POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: AN ADULT FANTASY TO COMBAT MALAISE

AN ADULT FANTASY TO COMBAT MALAISE by Dennis Greene

            I am a semi-grownup who admittedly escapes to imaginary worlds when confronted with the unpleasantries of life. When faced with Joe McCarthy and his “Red Scare,” the 1950’s polio epidemic, the fear of nuclear war, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, and finally the military draft and the devastating years of the Vietnam conflict, I sought refuge in Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Herbert’s Arrakis,  the futuristic universes of Asimov, Bradbury, Bester, Niven, et al,  and the hopeful visions of TV’s Tom Corbet Space Cadets and Star Trek. All these fantasies helped me handle the passing of the 50’s during which I was fortunate to witness the birth of Rock and Roll, the transformative effect of television, the explosion of this country as a world leader in everything, and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.   I felt, back then, that I shared  an unshakable optimism about my country with all my fellow Americans.  I now know that my view of the 50’s was not shared by many women, blacks, ethnic minorities, gay men and lesbian women, and others who are still victims of poverty, discrimination, and indifference. But I was a lucky (and “privileged”) 16-year old white boy in New Bedford.  What did I know?

Lately, the problems of America, and the world, seem so insurmountable that fleeing to my imaginary worlds no longer affords relief. Not that I don’t spend lots of time there anyway. Recently, I have been escaping the insipid and never-ending stream of depressing news by binge watching the many popular TV series that I had somehow missed. These included Star Trek Enterprise, Good Omens, Stranger Things, Endeavour, Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, West World, Witcher, Schittz Creek, Northern Exposure, Bosch, The Umbrella Academy, Altered Carbon, and even Tiger Joe. But none of them cut through my present case of the blues. Then one of my daughters mentioned West Wing. I had somehow missed all seven seasons from 1999 through 2006. It was a political drama which, at the time didn’t especially tickle my fancy. But, desperate for any distraction, I watched the first few episodes. Wow! I was hooked. I am now just beginning the sixth year of the seven-year run, and it keeps getting better.

When it originally aired, this idealized White House—populated with brilliant, dedicated, compassionate and quirky people working for the benefit of the country—was juxtaposed against the Bush administration and offered some fine theatre. But the contrast between the West Wing and the circus of moronic sycophants and their reigning imbecile who now occupy the White house is so vivid as to be almost blinding. If Sorkin had had the current administration as his starting point, who can imagine what he would have created?  As is, West Wing is a wonderful fantasy in which to seek refuge.

There remains a little voice in my head which whispers, “Why can’t we actually find some people like President Bartlett, C. J. Cregg, and the rest to save the admirable but imperfect union that our founding fathers created?”

I am now going to watch Season 6, Episode 3.

Frequent BOLLI Matters contributor Dennis Greene.

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  

STORIES FROM STEVE: IN SEARCH OF THE JABBERWOCK

IN SEARCH OF THE JABBERWOCK

By Steve Goldfinger

April 10

Natives paddle us up this barely charted river in New Guinea. Commissioned by the Lewis Carroll Foundation, this is the strangest expedition I have ever led. It is the first step toward reincarnating the horrendous Jabberwock, to restoring those jaws that bite, the claws that catch.

The clue that set things off was the report that there is a wabe up the river where slithy toves could be seen gyring and gimbling alongside a forest of borogroves. It was there that the frumious Bandersnatch slaughtered the Jabberwock by plunging his vorpal blade snicker-snack through the beast and then galumphed away with its head.

Our mission is to find that vorpal blade. If scientists back home can scrape off some Jabberwock DANN, they will have the starter code to create a live Jabberwock that can be caged and shown around the world.

We were told to look for a particular tumtum tree where the Bandersnatch had rested just before the kill. That spot may be dozens of miles upriver, but our paddlers are strong and committed.

April 15

Hark! That must be jubjub birdsong coming from a tumtum tree just ahead. I am guessing jubjub because the song is raucous–downright ugly, in fact. Could one expect anything else from a bird that must be shunned?

My team gathers its shovels and picks.  The members include:

–   Martha Addington, archaeologist

–   Emil Gottschalk, eminent naturalist.

–  Mike Sullivan, river guide and provision supplier.

Emil is eight feet away from me when I hear him shouting. He is digging furiously into the shallow pit he has created. And then he raises it—a mud-caked sword with thin roots hanging from it.  He scrapes the mud away, and there it is—the vorpal blade!

April 18

Our victorious party is being paddled back down river. The sword is in full display, its blade still sharp, still menacing. I watch the trees slip by.  Martha is smoking, as usual, and, as always, snacking.  It’s a lazy journey back—until we suddenly freeze at the loud shrieking of what must be a dozen jubjub birds overhead. The paddlers lose control. The bow of our longboat snags against a fallen log at the shore. And there, glaring down on us, is an enormous figure—half naked, horny skinned, fanged, and reeking.  The odor is absolutely vile. It is, unmistakably, the Bandersnatch itself. He looks into the boat and sees what he wants. It is Martha! With one leap and snatch, he lands her and scurries into the forest, pushing pie crumbs and a cigarette away from her mouth.

We find them within two minutes. He is pressing against poor Martha. He thrusts her into a bush.  Her screams drown out the jubjub birds. Mike Sullivan approaches. He wields the vorpal-bladed sword. One stroke, and snicker-snack, the horny monster is headless.

April 21

 Martha chews some gum as we float up to the dock. Now it is in the hands of the scientists to separate Jabberwock DNA from Bandersnatch DNA.

writers

After a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. At BOLLI, he has taken writing courses, been active in the Writers Guild, and even tried CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) where his imagination made him a singular player!

 

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE WITH LARRY: CHECK, PLEASE

In response to the Writers Guild prompt, “Check, Please,” Larry took what we have come to think of as a Schwirian Turn.

Check, Please

  by Larry Schwirian

Three young eastern European men, educated in England, decided to take a holiday together in Germany before returning to their respective home countries. None of the three spoke the native language of the others; nor did they speak German; but they all spoke English. They wanted to see the Black Forest in southwest Germany, Neuschwanstein Castle (also known as Mad Ludwig’s Castle) in Hohenschwangau, the well preserved medieval old town of Rothenberg, the Rathaus-Glockenspeil in Munich, and they wanted to experience the dynamic economy of Germany to see how it compared to those of England and their home countries. They also hoped  to meet and party with some local Fraüleins before returning home.

All three of the young men could be considered attractive in that they were all physically fit and well-groomed, but there were distinct differences in their mannerisms and personalities. Andrei, from Russia, was taller and more muscular than the others and had a more outgoing personality. Mudrac, from Serbia, was somewhat smaller and thinner but was a keen observer and appeared to be the most introspective and learned of the three. Oldrich, from Prague, was the handsomest, was perfectly proportioned, carried himself like an aristocrat, and appeared to be from a family of some wealth.

One day, in Munich, the young men decided to stop in a restaurant for lunch. As it was the middle of the afternoon, there were not many patrons present, so there were plenty of open tables and an abundance of wait staff.  Three young waitresses—Uda, Hilda, and Darissa—saw the young men come in and began to discuss which of them would wait on them. As all three wanted the opportunity to serve these young “hunks,” a somewhat heated discussion followed. Finally, they decided that, since there were three of them and there were three young men, each of them would serve one of the young patrons. They drew straws to see who would have the first pick.  Uda, whose name means “prosperous or rich,” drew the long straw.  She calmly looked at the other two, smiled, and exclaimed, “I’ll take the Czech, please.”

Frequent “BOLLI Matters” contributor and co-leader of the Writers Guild Larry Schwirian

Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, lead BOLLI courses on architecture.  Larry has been an active participant in  and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.  

ANOTHER SIG UPDATE: BOLLI PHOTOGRAPHY GROUP

On Friday, November 15th,  the BOLLI Photography Group had our final meeting of the term.  We viewed and discussed the photographs members had submitted for review on a large screen in the Green Room.   Some of the submissions were from our fall field trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery led by Helen Abrams while others were of sporting events, autumn scenes, travel shots, and family events.

On December 13, the group went on another field trip, this time to the MFA where Joanne Fortunato says “we had the privilege of having Karen Haas, a curator at the museum who is responsible for researching and putting exhibits together.  She gave us a tour of the Howard Greenberg Collection of photography.  It was a wonderful exhibit, and Karen was fabulous!”

According to the museum’s website, the Howard Greenberg Collection of 447 photographs by 191 artists “includes iconic European masterpieces from the 1920s and 1930s as well as a wide range of socially conscious works—powerful visual testimonies of Depression-era America, politically engaged street photography, exceptional examples of wartime photojournalism, and poignant depictions of African American life from the 1930s through the Civil Rights movement. Integrating these photographs into the MFA’s collection allows the Museum to explore fresh narratives, bring new insights and perspectives to current issues, and celebrate photography as an art form as well as a social, cultural and political force.”

Organizers: Helen Abrams, Karen Haas, Joanne Fortunato and Jennifer Coplon.

The group’s meetings are a fun way for members to gather and demonstrate their skills as well as subjects they enjoy photographing.  And, of course, the field trips are always memorable!

The BPG is opened to all who enjoy photography.  Our next meeting is scheduled for Friday, January 17th, 12:30 – 2 pm in the Green Room.

 

A SENIOR MOMENT FROM DONNA: GIVE US A BREAK

GIVE US A BREAK

by Donna Johns

Stuck in the house waiting for a repair, I sat down with a cup of coffee to watch Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress.  He was, as I expected, clear and to the point and very “lawyer-y.”  He kept flipping through that 400 page report to verify his answers.  And he looked a tiny bit annoyed. I’m sure he would have preferred to be fishing, or reading, or just about anything that did not involve being thanked for his service and attacked for his findings. They mercifully gave him (and me) a break after 90 minutes.

Returning to the television, the talking heads were analyzing his performance:

“He seems confused.”

“He keeps shuffling papers.”

“Is he ill?”

As I am wont to do when confronted with idiot talking heads, I began to yell at them. “Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he’s hard of hearing! He’s not sick. He’s just 75. Give him a break!” I watched the second morning session, paying closer attention to the man. Sure enough, when asked a question, Mueller tilted his head to hear better. He probably has one good ear and one that is trashed. We see it at BOLLI all the time.

Shuffling papers?  He was very precise when he found the relevant portions of his report.  He just took his sweet time finding them. At his age, many of us can’t find our keys, eyeglasses, or the shopping list we wrote last night. I thought it was admirable that he actually found anything in those two massive binders.

That got me thinking of all the criticisms we face as we age. Our children are chronic offenders but it comes from just about everyone. Rather than shrugging off our little idiosyncrasies, there is a tendency to try to fix us, as if we were broken.  Nope, not broken…just different. Raise your hand if any of these ring a bell.

  • “I got stuck behind a Q-Tip driving 20 miles per hour. Why are they still on the road?”  Answer: How much damage can I do going 20 miles per hour? Also…need groceries.  Also, what’s your hurry?
  • ” Can’t you hear me? Why don’t you pay attention?” Answer: You mumble. And frankly, if you can’t speak up, why do I have to pay             attention?
  • ”Why are you taking so long to (fill in the blank)?” Answer:  After a lifetime of hurrying, I’m enjoying a more leisurely pace. Also, how            important is (fill in the blank) anyway?

Aging is a daily challenge, and most of us do it with dignity. Perhaps the young-uns need to appreciate our uniqueness and quit diagnosing our “shortcomings.” Move on…nothing to fix here!

BOLLI Matters feature writer Donna Johns

Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.

MEMOIR FROM DENNIS: TWO SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS

Two Special Friendships

 by Dennis Greene

My life is richer because of two women whose paths I was lucky enough to have crossed. They are both smart, strong and beautiful, and, like a lot of us, are currently dealing with the undeserved curveballs life throws our way.

Recently,  my friend Hunter lost the sight in one eye due to a sudden arterial occlusion or “eye stroke.”  She notified her legions of friends of the loss, informed us that the doctors said the damage was probably total and irreversible, and reminded us gamely that she still had one eye that was working fine.  Hunter is tough, well-grounded,  indominable.  Though we have never met and have only spoken on the phone once, I consider her one of my best friends.  I met Hunter through Judy.

Judy was my first girlfriend.  She was tall, pretty, smart, and a very nice person.  I met her in high school in 1960 when she was scooping ice cream at Gulf Hill Dairy.  We dated pretty regularly during my senior year,  but I am not sure how to characterize the relationship. At the time, I had nothing to compare it with, but it probably fell into the “semi-serious” category.  I do know that, when I went away to college, I expected to see her at Thanksgiving, but, shortly before the holiday, I received a “Dear John” letter.  Judy told me she had started dating Dave and we wouldn’t be seeing one another anymore.

Dave was one of the most popular guys in my class, one of the best all-around athletes in the school, my teammate on the basketball team, and a good guy. He was also tall, movie star handsome, and destined to become a Marine officer.  I was glad for Judy but a little sad for me. But, because of her, I had much more experience with the opposite sex than I had had a year earlier. And I was strangely proud to have received my first “Dear John” letter. It proved I was in the game.

Judy and Dave have been married more than half a century.

Twenty years later, my wife and I attended my 20th high school reunion.  As we stood in line to get our name tags, Judy and Dave walked in.  Eileen had heard me tell high school stories and was interested in meeting them.  As I made the introductions,  I realized, from Judy’s expression, that she had no idea who I was.  It was an awkward moment that Eileen seems to take some joy in mentioning, while noting that most women remember their prom dates.

Over the years following that reunion, I kept in touch with Dave and Judy, and when we discovered Facebook, Judy and I began playing Lexulous (a scrabble type game) on line.  At some point, she suggested that I might also like to play with her friend Hunter, a woman she had met through their mutual love of rescued Border collies. For a number of years, the three of us played lots of games.

Then, sadly, Dave began suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, and Judy stopped playing, devoting all of her time to caring for him.  She was a talented artist, but she gave up all her woodcarving and most of her photography activities. It made me think about how much caregivers have to forgo in order to care for a loved one. Such caregivers deserve much more appreciation than they often receive.

Hunter and I have continued to play online games for over eight years now.  According to the Lexulous site, we have played over 3,000 games. The site makes it easy for players to chat, and ,through that online interaction,  I have come to know quite a bit about Hunter.  She loves dogs and horses and always has several.  She has told me stories about her parents and her children, and she is outspoken about her political beliefs. In fact, she is outspoken and effusive about most everything.

Hunter was not as open and forthcoming at first, but, at some point, she expressed a very liberal opinion and mentioned that I probably would disagree with her.  As an educated, Jewish Democrat with atheist leanings, born in Newark, N. J.,  I wasn’t used to having anyone assume I was politically conservative. When I asked her why she thought I would disagree, she told me that she just assumed I was a conservative, religious Republican who belonged to a yacht club because I had been friends with Judy and Dave.  I told her she had me pegged wrong, and, since then, Hunter has been much more free-wheeling when it comes to expressing her opinions. Her recent Trump posts have been especially entertaining.  I never noted that these two friends were at such different ends of the political spectrum.

Hunter called me once for legal advice when a used truck she had purchased in Texas broke down about 150 miles from the dealer, but all of our other contact has been through Facebook. Recently, I told her that I had added her to my bucket list and planned to visit her in Florida. I am going to do that sometime soon.

When we look back on our lives, the things that shine are the friendships we have been lucky enough to share.  For me, Hunter and Judy are two that shine the brightest.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  He has engaged in memoir writing since joining BOLLI.

LINES FROM LYDIA: SEPTEMBER POEM

SEPTEMBER POEM

By Lydia Bogar

My leafy fences will soon be gone

To join summer’s pink sunsets.

Sweatshirts will emerge,

And acorns will appear underfoot.

 

September brings my birthday,

Takes me back to school,

Gives me apples, more apples, so many apples.

And lets me sleep with the windows wide open.

 

September sends geese into their southern flights,

Honking without breaking form.

Lawnmowers don’t dare to breach the peace.

As oak leaves cluster and fall.

 

Shrubs and small trees shed their greenery,

Revealing my dining room table to passing cars.

Campers and canoes come home from the beach.

And school buses slide by.

 

Joanne was born on September 11.

She died before the assassins came with their hate.

September is hard for a mother

Whose fences are coming down.

 

BOLLI feature writer and Writers Guild co-chair Lydia Bogar

Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service.  She says she “hails from Woostah—educated at BOLLI.”

 

 

 

 

 

OUR TURN by Quinn Rosefsky

OUR TURN

by Quinn Rosefsky

Outside, in the dimly lit darkness, in the land of the rising sun, our bodies still heavy with restless sleep, we stood in line, waiting.

Not knowing how quickly the cold night would pass, how thin the mountain air, not yet ready for our turn, we stood in line, complaining.

Inside, the large dining room overflowed with fellow hikers, nodding, sitting on mats, speaking words with no meaning, the lucky ones who’d arrived before us.

Sipping hot tea, murmuring, emptying rice bowls with wooden chopsticks, they took no notice of our shadows hovering, swaying, listening to a distant chorus.

Outside, in a line snaking to the door of the wind-blasted hut, refuge for too many, we wrapped thin blankets around our shoulders.

Why weren’t we the lucky ones sipping tea?

Why wasn’t it our turn?

Ahead in line, an elderly woman wearing white gloves, her lipstick perfectly applied, her jet black hair shining, silhouetted against the darkness, her face a friendly smile, turned towards us.

Touching a graceful finger gently to her lips, speaking the only language we understood, we knew patience would reward us, but when?

Not knowing what she said, still knowing exactly what she said, we sighed and stood in line, waiting.

Was that streak of light a break in the never-ending darkness?

Slowly, the line moved forward towards the light inside where we, too, would sit on mats and sip hot tea, no longer waiting.

Inside at last, the sun, a distant fuzzy orb, blinding in its intensity, freed us from sleep, brought promises of the new day, another ascent into the clouds.

And so, no longer waiting, our turn arrived, our spirits revived, we, too, sipped hot tea, emptied rice bowls, and listened to a distant chorus.

BOLLI  Renaissance Man, Quinn Rosefsky

It is strange to say I used to play the French horn in an orchestra. I used to study Japanese. I used to hike. I once walked across England from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. I was once a doctor…49 years’ worth of medicine. My children were once young. I tell myself to get on with it. Leave it behind. Now I paint with watercolors. Now I have given either nine or ten courses at BOLLI (and will do two more this fall.)  Now I bag ten thousand-year-old lithics as a volunteer in an archaeology museum. Sometimes I write. Last year, I wrote and illustrated four short books for my now seven-year-old granddaughter who wants me to write something new, something about chopping the Evil Virus that plagues us into tiny pieces that will never come back to hurt anyone ever again. Yes! I have left “I used to” behind and think more about what I am “going to do.”

Creative Nonfiction by Larry Schwirian: Henry

HENRY

by L. Schwirian

It was on the 10th of May in 1843 that Henry received the fateful commitment letter from the woman he adored and had been courting off and on for the last seven years; she had finally agreed to his proposal of marriage.  His first wife had died of a miscarriage eight years earlier while they traveled in Europe, and a few months later, he met Fanny, his wife to be, and her father in Switzerland.

Henry’s first wife had been embalmed, laid in a lead-lined oak casket, and shipped to Boston for burial.  After the funeral ceremony,  he took up his new post as a Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard and began living as a boarder at Craigie House near Harvard Square.  Fanny, whose real name was Frances, also returned from Europe, with her father Nathan Appleton, to their home on Beacon Hill.  As one of the original investors in the first integrated textile mill in Waltham, Nathan was quite wealthy.

After receiving Fanny’s letter, Henry was so energized that he pulled on his boots and started the three and one-half mile, 90-minute trek down Broadway Street and across the Boston Bridge to Beacon Hill to make sure that Fanny wouldn’t change her mind. It was a journey he made many times over the past seven years, and he had become something of a legend in Cambridge for his unrequited ardor, perseverance, and refusal to quit.

He and Frances married shortly thereafter and parented six children before Fanny died in 1861; she was sealing letters with wax when her dress caught fire, and she succumbed only a few days later. Henry, in an attempt to save her, suffered wounds to his face and body and was unable to attend her funeral. He retired shortly thereafter and devoted the rest of his life to writing and became one of the best known and popular poets of the 19th Century.

He and both wives are now buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and the “Boston Bridge” that he crossed so many times while courting Fanny was re-christened “The Longfellow Bridge” when it was replaced in 1906. The pedestrian bridge recently built over Storrow Drive near the Hatch Shell has been christened The Fanny Appleton Bridge.

The Fanny Appleton Bridge

 

BOLLI Matters contributor, SGL, and Writers Guild co-chair Larry Schwirian

Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and have led BOLLI courses on architecture.  Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.  

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? Another Life – with Eleanor Jaffe

    ANOTHER LIFETIME—CHICAGO, 1968

by Eleanor Jaffe

At my neighbor’s recent socially-distanced cocktail hour, there was talk of the upcoming conventions, and I heard myself say, “I was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention.” a show-stopper statement. Impressed and surprised, the others look at me.  I, too, am surprised.  Me?  In another lifetime.  Picture this:

I’m 31 years old;  I have lived in Gallup, New Mexico for the past one and one-half years.  I have given birth, in January of that year, to our second child, a son, at the Gallup Indian Hospital.  It is now March. My older child celebrates her third birthday.  Each year for the past 6 years my husband and I have moved cross-country,  pursuing his career goals.  This year,  when my husband’s two years in the Public Health Service are complete, we will move once again–this time to Michigan.  Now we are a family of four poised to make another cross-country move.  At heart, I am a liberal New Yorker, radicalized like so many of my generation by the Vietnam War and the race riots roiling the U.S.  I have sent a $5.00 donation to the “Eugene McCarthy for President” campaign.  Turns out, I am the only person in all of McKinley County, New Mexico to have sent any donation to this campaign.

At the urging of a cadre (an advertising guy and a few nuns) of out-of-state organizers for the McCarthy campaign, I become “coordinator” for the “Eugene McCarthy for President” campaign in McKinley County.  Turns out I have a flair for this sort of thing. (Six years as an English teacher in NYC  must have helped.)

My “handlers” suggest organizing strategies with public health service people and with Navajos on the vast reservation, some of which is in New Mexico.  They recommend publicity-grabbing actions—accusing the local Dems of picking delegates to the State Democratic convention in Santa Fe on an unsanctioned date, etc.   I am surprised to discover that I am good at this!  We hold “legal” precinct meetings on and off the reservation on the prescribed date, the first time that a few precincts have met and voted on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and I end up leading a delegation of 36 from McKinley County to the State Democratic convention in mid-June.

Here is the “road not taken.”  At the convention, I am asked to run for New Mexico’s State Committeewoman.  I ask if it will matter that I am going to be living in Michigan in a few weeks?  It does matter.  I am not eligible.  But I am rewarded for my good work and become an alternate delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago that August. 

My husband and I leave our two babies with friends in Ann Arbor.  Armed with my delegate badge, we roam the increasingly dangerous streets, and I attend convention caucuses, meet Hubert Humphrey, enter the huge, raucous, smoke and noise filled convention hall.  (It doesn’t help that I have a killer of an ear infection, complete with swelling, pain, and pain killers. )

On the night when the presidential candidate is chosen, my husband and I are outside on the streets.  The rioting begins.  To our eyes, the armed riot police are the instigators.  When the demonstrators are unable to get a permit to march,  Mayor Daly orders his police force to attack and disperse them.  They attack with wooden clubs, in formation, roaring as they race into the crowd of unarmed young demonstrators.  We stand in the Conrad Hilton Hotel’s lobby, our faces pressed against the plate glass walls.  It’s hot, noisy, and alarming.    I want to stay and see the action.  I think my delegate’s badge will protect me.  It won’t.  My husband grabs my hand, and we run back to our hotel where we watch the mayhem on our t.v. screen, listening to the far-off police sirens, and Hubert Humphrey is chosen as the 1968 Democratic candidate .

In the morning, we examine the carnage left behind.  The plate glass windows of the Conrad Hilton Hotel have been smashed.  Upstairs, at McCarthy headquarters, young people, bleeding and bandaged, lay on the floor,  beaten by the police.  We leave Chicago and return to our babies, chastened.  I never pursue a political career.  That period of my life is over.

More than 50 years have passed.  I now marvel at the gutsy young woman I was, and I am grateful for that experience.  It has helped to form me and my opinions and some actions.  Part of me wishes I had stayed in New Mexico and become that State Democratic Committeewoman,  an adventure I did not think at the time that I could pursue.  Instead, I followed a more conventional path:  mother, housewife, teacher, social worker, counselor.  Sometimes, I have a flash of activism.  With Elaine  Dohan, I initiated  the “Make a Difference” special interest group at Bolli a few years ago.  I’d still like to “make a difference.”  Wouldn’t you?

Choosing a president this year will likely cause more widespread violence than what we witnessed in Chicago, 1968.  Now, as then, the fate of our democracy is at stake.  All of us must bear witness.  What actions will be effective in our strife-torn, pandemic ridden, democracy?  Now that we are so much older, are we any wiser or more effective?  Can we make a difference?

BOLLI Matters contributor and SIG co-leader Eleanor Jaffe

“As I grow older,” Eleanor says, “I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, and my friends.”  To that end, she has led BOLLI study groups focused on aging, immigration, and more.  In addition, along with Elaine Dohan, she chairs BOLLI’s political action “Make a Difference” special interest group.

COFFEE BREAK by Quinn Rosefsky

COFFEE BREAK

By Quinn Rosefsky

 In late August of 1939, just prior to Germany’s invasion of Poland, President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a letter written by Leo Szilard but signed yours very truly, Albert Einstein. In the letter, the two scientists explained to the President what they knew of Germany’s experiments with uranium and expressed their genuine concern that the Germans were working feverishly to develop the splitting of the atom, an atomic bomb. With a letter signed by Einstein, the two men hoped to influence Roosevelt to respond to the German threat. Listening as economist Alex Sax read the letter, trying to grasp the significance of so much nuclear science jargon, Roosevelt famously said: “Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.”

While no longer active in earthly affairs, Roosevelt, Szilard and Einstein have not entirely disappeared. Even in the afterlife, Einstein, devastated that the bomb had been detonated against civilians, still regrets signing the letter. What would have happened if he had kept silent?

One recent bright, sunny morning, Einstein and Szilard met at a Starbucks not far from Harvard Square. (Coffee is as popular in the afterlife as it is here on Earth.)  Roosevelt was busy with his stamp collection and had stayed at home.

Dressed casually, minding their own business, Einstein and Szilard fit in with the young crowd too absorbed with their laptops and crossword puzzles to notice two old men sitting in the corner.

“If you ver ez dedicated to chumanity ez I cheard you claim ven you chad your interview to get in, vy zeh chell ver you zo shrewd viz me zat day, gettink me to zign a letter vich put zeh vorld on zeh path to damnation?” Einstein asked. “Perhaps you left out somethink?”

“I meant what I said, but how was I to know? It’s not my fault what Truman chose to do, mister sophisticated smarty-pants.” Szilard replied, somewhat hurt. “Besides, Truman isn’t here to defend himself. He didn’t pass the entrance exam.”

“If I chad known vat vaz goink to chappen, zeh only vay you could get me to zign vud chaf been to chypnotize me. I vaz alvayz too shmart to let anyone do zat! Oyy, I’ve got such a cheadache.”

“Sounds like Freud could help you, but he didn’t make it, you know. Still, I hear he keeps busy.”

“Nu? Und I’ve regretted it ever zince. Mankind chaz never been zeh same. Now look at zem, liffing in zeh now, zeh future, zeh past, dreamers, all of zem. See zat man over zer with chiz little computer gizmo, zeh one viz zeh double latte?”

“Yeah, what’s so special about him?”

“Che’z been looking up information from zeh ether about zat letter of yourz, zeh one you wrote zat I signed ‘yourz very truly.’ Efen here, zer’s no place to chide.”

“I know.”

“Zer’s been almost ez much written about zeh atomic bomb ez zer chaz been about Mark Twain und zeh Civil Var. Personally, I prefer Mark Twain.”

“I’ll invite Mark out for coffee the next time.”

“Okay, but I never undershtood hiz zense of chumor. I’m goink to chaf to teach chim Yiddish.”

“What about Franklin?”

“Che von’t come. Zey don’t allow you to zmoke in public places anymore.”

Quinn Rosefsky, BOLLI member, SGL, writer, artist…and more

It is strange to say I used to play the French horn in an orchestra. I used to study Japanese. I used to hike. I once walked across England from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. I was once a doctor…49 years’ worth of medicine. My children were once young. I tell myself to get on with it. Leave it behind. Now I paint with watercolors. Now I have given either nine or ten courses at BOLLI (and will do two more this fall.)  Now I bag ten thousand-year-old lithics as a volunteer in an archaeology museum. Sometimes I write. Last year, I wrote and illustrated four short books for my now seven-year-old granddaughter who wants me to write something new, something about chopping the Evil Virus that plagues us into tiny pieces that will never come back to hurt anyone ever again. Yes! I have left “I used to” behind and think more about what I am “going to do.”

WRITING IN THE TIME OF THE PANDEMIC by Marjorie Roemer

Writing in the Time of the Pandemic

In that time . . .

By Marjorie Roemer

I noticed things.  Specifically, the little leaves coming out on my Christmas cactuses.  They emerge, one at a time, first the tiniest speck at the end of an established leaf.  Week by week, that speck creeps out until it is a pale, reddish quarter inch.  I think, with less time on my hands, I wouldn’t see these at all.  Now, I pore over the plants and I see, cheering on these tiny bits of growth.

What else can I see now?  Certainly the signs of spring, my emerging bleeding hearts and forget-me-knots.  Sad names for such pretty things.

The taste of food, the changes in the weather, the news from outside . . . all have an enhanced importance as other diversions are no longer available.  And I rejoice at all Zooming possibilities: our BOLLI meetings, the choruses and orchestras that somehow manage to create affirming, triumphant sounds.  With diminished horizons, everything looms larger, and I think we all cling to signs of life and vitality, celebrating the way that people can unite to overcome distance and isolation.

The majesty and unconquerable nature of the human spirit is something to affirm, something to cling to.  I am so grateful to all those musicians and dancers who continue to bring us delight, who articulate artistry and commitment in these trying times.  Ballet dancers with their adagios around a kitchen counter, others in fields and on roof tops, dancing their joy.

I look forward to meals and the occasional long phone call.  I read plague literature, first Camus then Defoe. I watch the news and hear about what new blunder our government has made and watch Blue Bloods on Amazon when it all gets to be too much.  I rejoice at my own ability to survive with the help of Instacart and Wegmans’ deliveries.  I check out how the virus is faring in the places where my family members live.  I didn’t know what county Cary, North Carolina was in, but now I do, and I check to see how relatively safe my grandson might be.

Vigilance, anxiety, concern (and rage) are balanced by some new set of appreciations, some new awareness, or permeability.  I check again my tiny new slow-starting leaves, and I see another tiny dot of expectation.  Hooray for you, I say.  I’m on your side.

BOLLI member and Memoir Writing SGL Marjorie Roemer

Marjorie has been at BOLLI for nine years, taking classes, teaching classes, serving on committees. Writing has, all the while, helped to frame and deepen experience for her.  (Be sure to dip into the 2020 BOLLI Journal to read two of her lovely poems.)

A MOVING EXPERIENCE by Sandy Miller-Jacobs

A Moving Experience

By Sandy Miller-Jacobs

It happened quite simply. Our older daughter, her husband, and their three children moved to Massachusetts around 7 years ago. They had lived in Washington DC while she was in graduate school and her then soon-to-be husband was attending medical school. There, for several happy years, they received their degrees and became parents of their first child, our first granddaughter. They moved to the Philadelphia area and bought a sweet home in a wonderful neighborhood. She got a job, he completed his residency, and they became the parents of another daughter. We were quite sure they’d never move to the Boston area. Then he applied for a fellowship in mammography at Mass General Hospital.

Our hopes were high, but realistically, his chances were low, but we hoped for the impossible.   We were thrilled when he was selected! They rented a two-bedroom apartment on the T line in Brookline. They liked living here and were glad to have grandparents as well as a great-grandmother all nearby.

Eventually, they bought a house in Newton and had a third daughter.  Their lovely house sits on a quiet street where they have  fabulous neighbors who have become close friends. It is within walking distance to the T and the center of town, the library, and, most importantly, PJ Licks Ice Cream.  When they first looked at the house, they said that, some day, they would like to expand the kitchen and the dining room, and they especially wanted to change the chandelier. They were staying for the long haul, and we were delighted.

After six years, 2019 became the year for the renovation. They selected a contractor who had done jobs for friends and only worked on one job at a time. They were confident in their choice and shared the architect’s drawings.  It looked like a bigger job than we had expected, but it surely looked good. They rented a home close by so they could take the kids to school, get themselves to work, and keep an eye on the construction. Their lease was for September to January. The contractor said that should be perfect timing. They put their furniture in storage and looked forward to 2020 being the year of their home being redone.

When our daughter was young and we had another on the way ourselves, we went through a much smaller renovation. It was rather stressful, but at least we weren’t out of our house for four months as they were to be. We suggested that, since we were going to spend February in Israel, they would be welcome to use our home if the job wasn’t finished on time.  When that did become necessary, that move worked very well, especially because the family knew the house–its layout, the beds, the bathrooms, the toys, the couches, and, of course,  the kitchen.  They were already comfortable in it.

We arrived home on March 1st to find the house filled with smiles and laughter, and for two weeks, we all lived together. The kids went to school, their parents to work, and we were thrilled to have the time together. Then the Corona Virus overtook our world. Our son-in-law was sure that, as a doctor at Boston Medical Center, he’d be exposed, and he didn’t want to impact us since we are in the elder risk category.  Both my daughters insisted that we take our friends up on their offer for us to go to their condo.

So, we packed up for our next adventure.  Our friends are in Tucson, we’re in their condo, and our kids are in our home.  Some day, our kids will move out, we’ll move back into our house and complain that it’s too quiet and run over to visit them.  Our friends will return, and we’ll join them for dinner.  Keep calm and carry on!

BOLLI Matters contributor and “Aging with Resilience” SIG leader Sandy Miller-Jacobs

Sandy finally retired after nearly 50 years in Special Education.  Along the way, she married, completed her doctorate, raised two daughters, married them off, and became a grandmother.  She says that BOLLI is the key to maintaining brain function through teaching and learning while meeting new friends. Her hobbies now include photography, memoir writing, and aging.  Sometimes she takes the risk and shares her hobbies and ideas with BOLLI members!

 

THE PROPOSAL by Quinn Rosefsky

THE PROPOSAL

By Quinn Rosefsky

            When he asked her why, she thought for a moment and said that there really was no one else in the whole world with whom she could be so open. She spoke with an accent, most likely Eastern European. In her thirties, attractive, with hazel eyes, and fine features, she wore rumpled blue jeans, a man’s partially buttoned shirt, not tucked in, and had carelessly tied her dark hair in a bun. A faint lilac fragrance moved with her as she paced from one washer to the next, peering briefly into the glass front of each one as if expecting to find a forgotten treasure, a hidden message. Kanyeshna, she said–more than once. She looked at him again, straightened the loose hairs in her bun, then sighed, and continued pacing.

A few minutes earlier, unshaven, his light brown hair unkempt, he had put on loafers, khaki shorts, and a Red Sox T-shirt, determined finally, after so many excuses he’d made to himself, to get his laundry done. His old girlfriend had done it for him before she left for good, and now, she had been gone for a month.  Hugging the large bundle, he had walked the two blocks from his studio apartment, past the pharmacy, the ice cream parlor, the barber shop, and the pawn shop until he reached the 24-hour laundromat. Except for the laundromat, the shops were closed, empty, the streets jammed with cars belonging to locals. Not a single jogger. No one walking a dog. He hadn’t really expected to meet anyone, not this early, not on a Sunday.

The two were the only ones doing their laundry. He checked his change. He needed a few more quarters to put in the washing machine and asked the woman if she had change for a dollar. She looked at him as if not quite understanding what he wanted, then asked him to marry her.  Perhaps “Why” wasn’t the right question to have asked.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Shto za vapros!” she replied. “What question is that?”

“Well, we’ve never met. I asked if you could make change for a dollar, and you asked me to marry you.”

“Oh, did I? I get words mixed up. I am telling you I travel a lot ,and I pick up many words. I look in book for phrases to explain. I am having used one of those phrases with you. There are so many. I am being so confused. I am wishing to ask you if you can help me. I am having difficulty with these washing machines. I worry I am not used to the way these machines work.”

She smiled broadly, tilted her head, and looked at him as if she were inspecting a used car.

“You mean you’re not from around here?”

“Of course not, you silly man.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“How you mean by that?”

 

 

QUARANTINE TALES: FOOD SHOPPING BY KATHY WANGH

FOOD SHOPPING DURING THE CORONAVIRUS

By Katherine Wangh

I am waiting to pick up some boxes of food at Russo’s. It is raining.  I have been in my car for over an hour, so I have had time to get in touch with my feelings.

I think about not being able to pick out the avocadoes or the bouquet of flowers I like. I think about not being able to debate which vegetables to buy depending on what looks good this week. I think about not being able to look at, touch, and smell all these beautiful fruits, vegetables, plants, and flowers.

I have placed my order.  Not only are spontaneous choices not possible, but it is also not possible to have spontaneous encounters with other shoppers who come from all parts of the world to buy the fruits and vegetables from their native countries.  Conversations between customers usually start with “What is this? How do you eat it or cook it?” No more indulging my curiosity about foods and people in those narrow aisles filled with produce. Instead, I wait patiently in my car for a woman younger than me, wearing a face mask and rubber gloves, to wheel my boxes out in the rain.

Before she reaches my car, I see her throw a huge planter of purple and white pansies onto the cart. I figure this is not my order as I did not order pansies. I am feeling a bit downcast with all the waiting. Then she taps on my window! It is my order! I open the back with the automatic door opener, and she places the boxes inside saying, “I threw in some pansies for you! I hope you like flowers!”  Overcome, I say, “Thank you! Thank you so much! Yes, I love flowers!”

Once home, I put on a mask and rubber gloves and unpack the boxes on the deck, washing everything in soapy water. In the background, I seem to hear the soundtrack of anxiety and the fear of death which seems to be playing all day and all night. Admittedly, I have found some ways to distract myself from this music, but I could never have imagined that the best interruption would come today, from a complete stranger, in the form of a spontaneous and cheerful gift of purple and white pansies!

BOLLI Member and Writers Guild writer Kathy Wangh

My interests?  Music. Art, language, psychology, nature, science, travel.  My professions?  Teaching preschool and working with children/young adults as a psycho-analytically trained therapist. Married to scientist Larry for over 50 years and now enjoying grandchildren, singing in the Concord Women’s Chorus, curating my father’s artistic legacy, writing, and gardening!

 

 

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