New York

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.

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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.

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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.

WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE: SAME OLD WORLD

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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.

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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.

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.

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WAITING TO GO HOME

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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

 

Born on the Fourth of July – The Great American Birthday Party

Yankee Doodle Dandy

It’s the 4th of July again. We just watched the most spectacular fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my entire life … not to mention what has to be the absolutely best band concert in the world. Where else do they fire real howitzers during the 1812 Overture? Only at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River in Boston.

BostonFireworks2013

When we lived in Boston, we actually got to see the fireworks live and hear the concert from our balcony in the apartment where we lived. If we wanted to get even closer, we could stroll a few hundred yards, see and hear the entire event from the Arthur Fiedler footbridge over the Charles.

HatchShell2013

It was the best view in town and though watching it on television is okay, now that we live way out here in the country, there is nothing that beats being there.

bostonfireworks2013-2

Boston’s had a rough year. David Mugar, producer and sponsor of the event, really outdid himself this year. It’s always spectacular, but this year, it was spectacularly spectacular.

1997 fireworks on the charles

Now it’s time to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy.

When Garry and I were growing up in New York, the old Channel 11 (WPIX, I think it was) used to have a show called “Million Dollar Movie.” The theme for the show was “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind. I had never seen GWTW, so when I saw it for the first time, I said “Hey, that’s the theme for Million Dollar Movie.”

I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on school nights and only for a very limited period of time even on weekends. But, if I was home sick, I got to watch all the television I wanted, and better yet, I got to watch upstairs in my parents bedroom. It was black and white, as were all the televisions then. I don’t know if color TVs had been invented yet, but if they had been, no one I knew had one.

Million Dollar Movie played one movie per week, all day, every day, for however long they were on the air. So if I was home sick — usually for tonsilitis — whatever was playing, I saw it a lot. They also didn’t have a very large repertoire so the odds were pretty good if you got sick twice, you’d see the same movie again for another week.

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Thus “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the great James Cagney docu-musical was engraved in my brain. I believe that during at least three occurrences of my nemesis, those nasty tonsils, I watched it over and over again until I knew every word, every move, every song … with frequent commercial interruptions.

Now of course, we own the DVD and we never tire of watching it. No one danced like Cagney. No one had that kind of energy! Believe it or not, I never saw any other of his movies until I saw “One, Two, Three” in the movies when I was older.

Tonight, we’ watch again as James Cagney dances down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it. In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. What a great movie! Happy Birthday to US!

I thought he was a song and dance man and comic actor. I was very surprised to discover he used to play gangsters. Million Dollar Movie didn’t play those films.

Only one questions remains unanswered through all these years. How come they didn’t make it in color? Does anyone have a sensible answer to that?

Swan Boat Summer

Boston Common is more than a park. With the Boston Public Garden adjacent to the common, it forms the green heart of a city that has grown big around the edges, but remains small and cozy at heart.

Friendly ducks, and squirrels will greet you.Friendly people, too. Boston is not New York. It’s got its share of weirdos and crime, but you can talk to strangers; they won’t remain strangers long. Except, maybe leave the Yankees cap back home. Just saying.

Still more neighborhood than metropolis, “The Com” belong’s to everybody in all seasons.

This is summertime, when swan boats circle the pond and sun shines warm.

No niche for iPad: A cautionary tale on ‘needing a purpose’ | ZDNet

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

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After almost two weeks with the latest iPad, I walked back to the Apple Store in Grand Central, New York and handed it back to the blue-blazoned staff hipster who greeted me at the top of the stairs.

“Was there something wrong with it? And, do you need a replacement? We can get you a replacement, no problem,” signaling to holler over a fellow colleague. But I declined.

“There’s nothing wrong with the tablet,” I said. “I suspect it’s actually a problem with me.”

Within the 14-day period in which Apple consumers are granted a stay of financial relief on their purchases, I returned my tablet not with a heavy heart but nonetheless with a feeling of disappointment in myself. It’s not that I didn’t like the iPad. The build quality was excellent, the software functionality was superb, and there was nothing but the highest of intent for burgeoning productivity potential.

It was that I simply didn’t need one. And not just an iPad, a test case as it turns out, but any tablet for that matter.

Cue the back story.

I fell into the Apple ecosystem. At first, anyway. But I don’t think of myself as an Apple user. I am the kind of person who will use whatever tools that are necessary for the job in hand. It just so happens that I’ve become accustomed to the way these devices work together, just as other same-brand ecosystem devices do.

Almost two years ago I bought a MacBook Air. Still to this day, it has become a crucial, necessary, ultra-portable laptop that has, granted with its occasional failings, has served me well. The battery life is acceptable, so long as certain conditions are met, but in spite of the likely unique gripes rather than hindrances, it’s a fine piece of kit.

But above all else, OS X was the driving force for change. Gone are the days where apps weren’t available. That’s the cloud’s business now. And thanks to the App Store, many previously unavailable apps have migrated to the Mac.

Pleased with the design and the quality, but above all else the OS X operating system that had become so simple to use yet powerful by design, I ripped out the cords on my desktop machine — that whizzed and whirred in the corner of my home office with a subtle yet constant background-fading drone — and I replaced it with a Mac mini.

It was all too easy. I looked for a catch, but there wasn’t one.

A staunch Windows user for my adolescent and early adult life, there should’ve been a level of discomfort and disconcertedness. But there wasn’t. With fond memories of blue screens and translucent windows, I began to prefer a sense of simplicity

The last step was my eventual move to the iPhone, albeit for a second time. The first was not the best of experiences but as a result of my confidence in the Apple ecosystem, I thought it was at least worth another try. And it was worth it.

We can tick off the MacBook Air, the Mac mini — and all the peripherals to really go all-in — and the iPhone. (In between, I’d also bought an Apple TV, but it just makes sense when you’re downloading TV and movies). The next logical step, surely, was to get an iPad.

With glee and excitement, I picked it up from the Grand Central store the following day on my way to work. I configured it, I synchronized my music, my pictures, apps and everything else.

And then I went back to work.

Not on my iPad, but my MacBook Air, which I take with me to work. I took my iPad home and it was sat there on my coffee table for three days until I picked it up again. It wasn’t that I was avoiding it, and I wanted to use it, but I didn’t have any particular reason to use it.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the iPad. And, I suspect there is nothing particularly wrong or different with any other tablet. It simply doesn’t fit into my lifestyle.

My iPhone is my primary email communication device, plus my music. That sticks me firmly in the “prosumer” category. But because of my job, I require a keyboard. Granted, typing on the iPad is not the most difficult thing to do in the world, but it’s less natural than a keyboard. I’m automatically drawn to a keyboard.

That said, it’s a fine device but I have, as part of my one-brand ecosystem, other devices that at least for me are better suited for purpose.

Even for “play” and non-work reasons, there was nothing drawing me to it that I couldn’t already do on my ultra-portable iPhone, my keyboard-enabled yet still light and portable MacBook Air, or my work-personal life separating Mac mini that allows me to walk away from it at any point.

If I were a financier, a marketer, or an artist, a tablet may be perfect. But not for me.  And you know what? That’s OK. It’s my problem, and not the fault of the tablet.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

I find myself increasingly confused. I want something small and light that will do the basic stuff I need to do when I don’t want to haul the big heavy laptop. Usually, that is a trip on which I will not need Photoshop. But nothing seems quite right. What to do?

See on www.zdnet.com

 

Purple Sweaters, Orange Dresses

I have acquired a goodly number of sweaters over the years. This is New England. Winters are long. Heating oil is expensive. Sweaters fill the gap.

This morning I noticed most of my sweaters are purple. I’ve got a few in black, a couple in red. But over all, purple dominates. The sweater collection used to be mostly black. I’m from New York where women wear black. It’s a thing. A co-worker in Israel once told me I dressed like a nun. I could never wear the bright colors she wore. I’d feel like I was dressed in a neon sign and I’d have to wear sunglasses all the time.

The purpling of my wardrobe occurred gradually while I wasn’t paying attention, one sweater at a time … a lavender cashmere here, a dark purple merino there.  The seasons passed until my wardrobe was awash in purple.

If you surmise from this that I love purple, you’d be wrong. While I have nothing against the color, the plethora of clothing in purple signifies only that purple is a color frequently remaindered at clearance time … and it is the most acceptable (to me) of the frequently left over hues.

Purple sweaters scream “final mark-down.” One of the perils of waiting until the end of the season is the selection of colors and sizes is limited. As a habitue of end-of-the-season sales, I know what to expect. Lots of purple, white, orange and some nasty shades of green in which no one looks healthy.

Leftovers also will include whatever “specialty colors” designers were sure would be the next big things. These colors are inevitably named after fruits or veggies. They never sell well, so there are plenty of whatever it was in the clearance aisle. All the normal, neutral colors are gone, but you’ll find fruit salad: cantaloupe , mango, kiwi, aubergine, honeydew, sugarplum, pumpkin, mocha and vanilla bean are among many recent attempts to boost the popularity of familiar colors by giving them fruity new names. The problem is, we all knew they were tan, and orange and coral and lavender, so people who like those colors bought them. New names did not make any old color the next big anything.

I’m a big fan of neutral colors. In addition to being essentially conservative where color is concerned, I spent many decades working and commuting. If I wanted to have a life outside of work, dressing had to be fast, mindless.

Neutral colors are the backbone of a working woman’s wardrobe. If almost all of your clothing is black, grey, off-white, taupe, brown, or khaki, putting together an outfit is a piece of cake. Grab a top, grab a bottom, attach earrings to lobes and voilà. It’s a go-anywhere wardrobe for the fashion-challenged. In other words, me.

The years rolled on. I stopped working and I didn’t have much money to spend on clothing. The percentage of purple and orange in my wardrobe rose accordingly. All of this goes to explain the orange dress in my closet. I’ve had it for almost a year but the tags are still attached. It was a 2011 leftover bought the spring of 2012. It’s still waiting to be worn as the spring of 2013 approaches. My problem? It’s not black. I’m not sure I’ve ever worn a winter dress that wasn’t black.

So this lovely garment — a nice soft color, not one of the putrid glowing ones — is still in the closet waiting for its first public appearance. I suppose I could have worn it to one of the parties I went to in December, but I wound up, as usual, wearing black. I fit right in. Boston women wear almost as much black as New York women. It must be a Right Coast thing.

Although a shortage of money has elevated and honed my bargain hunting skills, I have always been a bargain shopper. As far back as I can remember, I’ve looked for final sales and closeouts, even when I wasn’t strapped for funds.

It’s a family tradition. My mother raised me to hold fast to one unyielding principle: Never pay full price. 

I have always taken pride in scoring a really great buy. You aren’t supposed to brag about how much you pay. You’re supposed to brag about how much you didn’t pay. The less you pay, the greater your bragging rights.

I was astonished to discover that some people are proud of paying a lot for something they could have gotten for half off if they’d waited a couple of days. That’s weird, don’t you think? Okay, they might have had to get it in purple or orange, but think of all the money they’d save!

Would I have different attitude towards shopping if I were rich? Maybe, but mostly, I don’t think I’d change much.

To put it in perspective, back in the early 1990s, I got into a tug of war with Carly Simon for possession of a 70% off clearance sale silk blouse in a very chi-chi shop in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. The blouse was orange.

I won. It was a fantastic blouse.

Bargain hunting is not just for people on a tight budget. For some of us, it’s a contact sport.

Somewhere, in Heaven, Mom is smiling proudly.

That Rosy Glow

With the big day coming up — the 50th high school reunion to which I am not going — I’m getting deluged with emails from The Reunion Group. I no longer read all of them, but every once in a while, I open one up and I’m always sorry I did. The primary area of discussion has moved on from each person telling the story of his or her way better-than-mine life to reminiscing about the school song, almost the definition of “from the sublime to the ridiculous.”

We never sang that song. Not at assemblies, not in chorus, not at all. Almost no one knew the words. I knew the words because they were so funny to me, given the real school and who we were, that I memorized the words for kicks and was usually the only kid who knew all three verses.

Here’s to her the school we love,

Jamaica, tried and true – oo,

Source of all our dearest aims,

Dear School of Red and Blue.

Red and Blue

Red and Blue

School of Red and Blue!

In love our hearts go out to her,

Dear school of Red and Blue!

-

If that doesn’t make you cry, you have no soul. It makes me laugh, so what does that make me?

What compels otherwise sane folks to transform a mixed experience rich with the good, the bad and a big dollop of indifferent, into “the best years of our lives?” It wasn’t. Not for anyone.  They cancelled the Senior Prom due to lack of interest. I know because I actually had a date for the prom, but he and I were the only two people to sign up, so they cancelled it. What does that say about reality versus memory?

A few people go way back. We didn’t merely attend high school together. We also went to elementary school and junior high school in one big batch. We got to know each other a lot better than we wanted, a huge dose of too much information. By junior high, I was too miserable to remember much of anything and was being actively bullied by the same mean girls I swear are still hanging around hallways and school yards today. Maybe they are clones of the same girls.

Thank God for the special program that got me through three years of junior high in two years. At least the misery was shortened by a year. Pity about never learning fractions and all. It certainly didn’t improve my shaky math skills.

So all of these people are singing (literally in some cases) the praises of the school and the school system. It was a better than average school academically, but fantastic? It was huge, crowded and if you didn’t measure up and get yourself into the “brainiac college-bound” group, you got nothing from the school except a place to sit in class. The school was academically better than most, but otherwise was no better than every other overcrowded New York city high school. I had some interesting teachers. I had a few really good teachers, and at least one that seriously influenced my future. There were also one or two memorable ones, though not always in a good way.

With current planning involving all these aging nerds and geeks singing the school song, I cannot begin to imagine myself standing around (probably sitting since my arthritis is pretty bad) howling a school song no one ever sang while we were going to school. I think I’d collapse from laughter, genuine ROFLMAO stuff.

What urge makes people cast a rosy glow over a time that wasn’t rosy for them?  So many of my classmates seem intent on reliving a past that didn’t happen at all. Is it because we are getting old and want our youth to have been much happier than it was?

Life was what it was. I am not a fan of revisionist history. I occasionally get an email from someone who has found my blog or my Facebook page. They want to renew our friendship. But we weren’t friends. Ever. Some of them are from that group of “mean girls” who turned my life in elementary school and junior high into a small personal hell. Now they want to be my pal? Really? Why? Have they actually forgotten the way it was? Why does no one ever talk about the one really cool thing we had: a gorgeous Olympic-sized swimming pool. Maybe I was the only one who always chose swimming instead of gym. I didn’t mind getting my hair wet, but apparently I was unique that way.

Is this whole collective stumble down memory lane a bizarre form of self-hypnosis whereby we erase real memories and replace them with stuff that never happened? Are we that old and out of touch?

I remember. Many of us suffered from, as did I, difficult home lives. We did a lot of acting out, each in our own way. I buried myself in books and didn’t emerge until college. Fortunately, that turned out to be a lot less destructive than other possible coping mechanisms. I’m watching my granddaughter do her own version of self-destruction for reasons painfully similar to mine, minus the abusive parents, but adding in social ostracism impossible until computers and cell phones. I have serious doubts about the human race and supposed social progress.

But here I go waxing philosophical again. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what point God was making when he took Job, beat him to a pulp, then told him he had no right to question why it was happening to him. That’s my very  favorite Bible story. Life in a  nutshell. Shut up Marilyn. Apparently everyone but me has been highly successful and had insanely perfect lives. It’s just possible that I didn’t live the past half century on the same planet as they did. It doesn’t sound like my planet. Does it sound like yours?

This is far too weird for me though it makes good fodder for writing. And inserting lots of question marks in my tired old brain.

-

Avoiding the Reunion

There’s no way around it. I was not good with money, so in retirement I am not exactly where I wanted or hoped to be. That doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with my life. I’ve had a lot of fun, adventure and a pretty good career. Both life and career were different than anything I imagined. I became a writer — which I did plan and wanted — then fell into technical writing because, against all logic and reason, I am good at it. For a kid who could barely pass basic high school math courses, elementary physics, or any other hard science, winding up in the high-tech arena was a surprise. That I liked it was even more of a surprise.

96-Me Young in Maine

It turns out that I could learn anything, including math and science, if it was explained in such a way that I could see its purpose. What I couldn’t do was manipulate numbers or concepts in a vacuum, which is pretty much how math and science were taught back in my day. I suspect they aren’t taught much better now as I watch my granddaughter struggling with the same stuff with which I struggled 50 years ago.

The thing is, that my high school’s 50th reunion has come around. No, I am not going. It’s too expensive in view of the fact that I don’t remember anyone from high school. I recognize some of the names, but we weren’t friends. We didn’t hang out. We have no shared memories except those shared by everyone who went to Jamaica High School during those years. I wasn’t friendless. I had some good friends, but we haven’t kept in touch and none of them are attending this reunion. There’s no reason for me to go.

Jamaica High School is huge. Was huge and over-crowded too. My graduating class was slightly more than 1200, in which I was something around 280 or so. The entire school (10th through 12th grades) was just shy of 4,000 students shoe-horned into a building meant to handle 1300. We were packed solid.

For all that, it was a better school than most and more forward-thinking than most schools of the period. Possibly more forward-thinking than many schools right now. Academically, girls and boys were treated equally. No girl was told not to aim for medical school or an engineering career because it was for boys. If we had the will and ability, there was support.

I was not a super achiever nor overly ambitious. I was an educational minimalist, an under-achiever par excellence. I did exactly enough to get by unless I was particularly interested in a subject or it was one of those so easy for me I could have aced it in my sleep. I never bothered to study for English or history (Social Studies, back then). Math and science were my nemeses and I was glad if I could merely pass. Languages were also difficult for me. I don’t have an ear for languages, something that I proved conclusively by living in Israel for 9 years and never mastering Hebrew.

I graduated with a B+ average, got an early acceptance (11th grade) to Hofstra University (then Hofstra College). I had no passion for higher education,  but I just knew if I didn’t go to college, I couldn’t go to Heaven. Can’t get through those pearly gates without showing your diploma. Besides, I was barely 16 when I graduated high school, so what else was I going to do? I had managed to score a couple of scholarships based on competitive tests, which made the choice easier. I always tested well, probably because I didn’t much care. I just assumed I’d do okay and for the most part, I did.

I wanted to be a writer. Or a musician. Or an artist. As soon as I learned to read, I started writing. I’d been playing the piano and studying music from age four. And I had a good eye, could draw and paint pretty well, an itch that has been well scratched by photography.  In the end, writing was the thing I did best and came naturally to me, so that’s what I did. Tech writing was a sideways drift, but turned out to be a good fit. I’ve had a long, if somewhat peripatetic career that apparently isn’t quite over yet.

Jamaica High School

I thought I’d done pretty well until this reunion thing came up.

In the movies, people go back to their high school reunions. They were nerds and social outcasts in high school, but now are successful, attractive and get to feel superior to their former classmates. There are so many movies with this plot that one might think this is a typical reunion experience. Not me. Mind you, I’m not going to be there, but I have not escaped unscathed. The organizer of the event has sent us all a questionnaire, a “what have you been doing for the last 50 years?” thing. So I filled it out. Why not? I’ve had an interesting life and a long career. I got to be a player in the birthing of technology that now rules the world.

Then I started getting other people’s filled-in questionnaires. With each email, my ego has gotten thumped.

This is not, for obvious reasons, a reunion of the entire graduating class of 1963. These people are a subset of the class, the group into which I fell by virtue of winning a Westinghouse Scholarship (proving I actually knew more science than I realized) and having a high IQ. I was counted as a brainiac, but I wasn’t really one of them. I had brains. Theoretically I still do though there are days when I wonder. What I lacked — something apparently everyone else had — was ambition and drive. I didn’t want to be a doctor. I never aspired to be a professor. I wanted to be me, whatever that was, and one of my goals was to find me. I wanted adventure. I was going to write novels, do exciting, creative stuff. I was more into living than studying.

As far as I can tell, the small percentage of my “group” that are not medical doctors, have doctorates in chemistry, physics and so on. No more than a handful of humanity or arts degrees in the crowd. No one has less than a masters, except me. And as far as I can tell, everyone went to Princeton, Johns Hopkins,  Albert Einstein, Harvard. If not Ivy League, than at least prestigious. Everyone but me seems to be having a comfortable retirement, if they aren’t a professor or still practicing medicine. The one or two people who went into the arts have multiple best sellers or are managing editors of major publications. It’s demoralizing. The one other woman who went to Israel married a diamond cutter and is apparently wealthy beyond my imaginings … and even she’s got a masters.

Every time another filled-in questionnaire arrives in email, I swear I will not further torture myself by reading it, but a certain morbid curiosity forces me to open it despite myself. Oh, I forgot to mention that everyone has beautiful and extremely successful children.

I am glad I’m not going to the reunion. I don’t think my ego can take much more of a drubbing. If I needed humbling, I’ve gotten it. What is success anyhow? Do you gauge it by financial well-being? By awards won? Personal satisfaction? Experience? Friends? Fame?  I think this will be the last reunion, so I’m safe from having to again calculate the value of a life richly enjoyed, but somewhat lacking in material wealth … otherwise known as money. I think I’ll go take some pretty pictures now.

Back to the Zone

When I was first married, we lived in an apartment on the second floor of a building at the end of a long hallway. It was in one of two identical buildings. We lived in apartment 2Q, a corner apartment. It had better ventilation than the apartments in the middle of the building. It was also quieter being farther away from the elevator.

75-CityLife-HP-3

One day, having taken a bus home from downtown, I went in through the front and walked all the way down the corridor to our apartment. As I started to put my key in the door, I realized that there was a nameplate on the door. It said “2Q, Kincaid.”

My name was not then and is not now Kincaid, but the sign on the door said 2Q. It was the correct unit, but apparently I didn’t live there. I took a deep breath, walked back to the elevator then went back to the flat. It still said “Kincaid.”

I immediately realized what had happened. I had slipped through into a parallel universe. I was in another dimension where I didn’t exist. I’d been replaced by someone named Kincaid.

It took me a while, standing there and staring at the door before it occurred to me that I was in the wrong building. The two buildings were the same and I hadn’t been paying attention.

What’s interesting is not that I went into the wrong building but that I immediately assumed I’d slipped into the Twilight Zone. Would most people, finding themselves in that situation, conclude they’d slipped into a parallel universe? Or would think they had maybe walked into the wrong building? Which would you do?

I  suspect off-center thinking is part of creativity and certainly part of being a writer. A little piece of my brain is always busy recording events as future fodder for writing. Often, even in the middle of what could be a serious — even dangerous — situation, I have a little voice reminding me what a terrific story I’ll get out of it.

The problem with seeing everything as a potential story is that there is a tendency to hold oneself a bit apart, to be more concerned with watching than living. For almost ten years, I stopped taking pictures because I thought taking pictures was preventing me from truly seeing. I felt I was missing the party. Eventually, I went back to taking pictures and photography is the way I deal with the visual elements of life. I can’t stop seeing pictures framed into photographs, so I might as well carry a camera.

Nonetheless, I believe I was partially right. When you see life through a lens or are constantly planning how to write this thing that’s happening, you are not fully engaged in whatever is going on. Is that bad? Perhaps it’s just how I am, who I am. I can’t make myself not see pictures, not hear stories. It’s just how I relate to the world.

What about you?

The White Hurricane of 1888

Today is my birthday. It’s also the anniversary of the biggest, baddest blizzard to ever hit the east coast of the United States. This year, it snowed just the other day. There’s talk of more snow next week. The early part of March is frequently stormy. Blizzards are relatively common, though usually when the sun is this high in the sky, the snow melts pretty quickly. But not always.

75-StormHPCR-92012 was a mild, snowless winter. This year has given us a couple of serious storms, though it could have been worse. It has been worse.

I appear to have been karmically destined for snowy climes. This is not only the story of a storm, but a cautionary tale to never forget winter isn’t over until the daffodils are in bloom. You can never overestimate how dangerous weather in this region can be, especially this time of year when wind patterns become unstable with the upcoming change of seasons.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 11. There had been a blizzard a few days before, but apparently it wasn’t a problem because I was safely born in Brooklyn Women’s Hospital. Nonetheless, throughout my childhood, no one in my family ever neglected to mention the blizzard that had hit the area just before I was born.

75-LateStormHPCR-4

Early March is a fine time for big snowstorms in the northeast. March 11, 1888 brought the biggest winter storm to ever hit the region. Known locally as the Brooklyn Blizzard of 1888 and up and down the east coast as the Great White Hurricane, it is my birthday blizzard, a foretaste of Marilyn to come. Or something like that.

It was the worst blizzard to ever hit New York city and broke records from Virginia to Maine. It remains one of the worst — and most famous — storms in United States history. Accumulations of 40 to 50 inches were recorded. It’s hard to picture how much snow that is unless you’ve been through a few really big snowstorms. The deepest snow from one storm in my life so far was 28 inches. That’s only a bit more than half the amount of the 1888 blizzard. Despite all the changes and improvements to technology and infrastructure, that volume of snow would still paralyze us today. It’s more snow than any infrastructure can handle.

Did I mention snow is heavy? 50 inches on a standard roof will cause it to cave in. It would crush us.

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It wasn’t merely a snow storm. The super storm included sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds. It was one of those occasions when people get put in their place, forcibly reminded of how strong Mother Nature is.

The storm blanketed areas of  New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It carried with it sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour. It produced drifts in excess of 50 feet. My house, at its peak, is about 40 feet, so so we are talking about drifts as high as a three-story building.

All forms of transportation were stopped. Roads and railroads were unusable. People were trapped in their houses for up to a week.

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The Great White Hurricane paralyzed the U.S. East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The storm extended all the way up into the Atlantic provinces of Canada. The telegraph went down, leaving  major cities including MontrealNew York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Boston without communication for days to weeks. Because of the storm, New York began putting its telegraph and telephone wiring underground to protect it from future disasters.

Stereoview picture of Grand Street in New Brit...

Grand Street in New Britain, Connecticut, published by F. W. Allderige in 1888.

The seas and coastlines were not spared. In total, from the Virginia coast to New England, more than 200 ships were grounded or wrecked and more than 100 seamen died.

125 years later, no winter storm has topped the big one of 1888.