EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The time I was in college combined with the place where I went to college made my college experience truly unique. The time was 1967-1971, a dramatic period in national history. The place was Barnard College, the all-female school affiliated with Columbia University in New York City. I was at the epicenter of a major student movement that swept the country and ultimately affected university structure as well as government policy.

If you Goggle “Columbia University Riots of 1968, 1970 and 1971”, you’ll find tons of material documenting the world-famous, world-changing events that I experienced first hand – sort of. I was away on the sidelines of this epic battle between the campus Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the university administration.

I was a commuter student – I lived at home in New York City with my parents, a subway ride away, not in the dorms on campus. So the minute the SDS took over the Administration Building in April of 1968, I stopped going to the campus and stayed at home. I learned what was happening from the news and from my friends who lived on campus.

This protest had two major goals. One was to end the university’s academic support for the Vietnam War. The other was to stop the construction of a segregated gymnasium and swimming pool on university-owned property near the campus. As the protests continued, the protesters took over other buildings on campus and the Acting College Dean was taken hostage for twenty-four hours. The protest grew in numbers and intensity and attracted the attention and support of the national radical movement of the time, led by Tom Hayden, who was then married to Jane Fonda.

After a week of lead stories on every national newscast and in every newspaper, the police were called in to quash the protests once and for all. Which they did with a vengeance. I got a call from a friend saying that police on horseback were riding around campus clubbing students. They also used teargas and stormed the occupied buildings. 132 students, four faculty and twelve police were injured and 700 protesters were arrested after a day-long battle with the police. More protests occurred in May with more arrests and more students beaten.

I was incensed when I heard that the protesters had occupied a history professor’s office and burned years of his research in the days before we had computers and backups to everything. I was strongly against the Vietnam War but I hated the protestor’s methods and extreme ideology. I felt that the movement was intent on tearing down everything without any ideas for what to put in its place. And I’d seen the leader of the SDS, Mark Rudd, around campus and thought he was an arrogant asshole.

Mark Rudd on campus (far right)

My grandmother was a socialist who had fought against the Tzar in Russia in the early 1900s and she was mad at me for not joining the protesters on the barricades. She felt that if I didn’t try to change things for the better when I was young, when would I? I saw her point but didn’t feel that this was the right way to effect meaningful change or the right people to do it.

Police on campus

The protests of 1968 paralyzed the university and were considered the most powerful and effective student protests in American history to date. What was my personal takeaway from this iconic experience?

Classes were canceled for more than a week and final exams were also canceled. We got whatever grade we had earned up to that point in each class. So I didn’t have to take finals in my first year at college. I considered that a win!

A newly famous and influential SDS mounted strikes against the university again in 1970 and 1971 to protest the Vietnam War and the presence of ROTC and military recruiters on campus. I still objected to their radical rhetoric and violent tactics and took no part in their activities. However I did benefit, yet again, from another university-wide shut down around final exam time.

Another year without finals! I’m probably part of the only class in American College history that only had to take two sets of final exams out of four years in college. And, oh yes, had a front seat to history in the making.

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I became a news junky around the time that Donald Trump began his campaign for President in 2015 because I felt he was an existential threat to our government and to our society. I didn’t know the half of it! My most catastrophic fantasies of a Trump-led America didn’t hold a candle to the reality we have been living in since his election.

Along with a big chunk of the population, I hung on every word that came out of the Mueller investigation. Mueller was going to be the savior of the Democrats, and other sane, moral people in the country and I shared the deflation and depression of this group when the Mueller Report failed to be the downfall of Trump, as we had hoped.

Trump’s poll numbers went down, but not by much and the slavish devotion of over 80% of Republicans remained intact. After two years of toxic revelations about Trump and his corrupt cronies, in addition to multiple indictments of those in his orbit, nothing seemed to change.

Miraculously, in September 2019, the smoking gun we had dreamed about from Mueller, materialized, out of the blue, thanks to a whistleblower. Trump had asked the President of Ukraine to dig up (or makeup) dirt on Trump’s potential Democratic rival, Joe Biden. The call was documented by transcripts released by the administration. Then Trump admitted it and added to it on national television. What more could you need? But the Republicans harped on the absence of a quid pro quo as the fatal flaw in the argument for impeachment.

In fact, the law is quite clear that no quid pro quo is necessary to violate the law. The mere ‘solicitation’ of ‘something of value’ by a President from a foreign government is enough. On top of that, grounds for impeachment don’t even need to include the commission of an actual crime. The interpretation of the phrase ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ has been clarified over the years to mean whatever the Congress decides it means. And abuse of power, as well as obstruction of justice (evident in the Ukrainian scandal) have been used before by Congresses against sitting presidents.

Never mind, as further evidence against Trump came to light, the quid pro quo appeared, clear as day. So we have the evidence necessary for impeachment, by even the most stringent standards.

Now let’s skip ahead to the end of the impeachment process. What are we wishing for? Realistically, the Democrats in the House will probably vote for impeachment. Victory for the good guys! Or is it? What happens then?

Let’s say the House votes to impeach before the end of 2019. It’s remotely possible but highly unlikely that the Republican Senate, led by Trump loyalist Mitch McConnell, will convict and remove Trump from office. So where are we after Trump has been ‘acquitted’ by the Senate?

Mitch McConnell

We have an unhinged, demented and vindictive President who feels he’s been ‘exonerated’ of all wrong doing. He is emboldened because he has survived the worst his enemies can dish out. And he has close to another year in office before the next election! What will he do in that ten-month period without impeachment hanging over his head? I hate to even think about it.

Moving on, let’s say we get our 2020 wish granted and Trump loses the election in 2020. Will he contest the election? And what happens if he does? In the best-case scenario, any election contest will be defeated. Trump is now a lame-duck president who is still in office until January 20, 2021, over two more months.

What will he do during THIS period of impotence and defeat? Who or what will he strike out against?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go ahead with impeachment or fight as hard as possible to vote Trump out of office in 2020. I’m just suggesting that we honestly try to wrap our heads around what the real-world consequences will be if we get what we wish for.

THE CLASS OF 1969 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Going to a 50th High School Reunion can be an exciting prospect – if it’s yours. I recently went to my husband, Tom’s 50th Reunion in Schenectady, New York, and, to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I’m shy in big groups and pictured myself following Tom around and having nothing to say to a room full of strangers.

Tom’s ID badge with his senior photo

I was pleasantly surprised. We met three of Tom’s high school friends and their spouses at a local tavern before the official opening cocktail party. Everyone was delightful and friendly and we had a great time. Tom’s high school best friend, Stewie was there with his wife, Mar-C. In preparing for the reunion, Tom and Stewie discovered that they had been living an hour away from each other in Connecticut for over thirty years! We got together a few weeks before the reunion so I already knew two other people. And Mar-C and I had compared notes on what to wear to each of the reunion events so my comfort level was pretty good by the time we arrived in Schenectady.

Tom and me with Stewie and Mar-c

After our private dinner, we headed over to the party and mingled with the 130 members of the Linton High Class of 1969 who showed up. Everyone was easy going and so nice. I realized from attending 20th and 40th reunions of my own, that as we all get older, the whole high school dynamic changes. You don’t have the cliques anymore or the high school rivalries. People are no longer trying to impress everyone with their job or professional accomplishments, or, as time went on, the jobs and professional accomplishments of their children.

The main topic of conversation was – are you retired yet? If so, good for you and what are you doing to have fun? Most of us had reached the stage of life when we can wake up whenever we feel like it and spend the day doing whatever we feel like doing. Everyone I talked to seemed genuinely happy and fulfilled. No competition any more. Just stories of hobbies and grandchildren. Some people still did projects for work but on their own terms and schedules. Some people were traveling and having a ball exploring the world.

Class of 1969 yearbook and 50th reunion yearbook update

At the dinner the second night, there were fun games with prizes for the winners. Who’s been married the longest? 50 years! Who has the most kids? Six. Who’s kids are the oldest? 50! And the youngest? 23. I was thrilled that Tom tied for the coolest job – he was a CBS network news director and audio engineer and the other guy was a documentary filmmaker.

Tom was well known at his high school. He ran for student council every year against the guy who always won. So Tom’s campaign speeches were more of a stand-up comedy act, the comic relief. They were apparently greatly enjoyed and appreciated by the other students, so lots of people came up to Tom with big hugs and cheerful greetings. I was very proud of Tom, especially when he got up to introduce the three videos he created for the reunion. These were the centerpieces of the dinner presentations.

By the time we left, I knew lots of people by name and we had promised to get together again with the ones who live a reasonable car ride away. I really felt like I made new friends and Tom got to renew friendships from long ago.

Tom and Stewie

We left the reunion happy and wired – until our car died before we even got out of Schenectady. Luckily we broke down right at a service station on the NY State Thruway so it only took AAA a half hour to get a tow truck to us. We rode the 2 ½ hours home in the back of a truck with zero suspension. It felt like we were driving over cobblestones for the entire ride. We got home at 3 AM but even this unpleasant finale didn’t dampen our positive feelings about the weekend we spent in a time capsule. We captured time in a bottle and loved every minute of it!

Tom and me at the dinner

THE JOYS OF DOORMEN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I lived in New York City for the first 40 years of my life and since then I’ve lived in the woods in a small town in Connecticut. So I have a good perspective on life in the city versus life in the country.

To be honest, there’s very little about city life I miss, except for being able to go to the theater without spending hours sitting in a car, stuck in traffic. However the one major perk of city life that makes me wax nostalgic, is the pleasure of living in an apartment building with doormen. Now, most people would probably not think of doormen as a big selling point for living in New York City. That’s because doormen are the best-kept secret among us long-time New Yorkers.

There’s a special relationship that often develops between friendly residents and chatty doormen. You get to know each other well and become like a family. These men know a lot about your life from the comings and goings in and out of your apartment. And people tend to talk to doormen, almost like they do to hairdressers. Mine knew my kids, my mom and my friends in the building, which created a strangely intimate relationship. They knew when we were doing work in our apartment, like when our upstairs neighbor’s bathroom leaked and our bathroom ceiling fell in. They followed every skirmish in our battle with the insurance companies, which lasted two years.

I’ve experienced this relationship as a child, as an adult and as a parent of young children. Each phase is unique and gratifying. As a child, every doorman knew my name and often the names of my friends who visited frequently. I had severe school anxiety so waiting for the school bus in the lobby every morning could have been a tense time for me if I hadn’t had a doorman to distract me and keep me talking. Jimmy was my favorite for many years, a tall thin man with a missing tooth who made me look forward to the morning wait for the bus. If I was running late, he would make the bus wait for me and would call up to our apartment to tell me to hurry up.

The doormen also helped the kids in the co-op bend the rules so we could play in the street. They let us skate and ride bikes in front of the building, which was strictly forbidden. They were our lookouts, warning us to stop if someone on the co-op board was entering or leaving the building and might ‘report’ us.

When my kids were young, we lived in a different building, all of two blocks away from the one I grew up in. But the next generation of doormen, they were as wonderful to my kids as mine had been to me, and they too developed a strong bond.

Their doormen let them skate, skateboard and practice gymnastics down the long, narrow hallway leading from our elevator to the lobby. I could send the kids downstairs to play on their own and know they were safe and supervised. I had built-in babysitters.

They often let my kids spy on people in the elevators on the security cameras they kept behind the lobby desk. For some reason, that was a huge treat!

The long hallway in my apartment building

Once our doormen went above and beyond for my ten-year-old son, David. David had a pet python and there was a large ficus tree in the lobby. David thought the snake would have fun climbing around in the tree so the doormen let David sneak the snake into the lobby and, when no one was looking, put it in the tree. David and the snake nonchalantly hung out in the lobby for several hours, with people coming and going, until someone finally noticed something moving in the tree. That ended the tree climbing experiment.

The lobby decor has changed but the ficus tree is still there!

As an adult, there are a myriad of other reasons for enjoying the luxury of having a doorman. They accept deliveries for you when you aren’t home and help you with your bags.

Another convenience, beyond mere safety, is they let workmen into your apartment when you aren’t home so you don’t have to wait for them to show up or give them your keys.

\You also feel safe knowing the doormen monitors everyone who comes into the building. They won’t let anyone up to your apartment without your approval. They are your first line of defense against predators and nuisances.

In the country, I’m friendly with the local post office workers, farmer’s market cashiers and with the people at the nearby coffee shop and market. It’s not the same thing. It’s not as personal. These people may like you, but they don’t know your life or have your back like doormen did.

Doormen are a special breed of extended family that I treasured as a New Yorker and I miss as a country dweller.

 

JAPAN’S KIDNAPPING PROBLEM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about Japan’s strange (to us) cultural norms regarding women’s roles. The blog elicited a lot of interesting comments so I decided to follow up with another blog about a different cultural phenomenon in Japan that is even more appalling to Westerners.

Japan has a unique approach to child custody that differs from most of the rest of the developed world. Japan does not recognize the concept of ‘joint custody.’ Instead, courts give custody to one parent, applying what is called the ‘continuity principle.’ This states that if the child is settled in one household, the continuity of their care should not be disturbed. This, in turn, means that if one parent kidnaps a child, once the ‘new’ household is established, the court will consistently award custody to the kidnapper.

This bizarre system is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, where children are not viewed as having individual rights or even as ‘belonging’ to their parents. They are seen as the ‘property of the household’ where they live, so as soon as a child moves to a new household (say, with the kidnapping parent), the estranged parent automatically becomes an outsider with no right to ‘disturb’ the newly established household.

As a result (surprise, surprise), tens of thousands of Japanese children are kidnapped EACH YEAR, by one parent, usually the mother. And the other parent, usually the father, has no recourse to the authorities or the courts for help. Hundreds of these parents/fathers per year who are kept away from their children are foreigners who married Japanese citizens.

In one situation, an American man was married to a Japanese woman and they were living in Washington state. There was a divorce and the father was awarded custody. He dropped the six-year-old child off with his mother for a visit and she immediately took the child to Japan. The Japanese government refused to help him and, in fact, the Japanese embassy in Portland, Oregon actually helped the mother escape to Japan by getting her young child a passport in just one day.

Campaigns have been organized here, in other countries and even in Japan, to protect the rights of the outsider parents as well as the children. An American pressure group is called “Bring Abducted Children Home” and represents over 400 American parents whose kids have been abducted to Japan by a Japanese parent.

The Prime Minister of Italy and the President of France have raised this issue with Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, calling the situation ‘unacceptable.’ A formal complaint has also been filed with the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, arguing that Japan has violated the Convention on the Rights of Children and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.

But this only deals with the plights of foreign parents who are deprived of access to their children. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese parents are in the same boat.

Apparently, momentum for change is building domestically and internationally. This past February, Prime Minister Abe acknowledged that children would want to see both their parents, which is a huge concession and opens the door to giving rights to ‘outsider’ parents.

 

Also, the U.S. State Department says that progress is being made regarding enforcement of the Hague Convention on abductions since 32 kidnapped children have been returned to the U.S. since 2014. That’s just a drop in the bucket and more abductions are happening every year. But it is a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, it seems that the best policy for foreigners is to avoid marrying and having kids with a Japanese citizen until Japan joins the rest of the developed world in their views on custody and parental kidnapping.

HUSBANDS AND WIVES – UNIVERSAL CHATS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

 

THE TOILET SEAT

ME Honey, you left the toilet seat up AND you didn’t flush!

TOM – I know. I did it on purpose.

ME – What? Why would you do that?

TOM – Easy. Because I knew I was going to have to blow my nose after I took my shower.

ME – What does that have to do with anything?

TOM – Because if I wait to flush until after I’ve blown my nose, I only have to flush once, instead of twice. I’m saving water.

ME – Why don’t you put the seat down and flush after you use the toilet. Then throw your used tissue into the wastebasket.

TOM – (SILENCE)


PAPER TOWELS

TOM – Why do you leave used paper towels lying around in the kitchen? Why don’t you throw them out?

ME – Because I can use them again. I’m saving paper.

TOM – You can’t use paper towels over again! That’s the whole point of DISPOSABLE paper towels. They’re disposable!

ME – That’s ridiculous! You can use regular towels again if they’re not too dirty. So why can’t you do the same with paper towels?

TOM – Because I don’t want to have to look at dirty paper towels on the kitchen counter.

ME – Okay. I’ll hide them so you don’t have to look at them.

TOM – I guess that works.

ME – (Sigh) Now I just have to remember where I put them.


TRASH TALK

ME – Tom, please take the garbage out. The bag is overflowing, as usual.

TOM – Damn it! I hate dealing with these overstuffed garbage bags! Garbage is falling out everywhere! This is ridiculous.

ME – Then why don’t you just empty the garbage one of the first three times I ask you to. BEFORE it starts to overflow.

TOM – Where’s the challenge in that?

MR. ROGERS AS PARENTING GURU – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist who originally specialized in child psychology. Throughout life, I had a personal role model for parenting through the way she treated me and from what she actually taught me about relating to children.

Her philosophy was to respect your child as an individual but understand how he or she thinks and what he or she understands at each level of development. You should talk to children as you would an adult, but using words and concepts they can understand at each developmental stage.

She believed that you should explain whatever is going on in your child’s life, including why you want them to do something or not do something. I always got a reason for what was expected of me so I was a very reasonable and cooperative child, most of the time.

My favorite photo of my mom and my son, David

I was nineteen in 1968 when Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood started its 30 plus year run on television. I didn’t get to know him until around 1987 when my daughter was two.

She became a huge Mr. Rogers fan, as did I. I immediately realized that he was motivated to help parents as much as kids. He was a wonderful example of the calm, consistent, patient demeanor parents should exhibit towards their kids as well as a model of how adults should communicate with children.

He showed parents how to tune into what their kids were feeling, to respect those feelings and how to appropriately address them. He was particularly good at showing parents how to help kids through difficult times in their personal lives or in society as a whole.

He started his TV run in 1968 and that year he filmed an episode especially for parents, showing them how they could talk to their children about the assassinations and social turmoil that was erupting in the society at the time. His last address specifically for parents was after 9/11 in 2001, when he was talking to a generation of parents who had grown up watching his show.

Mr. Rogers’ parenting style was familiar to me because it mirrored my own mother’s approach to parenting. It apparently had a huge influence on many other parents for decades.

He became a parenting icon, or guru, to millions. His influence could be compared to the influence of Dr. Spock. He also wrote several books for parents. The real wisdom he conveyed was through his overall persona and gestalt. Parenting philosophies have changed over the years but his example of nurturing and sensitivity has had a lasting impact.

Celebrations last year marking the 50th anniversary of his TV debut were received with enthusiasm and huge ratings. There was a PBS special and a critically acclaimed documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which made 22-million dollars at the domestic box office and became the top-grossing biographical documentary in American history!

The trailer for the new movie coming out about Fred Rogers, starring Tom Hanks, also received an enormous outpouring of affection and support on the internet.

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers is obviously beloved by both the children and the parents who watched his show and he was a comforting presence to parents as well as children. He gave parents confidence that with some empathy and patience, they could handle any situation with their children. But he also made it clear that there had to be a real connection between parent and child for this magical relationship to work.

To be a parent like Mr. Rogers, you had to talk to your child, ask him questions, read to him and play with him in order to develop the rapport and trust that predicates the “Mr. Rogers’ style” relationship.

Above all else, his message was to accept and love your child “just the way you are” and to give that dependent being all the time and attention he deserves. This approach is timeless, compassionate and caring.

Mr. Rogers set a high bar for generations of parents, particularly working parents whose time with their children was more limited. He also gave these parents the roadmap and confidence to reach his lofty goals.

You could say that Mr. Rogers has played a major role in shaping American society through his influence over generations of kids and parents because society is made up of individuals, and parents shape the character of the individuals who populate society.

Mr. Rogers helped shape parents since 1968.