Friday, May 30, 2014

Strange Ducks

Today I had an exchange with a colleague which prompted me to write back to him saying that if decisions were made logically we could anticipate a certain verdict on a university matter. However,  I continued, given the illogic that is pervasive here and everywhere, it is unlikely the certainly wise verdict will be as we would like.

I then took a walk to get something to eat. Gorgeous day here. About sixty degrees, sunny, sweet breeze. And I passed this person and that wondering--given my recent comment--if this person or that was dealing with all 52, or missing a card or two. Suddenly an event surfaced from my past which, sadly, I do not think is especially anomalous. The details are, but the bizarre wiring that seeded the behavior I think is more normal than we typically think.

It was winter, probably February of 1970. I was going to drive from Albany New York to Rochester. A woman I knew very peripherally overheard that I was driving thataway.  She lived in the dorm next to mine and told me that she wanted to see her boyfriend who was going to school just east of Rochester.  And she asked if she could get a ride.

This was fine with me. The weather was horrible and having someone to talk to would be welcome. Also, the drive from Albany to Rochester is just flat and boring.  Most of New York State is drop dead gorgeous. Not this stretch.  So, again the company would be welcome.  She was very appreciative. She had not seen her boyfriend in a stretch and this would be a good time for a surprise visit.

As I wrote, I did not know this woman much at all. I saw her in the cafeteria occasionally and she was in a sorority that would sometimes share a beer keg with us fraternity boys on a Thursday evening.  I don't think I knew her name then and I certainly can't remember it now.

Anyway, we agreed that we would leave at a certain time, say it was 2 pm.  She asked me if I could come up to her room and help her with her suitcase. Not a problem. I pulled my car up to the dorm and went to her room.  The next part of this may sound as if this woman was attracted to me and I am boasting. Not the case on either score.   I knock on her door. She opens it and is in a tee shirt and her underwear.

This was the early seventies and there was a whole lot of shaking going on, but this had nothing to do with shaking.  She told me that she was a little late getting packed and dressed. Okay I said, but I did want to get moving because I didn't want to drive so much of the way at night.  She said she understood and then proceeded to sit on her bed and not get ready and tell me about her boyfriend whom she could not wait to see.

After hearing about how wonderful he was for a spell, I said as diplomatically as I could since I did not really know her, that if she was so crazy about the guy, why not pack the suitcase, put on some jeans and let's get going.

Oh, she said, as if this was a novel thought, "that's right. Let's get going"

So we finally put her suitcase in my beat up Chevy Impala and started driving toward Rochester.  Very bad driving conditions. Scary bad. Twice we skidded on the Thruway and twice hit the guard rail.  I was very flustered by the time we got close to her exit.  While her presence was comforting given the bad conditions, I also wanted to unload her because I'd heard just about as much as I wanted to hear about this fellow she was about to surprise.

The campus was a few miles from the Thruway exit. She located the frat house where her boyfriend lived.  My very fuzzy recollection is that she had a letter from him and it was on the basis of the return address that we located the building.

We walked in. She dying to introduce me to the guy and I kind of interested in saying hello as long as I was lugging her suitcase into the dorm.  We get to the first floor. There is a balcony of sorts and a staircase leading to it. A fellow walked out from a room onto the balcony.  I can't remember the boyfriend's name. Let's say it was Johnny.

She sees the guy on the second floor and lets out a yelp, "Johnny!!" She runs up the staircase and bearhugs the guy who seems puzzled.  They unlock, has her arms around his waist. The guy speaks in a startled monotone, "I'm not Johnny." he says "You want Johnny Smith?"

My rider says, "You're not Johnny?" The guy calmly says, no, but he'll go get him.

My rider turns to me and says something like he looks like Johnny.  I think I have been riding with a crazy person.  Out comes the real Johnny. She gives him a bearhug.  He does not seem all that excited about the visit, but at least he is the right guy.

I get out of that place very fast and am fine about smashing into guardrails as long as I have rid myself of this fruitcake.

Point of the anecdote is this.  I don't think this woman is that much, if any type, of aberration.  I think they are out there. Crazy people, adopting a persona that is not theirs and living it.  She had this boyfriend, Johnny. Not.

They are out there.  We work with them. We play tennis with them and have drinks with them. They run businesses. Some are wealthy.

A lot of bad wiring in the neighborhood of planet Earth.

Shabbat Shalom

Dear Dad,

Missing you today.  Found this picture in the house when I was there a few weeks back.  Such a good shot of you.  I had seen it before sometime in the sixties hanging around the house, but it grabbed my attention this time and I have been looking at it now and again.

What's new.  Well, your Miami Heat will likely wrap up the Eastern Conference Championship tonight. They are playing the Indiana Pacers who look lost on the court even though they have won two games out of the five played so far.  The Spurs are ahead 3-2 against the Thunder in the west.  My guess is that the Spurs will win in seven.  I know how much you liked the NBA playoffs and now I can't watch without thinking of how you would have enjoyed following the games.

The Rangers are in the Stanley Cup finals. Bobby is on cloud nine.  He was at the Garden last night when the Rangers clinched beating the Canadiens 1-0.  He said the city was crazy after the game and he did not get home to Jersey until the wee hours.

We've got the stone in for engraving with the words you wanted.  It should be ready in a few weeks. We are having the unveiling in early September for both you and mom.  Right near your anniversary. We thought that would be fitting.

I saw Brownie when I was down there. Also your buds from the Cafe--all singing your praises of course.  Mel and Miriam took me out for breakfast.  Wally was out of town but I will see him when I go back again, probably in the next week or so.  Place was hopping for mid May.  Did not seem like the snow birds have gone back yet.

We went to the Yiddish Center on Mother's Day to the show dedicated to you and mom. You would have enjoyed it--"A Musical Tribute to Molly Picon." The emcee made some nice comments about you and the Chicopee folks who, very generously, made the donations that allowed it to happen.  It was a beautiful day in western Massachusetts.  Bobby and I thanked the Chicopee family on the camp site and this, vu den, brought out a series of wonderful comments about you two.

I run into some strange ducks around here and everywhere I've been actually.  I made a comment about this in the eulogy I gave for you in March. The point was/is that one of the things I think about often is how other-worldly these others seemed to me when I first encountered them.  Having lived with such a decent, moral, dad and mom, I was not prepared for the bevy of self serving fools I have run into since.  In some cases morally bereft, in other cases just lobotomized.

In your last months I'd call on Friday and say "Shabbat Shalom."  You'd respond, "Shabbat Shalom, Alan."

I can hear you now.

Love

Alan, ben Meyer.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Pacers are from hunger

Has there ever been a weaker team in the conference finals than the Pacers this year?  Just awful semi awake performance tonight.

 Down only by five at the half they came out flat as a pancake in the second half--an indifferent effort thus far. I keep waiting to see the team that had the best record  in the east.


bread salt and jam

Today has been a day for going through drawers that have not seen the light of day in a while.

I found a note from my folks that I received in 1981 when I first moved into Boston.  It had come with a loaf of bread, a canister of salt, and a jar of jelly.  Here was the note.

The bread is so that you will never go hungry in your new home. 

The jam is so that your life there will be sweet.

The salt is so that the few tears that life brings along from time to time will help you appreciate the first two. 

Know that our love is with you always and that we are terribly proud of you.

A note like this can reduce the frequency of wars.

86

I am not a superstitious person. I do not believe in God as some human entity to whom we need to pray for forgiveness. (I do believe in the idea of truth and the need to religiously adhere to truth).  I do not believe in the supernatural although I do believe that there is much that we in 2014 do not know which will someday be seen as natural, not supernatural.

I don't believe in ghosts or apparitions and when I hear people speak of them I think they are gone. Had a date with a woman in the 80s. We went to dinner. First date. The salad arrived. She picked up her fork and then said there was something I should know about her.  I said, okay.  She told me that this was her third lifetime.  I snorted the salad. The check could not come fast enough.  Another time in the late 70s I met a friend coincidentally at a restaurant and we started to feel a buzz. Then she asked me my sign and began in earnest to describe how astrological forces could affect the quality of a relationship. End of buzz.

So, I do not dwell in the Twilight Zone.  Therefore, go explain my reaction to the number 86.

I do not like the number 86.  If I finish a chapter in a book that ends at page 86, I continue on so my bookmark will not be on page 86.  If a bill ends in 86 I write out a check that ends in 87.  I could not wait for the odometer on my car to get to 87,000.  If I see that a bank statement ends in 86 I will add or take out some money.

Why?

Of course there is no good reason. This is as crazy as the woman who told me this was her third lifetime before she stabbed a tomato.  But here is the origin and maybe some readers will cut me some slack.

In the summer of 68, beginning Memorial Day in May 68, and then on weekends in the summer of 69 I worked in the borscht belt. I was a busboy and a waiter during this time.   One day I went to the hot steamy, crazy tense, kitchen and yelled--as was the protocol--"six roast beef, two rare, two medium, two burnt." The sous chef was a sourpus if there ever was one who was probably making minimum wage and was hot and tired of dealing with college boys on their way to professions while he labored in a dead end sweat shop job. I said six roast beef and the sous chef barked back at me:

"86 on the roast beef."

I was a newbie at the time and was perplexed by the response.  Thought maybe he did not hear the numbers right.

"No, I said, SIX, roast beef, two medium, two rare, two burnt."

"EIGHTY SIX!!" he bellowed. Again, I did not quite get it.  So I just looked at him.  His response to my stare: "Eighty fucking six on the roastbeef".

Okay. I knew I am not getting roast beef from this guy. So I asked around and found out that 86 was the word used when something was out.  86 on the roastbeef meant they were out of roast beef. 86 on the hot sauce meant there was no hot sauce. 86 meant, nothing left.

Years later Kojak would refer to dead people as those who had been 86ed.  As in killed.

But in the kitchen 86 meant there was nothing left. So, in my case, the message was go back to the table and tell the guests that we were out of roast beef and to pick something else from the menu.

I don't remember when the number 86 began to have a sinister meaning for me.  I do not recall feeling that way, for example, in 1986 which came and went without incident.  But it has been years and years since I have had this aversion to anything with eighty six in it.

Maybe it is because I don't like thinking about anything good being over.  86 means it is over.  Don't like the sound of that.  Maybe I should try and 86 this superstition.

P.S. Today, the Red Sox 86th their ten game losing streak. Final score. 8-6. Sox.





Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Transformed

I have a tee shirt that reads, "I have been transformed."

I got it by virtue of having attended a Leadership Development Program my university supports.  This was a few years ago.  The program is now in its fourth or fifth iteration and administrators of various stripes have gone through the six or seven session program.  There are even alumni gatherings for we who have finished the program in earlier versions. They are tune-ups of sorts.

The program was very enjoyable for me.  The most valuable dimension was that I got to meet people from parts of the university who had been, and would have continued to be, alien to me had it not been for the LDP. Also, I liked working with the coordinators. They were "into it" as we used to say in the 60s and 70s.  Finally, while some of the sessions were not especially substantive, enough were to make the time dedicated worthwhile.  At the end of the sessions, we received the tee shirts and a diploma of sorts.

If I had to recommend the program to a colleague (and I have been asked on occasion if it--the time--was worth it) I would not and do not hesitate to recommend. Yet the question remains-- am I transformed. And the larger question is can anyone, after going around the track forty, fifty, or sixty times be transformed and keep the positive changes.

I was thinking the other day of a program I attended in the mid 80s called Insight.  There had been some jarring events at that time and a cousin recommended Insight as something she had "done" and found valuable.  I typically look skeptically at such self-help seminars, almost never read self-help books (one exception The Road Less Travelled), but I gave Insight a whack.  It was a powerful several days and at the end of it I felt as if my head and heart had been rewired, corrosion to the terminals had been cleaned away, and the circuits were functioning as described in the manual.

The problem with transformational programs, though, is that after a stretch, the corrosion returns.  Whatever it was that affected the system, very naturally resurfaces requiring vigilance to maintain healthy transformation.  I think that is the issue with all attempts at change and transformation.  The success of any effort depends, yes, on the integrity of the vehicle employed to facilitate change, but also depends on maintenance. Without the commitment to retain healthy change, it is inevitable that we will revert.

It is not quite analogous, but I saw a photo the other day of a fellow I worked with who had gotten heavy.  When I first met the guy he had some weight on him. Then he went on a diet and looked fantastic. He had transformed physically and talking to him was like talking to a religious zealot in terms of how happy he said the transformation had made him. He loved buying new clothes, did not feel tired all the time, and loved the way he looked.  I remember thinking that it would be tough for him to keep the heft off.  And apparently judging from the photo it has been.

The key to transformation is preparing for the subsequent slide on the other side. Otherwise the message on the tee shirt is a slap in the face, or you kid yourself into thinking it's not.  Nothing profound here, but maybe a pep talk to myself to be ready to illuminate the darkness when or if the circuits break.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gone Girl--Book Review

(a) People in relationships are like this
(b) There are people in relationships like this
(c) This may be an exaggeration but all relationships are like this to a lesser extent.
(d) None of the above

Answer C.  (Don't kid yourself, the answer is C not D).

Gone Girl--is billed as a page turner. The reviewers have been ecstatic. In my paperback copy there are five pages of excerpts from raving critics. My reaction is more subdued. That said, it is, incontrovertibly, a page turner.  After I got to about page 100 I was gone.  After page 200--about half way through--the cliche "you can not put it down" was accurate.

The book is about a couple, two journalists, who have been laid off in New York and move to Missouri to be near the husband's failing mother and ailing father.  The woman wrote quizzes in magazines like the one that begins this blog entry.  She also keeps a diary and for the first half of the book the story is told in alternate narratives: the man writing--and then an excerpt from the woman's diary.

I have never read a book by Gillian Flynn but I am sure now I will read another. This was so well written. The film (which I understand is forthcoming) could not capture the novel because so much that is marvelous (literally, you marvel at it) about the writing is not in dialogue and could not be captured wholly visually.  Flynn describes the thought processes of both main characters vividly.  Some of the secondary characters, particularly the man's twin sister, are also drawn well.

The problem is that a and b in my little quiz above are really not the case.  As a general rule, relationships are not as fakakt as this one and while there are some people as fakakt as a main character in this novel, this person is an anomaly. If in your experience, you have met an abundance of these folks, it is time to move. I have met my share of strange ducks, but we are talking very strange events here.

I do think though that C above is the correct answer.  How we connect with others, the deals we make, are often very peculiar and incomprehensible to those on the outside.

If you have read my reviews in the past you know that a primary criterion I use when I evaluate books is how likely it is that the story and theme will stay with me. I don't think this one will linger.  The character is so bizarre and the ending tough to buy.  So on the primary criterion I don't think this book is as "fab" as the critics.

A secondary criterion I use relates to how well the book is written. On this score, this is a terrific read. If you are looking for something to jumpstart your reading habit--and don't mind reading about lunatics--then I highly recommend it.  Also some fast reads have too many unlikely twists and turns.  I do think the events here are abnormal and the ending frightening if you consider it plausible.  Still, the read does not include trains about to run down people who slip on a banana peel and lurch onto the tracks only to be saved by a man in a wheelchair who just happens to be holding a lasso and used to work in the rodeo.  In that sense, the story follows.

So, on balance, my recommendation

(a) You should read the book if you like to read
(b) You should not read the book.
(c) You will enjoy having read the book.

answer is a and c.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Danes-go figure sports

When I was a freshman in college a group of guys tried to gather up enthusiasm for a college club lacrosse team. On Long Island where I went to high school, lacrosse was a big sport. The jocks played lacrosse as much as baseball in the spring time.  Similarly in central and western New York lacrosse was a big sport.  Since so many of my college classmates came from the New York City suburbs or from the Syracuse area of the state, it was not such a coincidence that there happened to be some lacrosse enthusiasts in our freshman class.

So these enthusiasts successfully convinced the athletic powers to start a club team. In addition to those who played in high school, these enthusiasts were able to persuade athletes who had never played the game to pick up a stick and give it a whack.  They got a fellow who worked in some non athletic department administrative capacity to be a pro bono coach, somehow got the dough for the equipment, and the Albany State Great Danes had ourselves a lacrosse club.

My buddy Kenny who is a good athlete but had not played in high school, was one of those recruited to play.  He and a slew of others from my dorm began practice in early spring (which in Albany means winter). The club team took shape.

While it was not a coincidence that there were lacrosse enthusiasts in my class, it was a coincidence that there were several outstanding players on the team.  Three in particular:  Steve Jakway, Larry Smith, and Mark Werter.  Exceptional players.  These guys had not been recruited because there had been no team to be recruited to or for. They just happened to go to Albany, a club team evolved, and so they grabbed their sticks.

The club team was unbelievable. Went through the first year undefeated. In no time it had captured the imagination of whatever size group it was that followed "spring" sports at the school.   In addition, to the three studs, guys like my buddy Kenny who had not played in high school were learning the game quickly and played with terrific enthusiasm. Undefeated club team.  Very exciting to watch.

Fast forward forty six years.  Albany is now a strong division I lacrosse team. Scholarship athletes, hoo hah field, well respected coach. If you follow college lacrosse you have heard of the Great Danes. And this year, Albany was in the NCAA tournament and had made it to the quarter finals.

Yesterday, my buddy Kenny traveled to Hempstead New York to watch the quarter final match pitting Albany against Notre Dame.  It is a single elimination tournament.  If you win you advance to the semis, if you lose your season is over.  The game was on ESPN2 so I stopped what I was doing here in sunny Florida and kerplunked myself in front of the tv set to watch the game.

With about half of the final period gone, Albany, a huge underdog, led 12-7. This in lacrosse is a big lead. Kind of like leading 12-7 in the bottom of the ninth in a baseball game.  The goalie for Albany was stopping everything and the Dane scorers were scoring everything. Then, all hell broke loose. Notre Dame scored 6 goals in the last few minutes to 1 for my alma mater. At the end of regulation the score was tied 13-13.  In a sudden death overtime, Notre Dame scored the final goal.

I have forgotten all the rules of lacrosse so I could not follow the process completely.  But I know sports and I know what a devastating blow it must be to players to lead 12-7 and be ready to move on in the tournament and then see the bottom fall out.

What I find remarkable--even for someone who is a sports enthusiast-- is how I reacted to the loss.  I never played lacrosse. I kinda sorta know the rules, but certainly not the nuances.  I have not gone to a single game this year.  I know noone on this team. I do know some of the former players who played in the initial year especially my buddy Kenny. But I have no affiliation with this 2013-2104 team at all.  And yet at the end of the game, I felt so sad. So low, as if I myself had played, or as if this game was meaningful to me in some way.  I felt bad for my buddy Kenny who had traveled to the game, and for all the players wearing the purple and gold that are the school colors of the team.  I just felt lousy period.

Now, go figure this.  Why.  What is the power of sport, that someone 46 years removed from the start of a club team of which he had no direct participation, would feel sad about a loss in a game.  If you understand sport, you can figure this because you know it occurs.  Yet, if you had to explain it to a Martian what might you say to try to explain why an event so removed has such an emotional impact?

I think it has something to do with the heart. What that is, I do not know.  Our heart makes connections and when those connections are bruised or severed it has as much of a physical effect on us as a physical injury like banging a finger instead of a nail when you are hammering.  Except the pain in your finger goes away more quickly.  The sadness of emotional loss lingers.  Not to make such a big deal about a lacrosse game. This isn't the same as a loss of a loved one, but the same thing I believe is at play. We get connected.

Friday, May 16, 2014

clips

I am in Florida this weekend addressing some odds and ends that need to be so addressed in my folks' home.  Went to the bank today, but besides that, and throwing out items in the refrigerator, I had a hard time getting out of the box to address the various things that need attention.

About 8 pm I got a second wind and headed into the garage.

My father was not a hoarder. Or so I thought. It was my mother who did not like to throw much out.  I can remember my dad's kisser like it was yesterday when they were packing to move to Florida in the late 80s.  I went down to the basement to get something and there he was jamming, with obvious annoyance, dried Lipton soup mix into a carton.  My dad never disparaged my mother, but that day his face all but shouted, "I guess they don't have dried Lipton soup in Florida."  I'm laughing right now thinking about it. ( I am clearly not with it. Should have written. FOFLOL, which I believe stands for, falling on the floor laughing out loud).

So, given my dad's tendencies to throw things out, I was surprised at how many paper clips I found in the basement. When the messiah comes, if he stops here, he will not be hurting for paper clips.  Must be thousands of them in the garage.  In addition to the old boxes, I saw that he must have recently purchased several new boxes that are still in their Office Depot container.

Except for the paper clips, there was no evidence of hoarding.  Just an organized guy who had been around the track enough to accrue various items that might no longer be necessary.  I think my trip to his desk tomorrow might be more difficult as instead of pulling up cleansers, and folders, and clips, I will find some writings which will reflect the unusual kind man that he was.

But the clips got me thinking of what someone would think of me if I met the reaper and this other person had the task of going through my paraphernalia.  I think I take after my mother more than dad, but I don't have a thing for chicken soup.  I keep emotional nostalgia.  I have a jacket from the high school fraternity I joined,  a sheet exhorting a football team I played on to defeat its rival, and assorted letters from family, buddies, and sweethearts.  I came across one such card recently which read, "I know you don't believe me, but try because it's true, there's no one nicer in this camp, I'd rather go with than with you. Love always."  Well, yes, true, she did not comment on boys outside the camp with whom she'd prefer to cavort, and yes, also true, she subsequently married a dentist, so the sincerity of the sign-off might be questioned, but still...

Now, with my folks gone, heartfelt letters from them are great to read.  My folks never missed a birthday and of all her various assets, my mother's greatest strength was her ability to find a card that truly was meaningful when she wanted to be so meaningful.  Me, I look in the drugstore for a half hour, and cant find anything that is remotely on target. Not mom. She found them.

Our clips, our vestiges when we are no longer here, are telling.  This, of course, is the point of archeology, but on a micro level I think it is also telling.  My mother never, ever, ever used regular stationery when she was writing grocery lists. She would take the back of some flier, rip it into fourths, and use it for stationery.  In the garage tonight I found stacks of unopened lined pads for such list making.  A child of the depression growing up with a single mother and four kids, can make you hoard lined paper and dried soup mix.

I don't know who will look at my droppings when the time comes, and I plan to do nothing to alter my natural tendencies in order to leave a more attractive picture, but I hope the clips from my life are positively revealing.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Letters to Jeff



How Much Do You Know?
When you signed my high school yearbook, Jeff, you wrote that I would “go far.”  I don’t know how far I got.  A candid assessment is that I have on occasion gone far and other times have stumbled. Now and then it seems as if I have gone far but wonder if maybe I have traveled in the wrong direction and there is no easy way to get back to where I made the wrong turn.  However, I have had chances to go far. Chances to laugh, work, and fall in love. You, on the other hand, did not get much of a chance to go anywhere.  
How much do you know, Jeff?  Can you see us?  Can you read this? My best sense is that you cannot see us and will never read this because you were shot dead on May 4, 1970.  But what do we, the living, know?  We know what is, not what could be. So much has changed since you died that no one then would have predicted.
In 2001, terrorists hijacked planes and then deliberately crashed them into skyscrapers in New York.  Nearly three thousand people perished. The terrorists claimed, in essence, that they were doing this for God.
 In 2008, a black man won the United States presidential election. He, Barack Hussein Obama, received 53% of the popular vote. He carried twenty eight states including Virginia and North Carolina. 
Who, then, would have predicted this?
Do you remember the transistor radios we would put to our ears and take to the beach? They were like appendages. We’d nod with the radios and try to look cool.  Now nearly everyone who is older than ten owns something that is about the same size as those transistor radios.  Except they are not transistor radios, they are mini computers that can function as telephones, cameras, maps, newspapers, clocks, and encyclopedia. You can stand outside in the middle of nowhere, push a few buttons on these radio looking computers and find out the weather in Pittsburgh, the news from Baghdad, restaurants within a twenty five mile radius, or the current score in the Jet game including who has the ball, the down and distance, and how much time, to the second, is left in the game. No wires are necessary to make a phone call on these devices. You can be standing in the middle of Central Park and take a phone call. When someone calls, you can even identify the caller before answering. The phone number or name of the caller will appear on the mini computer’s screen. Sometimes the caller’s picture appears.   If you are busy or don’t want to speak to the person who’s phoning, you can ignore the call without worrying about missing information.  The caller can talk into the computer and leave a message that you can retrieve at your convenience.  
It’s the Jetsons Jeff.  Technology has advanced in ways you could not believe. You never need directions when you are driving anywhere.  Tell a machine that is on your dashboard where you want to go and a voice from what seems like a robot instructs you to make a left or right.   You don’t even have to flush the toilet when you use a public restroom anymore. You finish up, walk away, and the toilet senses your absence and flushes itself.  
We the living have no idea about what is possible until we are presented with evidence of realities that were previously inconceivable.  So you are dead since 1970, but maybe you can read what we write to you as long as we make the effort to do so.  Forty years from now it could be that the living take for granted the ability to communicate with the dead.  Our great grandchildren will consider us primitive for not being wise enough to know that we could.  I don’t know what you know Jeff, or what you can read or what you can see, but I am going to write to you anyway.  In case you can access this, I want you to know what you missed, what was taken from you.  I want you to know the truth about that day and what has happened since. 

And even if I knew that you could never access this and there was no hope of we the living communicating with our dead ancestors, I would still write to you.
There’s a fellow I work with who, once he takes a stand on an issue, has no interest in learning anything that undermines that position.  In fact, if you provide contradictory information he becomes irritated as opposed to grateful.  It’s as if truth is an impediment; as if when confronted with reality he wants to hiss: “Can’t you see, I’m trying to make a point here and you are making it difficult.”   I suspect that there are more people like my colleague than I’d like there to be and the aging process does nothing to reduce the number of converts to his tribe. 
But, there are still those who genuinely seek the truth and those who willingly acknowledge that what they think they know may be inaccurate.
Even if you never can read this, Jeff, maybe others will.  Maybe someday even the grandchildren of the Guardsmen will want to know what happened that day.
                                                                                                                                                                                                         Zeke

Six 0
We are all over 60 now. We are the establishment. 
Elaine organized a reunion in August 2009 and, as you would predict, she made it a success. It was an odd anniversary year to get together, our 42nd, but her idea was to throw us all a 60th birthday party. We were all either just past 60 or near there.  It was a coincidence that I’d be going to Kent State on the morning afterwards.
The reunion was fun like the ones we’ve had previously.  There was a very big crowd for our twentieth in 1987, and then smaller turnouts for the reunions that followed.  These things can be very heady.  A few hugs and conversations after you get there it’s as if time itself has vanished.  You can find yourself talking to some kid you knew in third grade as if you are intimates even if you barely had a conversation with him when you were in high school. 
 You would enjoy seeing everyone.  Gary’s an accountant now, Elaine a vice president in the garment district. Kenny is a dean of students at a college upstate on the Hudson. John is an engineer working most recently in Australia.   Kathy is a doctor and living in Texas.  Youngs became a successful actor.  He changed his name, but it’s Youngs right there in the movies.  He had a lead role in a movie about Vietnam that won the Academy Award for best picture.  I don’t know if you saw Hair on Broadway before you died, but they made a film out of it years later and Youngs had the lead.  
Some of us were barely recognizable at our 60th and others looked much as we had.  For the first reunions the committee prepared nametags with our ‘67 yearbook pictures on them.  This time there were no photos, just  names on the tags.  I needed to keep asking Elaine who was who. But you would be amazed at how well preserved Gene and Diane are.  Take away a few wrinkles that you need to stand close to notice and they look like they did in 1967.
Gary has two children. So does Diane and Kenny.  Gary’s a grandfather.   Eileen has four grandchildren.  John’s son lives in Taiwan.
At each reunion, there’s a list that the committee puts together of those who are gone and, of course, it gets longer each time we get together.  Besides you, Bill is gone.  So’s Reif.  Eric died in Vietnam.  Phil passed right before this last reunion. Only a week before.  He’d already sent Elaine his money.  Died young and suddenly at 60.  Of course you died suddenly at 20. Phil at least had 40 more laps around the track. And besides, in Phil’s case twenty eight soldiers did not take aim and then shoot him through the mouth.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

You Belong Here
            My intention was to drive directly to Ohio on the Sunday after the reunion. I wanted to spend a week where you died with the majority of time on the 8th floor of the library. That’s where they keep a special collection about the shootings.  They call it simply the May 4th collection.  There is also a May 4th reading room on the first floor of the library, and as of 2010 a May 4th visitor center in Taylor Hall. I imagine you remember Taylor Hall if you remember anything from that day. But it was the May 4th collection on the 8th floor of the library where I’d be for most of the week after the reunion.
 I had spoken to the reference librarians before making the trip. They told me that school would be on intersession when I arrived, but I could review materials during certain hours.  The special collections librarians are very careful about people going through the files. You have to place your briefcase and outerwear away from the tables where you are reading. You can only use pencil not ink when you are taking notes.  They provide plastic gloves and require researchers to wear them when looking through photos.  
It was the last week in August.  I’d been told that at the end of the week orientation for freshmen would begin.  As I drove in I couldn’t miss a very large sign that had been placed on the library tower as, apparently, a welcoming message for the new students.   You may remember the tower. The new library hadn’t opened yet when you were shot, but you may recall the construction of the tower and the new student center being built right next to it. You can’t miss the tower now. It is the first thing you would see if you were driving into the main campus from the perimeter road. 
On this bright Monday morning in August 2009, there were three giant pictures of smiling students hung vertically on the library tower.  Under the top photo the word “You” was printed in large letters. Beneath the second photo the word “belong” appeared.  Below the third large photo--the word, “here.”  “You belong here,” was the reassuring message. Nobody driving into the campus could miss it. The photos and sign would be what mom, dad, siblings, and anxious freshmen would see when they arrived for orientation.
You
belong
here
The first day when I saw the sign looming in front of me I just smiled.  I was reminded of my own college orientation and thought of the excitement freshmen might sense driving up to the campus and seeing the sign. You Belong Here.  But sometime during the course of the week, the message on the tower changed meaning for me. By Thursday and Friday after I’d spent the previous days poring through the May 4th collection, those words stared back at me as I drove in. I’d walk to the library from my parked car and each time I looked up I couldn’t miss the sign.  It felt as if those words were searing into my consciousness and by the time I left Kent on Friday night I did not want to see that sign anymore. The words were echoing in my head. 
Gary’s an accountant. Elaine’s a vice president. Kenny is a dean of students.  And you’re dead. 
You belong here.



Kent State

Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming
We're Finally on Our Own
This Summer I Heard the Drumming
Four Dead in Ohio.

Friday, May 2, 2014

uncool z

Today was graduation day.  In recent years I have had the opportunity to participate in these.  I walk down with other faculty and administrators, take my place on the platform, and listen to the various speakers.  We've had some excellent ones at Northeastern. Bill Clinton a few years back.  Colin Powell in 2012.  Janet Napolitano today.

And the student speakers are also quite good. Northeastern has dramatically increased its admission standards in the last decade so the student who gets to speak is typically extra special. Today's message was no exception. Well conceived and written remarks.

The school has also been privileged to have had interesting personalities accept honorary doctorates. Today we had two such interesting personalities accept degrees.  James Todd Smith and Wade Davis II.

I knew of neither.  Wade Davis II is a former professional football player who came out as gay after he had retired. He has been an advocate for inclusion in sports and in all arenas.  I had not known anything about his organization or activities but I found the write-up in the graduation booklet to be impressive and I am glad we honored someone who has fought against the status quo for civil rights.

James Todd Smith I had not heard of either.  But the undergraduates sure did.  As I was walking down the aisle with the rest of the procession, the images of we participants were projected on the giant screen in Boston Garden. I was halfway down the aisle when I heard the students and the assembled family members give out a squeal.

I knew the noise was not for me.  I may look okay for someone who has been around the track three score and four, but this was not for me. I asked a colleague.  She said that it was because James Todd Smith's image had appeared on the screen.

I may not be the only one in the world who does not know who James Todd Smith is.  But as I discovered today I may be the only one on planet earth who does not know, the now Dr. Smith, by his popular handle. L.L. Cool J.

I knew that we were going to award an honorary doctorate to a rapper, but I do not follow rap music. Don't know if I could identify a single rap song.   As I sat in my seat and students were receiving their diplomas I read the bio of L.L. Cool J that appeared in the graduation booklet. Very impressive.  I was amused by what the initials stand for.  Ladies Love Cool James.

Let me tell you, they do.  At a luncheon afterwards, a fifty something colleague, approached him as a teenager would approach an icon. When he kissed her hand, she positively swooned. I thought, no kidding, that she might faint.  And she was one of many who were taken by the star.

For the record, L.L. Cool J was modest, impressive, and seemed to be genuinely honored to receive the honorific.  When I went back to the office after the ceremony and revealed what I had discovered, my young colleagues all reacted as if I had said I did not know who George Washington was.

Uncool Z, certainly.  I did not get to speak with either James Todd Smith or Wade Davis II, but I am glad I had the opportunity to get close to them and also glad that I work for a university that decided to give honorary degrees to them.  Janet Napolitano's talk focused on the importance of making a difference in the world.  Davis is someone who is making a difference in our society and Smith aka LLCool J has made a difference as well with his art.

Gib a kick


This announcement was sent out by the Yiddish Center in Amherst.  Thought you'd see it and kvell.  

I remember that you would talk about how while you did not believe in an afterlife,  you did believe that you would somehow still be part of the "equation".

Apparently, you were correct.  The event is next Sunday. We'll be there. And so will you.

Shabbat shalom.


2pm | A Musical Salute to Molly Picon, Star of the Yiddish Theatre!

Diane CypkinIn a “Musical Salute to Molly Picon, Star of the Yiddish Theatre!” Dr. Diane Cypkin tells—through English narration—the life story of this exciting First Lady of the Yiddish Stage through the countless songs she sang and often wrote during her many, many years on the Yiddish stage. Indeed, the concert is a cornucopia, a beautiful bouquet, of tangos, waltzes, and fox-trots, that will have you humming for days. In sum, the concert is a tribute to a legend!

This event is sponsored in memory of 

Helen and Meyer Zaremba 

by their family and friends.