushed during the transfer.

Fortunately, stars are familiar with these reactions. They are aware the effect they have on “civilians” and do not necessarily assume we are babbling idiots or mute. They just assume we are star struck. And that’s what we are. Star struck.

I am not normally tongue-tied, but each time I’ve met a celebrity, I can’t say a word. I stand there like a stuffed dummy making gurgling noises. I did once have a little tug of war with Carly Simon over possession of a clearance sale blouse in Oak Bluffs.  We didn’t talk. She pulled. I pulled. She had height on her side; I had grim determination on mine. I got the blouse. She could have out-talked me, but fortunately for me, no words were required. We eye-balled each other and she decided it wasn’t worth a cat fight.

Married to Garry, I got to meet President Clinton and his family twice. Close and personal with POTUS, most people find they have nothing to say. It’s not just me or the man. It’s the office. The aura of power surrounding it. Not to mention William Jefferson Clinton was a big, handsome guy in whose presence I would likely have been awed even if he weren’t the Prez. I believe I squeaked out “You’re the President; I’m not.” Witty, eh?

It turns out that my behavior isn’t unusual. Regular people in the presence of fame and power tend to stutter or blurt out something stupid. No one is immune, not even celebrities meeting other celebrities. We are all, on some level, Star Struck.

Just once, I’d like to meet someone I admire and say something intelligent. Anything coherent would do.

Related articles

I moved to New England 35 years ago. I don’t want to sound like a cliché, but it feels as if it was no more than few months ago. On some level, I think like a transplanted New Yorker. Yet I’ve lived up here longer than I lived in New York. I’ve live here more than half my life.

P.S. 35

I grew up in Queens, New York. Holliswood. I went to P.S. 35 — the same school Art Buchwald attended (yes, I know, it’s not a big deal but it’s the best P.S. 35 offers) — J.H.S. 109 (which my husband also attended, but in a different year) and finally, Jamaica High School. That’s about as New York as it gets.

I was 30 years old when I moved overseas and settled in Jerusalem. I returned — to Massachusetts — in 1987. Other than visits, I haven’t lived in New York  since 1978. Odd how the early years, where you grew up, carries more weight than places you live later. Our “defaults” get set by where we take our first breaths, where we attend school.

I am hooked on the four season year. Autumn is the most evocative season, the crunching of leaves under the soles of brand new school shoes. The start of the school year. The year really begins in September — I am forever ruled by a school calendar that ceased being relevant in 1967.

Drifting leaves

When I was in Israel, I desperately missed Autumn. I yearned for snow that never fell. Even though now I could live without seeing another flake. And I wanted the ocean. I wanted to smell salt in the air, hear breakers hitting the shore. That feeling of the sea washing the sand out from under your bare feet as you stand in the surf with the waves lapping around your shins.

96-SunriseWalkNIK-CR-1

I don’t want to go back to New York to live. I really don’t. I love the city but not that way, not to live there. Visiting New York is fun and full of memories, but I don’t want to make a home there. New England is home now and I can’t imagine living elsewhere.

We’ve got all four seasons (okay, three and a quarter really because spring is minimal). But a New England autumn is the best, though it isn’t as long as it was a few degrees of latitude south. As for winter?

75-BigSnowHPCR-4

This valley outsnows just about every place except maybe central Nebraska and northern Minnesota. Not quite as cold and I don’t mind that.

It’s beautiful here … yet sometimes, I feel like a New Yorker, living here and waiting to go home. Why is that?

75-home-108

 

WAITING TO GO HOME

Hello? Can you hear me? — I love progress!

Progress. I love progress and am strongly in favor of it, especially when we are progressing backwards. Kind of like technological time travel as gradually, by adding more and better high-tech devices, stuff that used to be simple and problem-free becomes much more complicated, difficult and expensive. The techno-version of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

iphone-whiteLet us travel together back in time to the halcyon days of yore. Not so long ago … the 1970s and 1980s. Even the 1990s.

Remember? We could make telephone calls without worrying whether or not the person on the other end could hear us. Without wondering if we would be able to understand them. That was so cool, wasn’t it? You didn’t have to shout into the phone, wasting half the call yelling “Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me? You’re breaking up. Can you hear me? Hello?”

You could have an entire conversation, from the beginning to end without getting disconnected, losing the signal, running out of battery. Getting dumped out by your carrier. Nobody said “What” even once! Unimaginable, isn’t it? I grew up and in my entire childhood, I do not remember ever having to ask “Can you hear me?” We could always hear. Sometimes, a long distance call had an echo, but you called the operator and they put the call through, no charge. No problem.

We’ve come a long way, my friends A long and winding road.

The other night, my husband and I watched — for the umpteenth time — Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s the old Judy Garland musical. Vincent Minnelli directed it. Great movie, one of our favorites. Terrific songs, Margaret O’Brien about as cute as a kid can be. Nostalgia on the hoof.

The story is set in 1904 when the World’s Fair was coming to St. Louis and telephones in private homes were still the hot new technology. A long distance call from a far away city was a very big deal. Early in the story, the oldest sister Rose gets a long-distance call from New York.

dining-room-21-512x384

The phone rings.

* * *

Rose Smith: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

Warren Sheffield: Yes, I can hear you. (Pause)

Rose Smith: What did you say, Warren?

Warren Sheffield: Nothing. I was waiting for you to talk

Rose Smith: Oh. Well, did you want to discuss anything in particular?

Warren Sheffield: What?

Rose Smith: I said, was there anything special you wanted to ask me

Warren Sheffield: I can’t hear you, Rose

Rose Smith: That’s funny. I can hear you plainly

Warren Sheffield: Isn’t this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in St. Louis and it’s just like you’re in the next room.

Rose Smith: What was that?

* * *

The next day my friend called.

Me: Hello? Hello? Cherrie?

Cherrie: (Faintly) Hello? I’m in New York … (something I can’t understand) … signal.

Me: Bad signal?

Cherrie: No signal.

Me: How are you?

Cherrie: Tired. Running around.

Me: Miss you.

Cherrie: Miss you too. Having trouble getting a signal here.

Me: We watched “Meet Me In St. Louis” last night. Remember the phone call from New York? We’ve gone back there. Worse. THEY had a better connection.

Cherrie: (Laughter.) You’re right.” (More laughter.)

Me: I don’t think this is progress. (Long pause.) Cherrie? Hello? Are you there? No, you aren’t there.

(Click. Sigh. Pause. Ring. Ring.)

Me: Cherrie?

Cherrie: Can you hear me?

Me: I can hear you, can you hear ME?

Cherrie: Hello? Hello? (Pause, faint sounds.) Is this better?

Me: Yes. A bit.

Cherrie: I turned my head and lost the signal. Boy, was that perfect timing or what?

Me: We couldn’t have done it better if we’d scripted it.

Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m  losing … (Silence.)

* * *

As I said, I love progress. I most particularly love how advanced technology has made everything so much better. And easier.

Daily Prompt: Fandom — Beisbol

I always liked baseball. I grew up in New York where the annual epic battles between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees were so important we listened to the games in classrooms in elementary school during school hours. When the Dodgers beat the Yankees in 1955, that was as good as it gets for a baseball fan, or more accurately, a Dodgers fan.

When the Dodgers deserted Brooklyn for the west coast, we were heartbroken. Faithless Dodgers! I drifted away. College, babies, work … no time for much else.

Until I married Garry. To say he lived and died with the Red Sox is not an overstatement. Like me, he came from New York and had been a passionate Dodgers fan. Like me, he felt he had been set adrift when our team abandoned us.  Although we revived a bit when the Mets came to town, it wasn’t the same, though the Miracle Mets of 1969 almost (but not quite) made up for some of the hurt feelings left in the wake of the Dodgers emigration. Unlike me, he had moved to a true baseball town and found a new team to love.

Ah, Boston. And oh — the Red Sox! In what other town could a huge neon Citgo sign at the ballpark become a city landmark?

Citco sign over Feway is part of the panarama of Boston.

The Citco sign over Fenway is part of the panorama of Boston.

The beloved, hapless, hopeless, cursed team of teams. When I came to live in Boston in 1988, they hadn’t won a World Series since 1918. They’d gotten so close … and then some terrible error, some disaster would occur. Everyone would scream, tear out their hair, then finally sigh and murmur “Wait until next year.”

Next year came. Twice, in 2004 and 2007. After that, everyone calmed down. We had done it, not one, but twice. The second time proving the first was no fluke. We could hold our heads up. The curse was lifted. All would be well.

Back to my life with baseball. Garry is, was, always will be an ardent devotee of The American Pastime. Baseball season is long and busy. It isn’t a game a week. It’s a game everyday and even more often, if like Garry, you follow more than one team. I realized early in our marriage I had a choice. Spend my summers without Garry … or learn to love baseball.

I went with baseball. It wasn’t hard to love it. More like remembering something I had once known. I’ll never be quite as much a fan as Garry, but I understand the game, appreciate the art of it and know how baseball is an integral part of American history and tradition. I’ve been to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame and loved it.

Baseball has enriched my life and my marriage. And I have a year-round husband.

School days: Boredom and Fear in Equal Measure

Childhood is a challenge. We romanticize childhood as a time of innocence and play, but childhood isn’t necessarily easy.

Many of us struggled. We had problems at home we couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about, social issues grownups dismissed, and lived with bullying tantamount to torture. Even today, with the attention these issues get in the press, things have not really changed. Bullying is as much a problem today as it was when I was a child. Teachers still ignore it and parents dismiss it. Kids continue to avoid talking about bad things that happen at home.

Awareness is not a cure. Publicity does not change what happens at home or in the schoolyard.

I was a very bright, precocious child. I was by no means the only smart kid in the school, but I probably had the worst social skills, was the most inept at sports, and talked like a 40-year old. Among social outcasts, I was an outcast. I lived in books and imagination.

I learned to read more or less instantly and spent the next six years trying to stay awake while being invisible.

I was either bored to tears or terrified of being sent out to 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.

The teacher was furious. I had read all the readers for my grade and all the grades to come through sixth grade. 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 all 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. They didn’t get it.

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 after that and made third grade a special Hell. It wasn’t only other kids picking on me; my teacher was leading the charge. I didn’t understand what was going on. I just knew that no one liked me.

Eventually the teachers at P.S. 35 tired of me. I was annoying. I answered questions in class until I was told to shut up. After I was no longer allowed to participate in class, I fell asleep or snuck off to read in the girl’s room. The teachers must have had a meeting about me or something, because an agreement was reached that everyone would benefit from my absence. I was fond of arts and crafts so the solution was to send me to the art room after the Pledge of Allegiance. I spent many happy hours alone, experimenting with paint, library paste, and oak tag.

I was content in my little world of paint and glue, but I was not getting an education. I never learned arithmetic because I was in the art room gluing stuff together. The smell of library paste is deeply evocative … and I can’t do fractions or long division.

I started high school at 13 where my level of boredom reached epic heights. I was blessed by teachers whose idea of teaching was to read the textbook in a monotone. These classes were inevitably the first classes of the day when I was the sleepiest. I chipped a tooth one morning when my head fell forward and hit the desk.

I was so far ahead in English and History I was off the charts. At the same time, I fell ever further behind in maths and hard science. My pleas for help were ignored because I had a high IQ and was supposed to figure it out on my own. I suspect the world is divided between those for whom numbers are a language and those for whom numbers and hieroglyphics are the same.

Numbers did not speak to me. I was in my thirties reading Horatio Hornblower when I realized trigonometry was used to calculate trajectories and navigation. I wish I’d known that when I was trying to understand what I was doing.

Now an officially protected landmark, my alma mater was a beautiful building.

I was by no means the only lost soul in math classes. There was always a group of us who sat there with glazed eyes, wondering why we needed this and if failing it would end our hopes of going to college.

As for science, Jamaica High School was run by practical administrators. The group of us who sat paralyzed in math classes were all college-bound. It was clear we were never going to pass physics or chemistry, but needed a science credit. So they invented a science course for us. It was called “The History of Science.” We spent an entire year discussing Stonehenge. I loved it. I completed the science requirement, graduated with an academic diploma, and continued on to college.

My real education consisted of books, both those I read by choice and those my mother made me read. She made sure I read good books. “Growth of the Soil” by Knut Hamsen, a Nobel prize-winning author who authored the world’s most depressing novels stands out in memory. Then, there was Romain Rolland whose novel in 10-volumes, Jean-Christophe was an unbelievably long, fictionalized biography of Beethoven. Rolland got a Nobel prize in literature and I read his tome, but have never met anyone else who read it. I assume the Nobel Committee read it too, but I never met them.

The New York Public Library is an amazing place. The lions that stand guard in front of the building are almost as famous as the library itself.

I cut school a lot. Living in New York had benefits. A subway token could take you anywhere. I played hooky to go to the huge New York Public Library, the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Hayden Planetarium. My mother knew, but pretended she didn’t. She could hardly approve my skipping school, but I wasn’t hanging out at the mall: I was getting an education on my own terms.

One of New York’s most impressive and beautiful buildings, inside and out, the Met is my favorite museum. The Cloisters is actually a part of the Met and houses its medieval art collection.

There were no admission charges for museums back then and New York is rich with museums. The Guggenheim was just being built, so I didn’t get there until college and it always made me a trifle seasick walking that strange corkscrew path, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art wasn’t just art: it was the history of the world in one huge building.

It was arranged as a time line. At the entrance, you started in the mummy room of a recreated Egyptian tomb where they had a couple of real mummies. The viewing room was in semi darkness and deliciously spooky. As you proceeded through the museum, each area represented a successive time period with recreated rooms full of furniture of the period and paintings, sculpture and other artifacts. You wound your way through until you reached the modern era … which is where the bathrooms were.

If you had to use the facilities, you navigated human history forward and backward, the closest I’ve ever come to time travel. If you had to go badly enough, you had a long trot through world history. I absorbed a lifetime of art, architecture, and history there. I snoozed through history classes in high school and college and still got As. No teacher or professor came close to offering comparable education. It is a fabulous museum. If you have never been there and happen to visit New York, don’t miss it.

The Cloisters on the Hudson River, Fort Tryon Park. It is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I spent days in the dusty basements of the big library, exploring the stacks and reading old manuscripts. I went to the Cloisters where I pretended I was living in mediaeval Europe. I also developed a lifelong passion for studying the middle ages and I can still bore everyone to tears with details of life in the 14th century. It’s a solitary passion.

For the last decade and a bit, I’ve watched my granddaughter fight her way through the public school system, grappling with the same issues I recall. She seems to have inherited the family gene for poor math skills. Despite a lot of talk, I don’t see much improvement in teaching methods. They are different, but equally ineffective.

Bright students are still mostly ignored. Help is given to the kids who struggle to learn, but it’s the kind of help that sounds a lot better than it is. Many kids still have no idea why or what they are doing. And schools still don’t feel any particular obligation to expend scarce resources on high IQ students who are presumed able to learn without help.

I did well enough in school. My grades were unspectacular both in high school and college. I graduated college with a 3.2 average, more or less B+ depending on how you calculate it. I did it without studying except in the few classes where a professor pushed me to really work.

I wonder what I might have achieved had I studied, if my education had been a challenge rather than a bore?

In the end, I had an okay career. Not spectacular, but pretty good. I learned in the workplace most of what I failed to learn in the classroom. My work required math and it turned out if I knew why I was doing it, I could do it. I needed context, not rote.

Our educational system wastes so much potential. Art and music classes have been eliminated. Help is reserved for problem learners and not much of that. Our schools’ aim is to create positive statistics on standardized tests, not to help students achieve their potential. Instead of increasing America’s investment in education, we cut resources and eliminate teachers. Then we wonder how come the U.S. is no longer a leader in the arts, math, science, or anything else. We get what we pay for: mediocrity.

IQ scores and standardized tests encourage rote memorization. Creativity, artistic talent, and original thinking are not part of an IQ score. You might be a musical genius, but it won’t get you through school unless you can pass standardized tests that involve no learning, just the ability to memorize facts and spit them out. Educators’ jobs are to get students to pass exams. Whether or not they learn anything is immaterial.

So much potential thrown away. It’s our future we’re tossing out. Everyone’s future.