WHAT’S YOUR STORY? Tales from the Twitter Bunker

Tales from the Twitter Bunker

by Donna Johns

Call me by my name: librarytwitt. I’ve been a user of this microblog, 140-word limit, for about 15 years. I follow 704 accounts, and I’m followed by 422. Over that 15 years, I’ve tweeted around 2500 times, not counting private messages or retweets. I check Twitter a few times a day, scroll through the “recents” for a few minutes, hop off. Who do I follow? Librarians, authors, a few celebrities, some news services (Reuters, AP, Daily Mail), a few friends, teachers, actors. No politicians.

Some call social media a time suck, and I guess it could be. Fortunately, I’m not compulsive. If I’m super busy, I may miss a few days. But when I have idle time, it fills me in on news that may take weeks to slog its way onto the pages of the Boston Globe or the New York Times. Such was the case these past few weeks.

Identity politics has made its way into the publishing/writing community with a vengeance. First came the total meltdown of the Romance Writers of America. The RWA has an operating budget of over $1 million, the largest of any professional genre writers’ organization. As of 2007, the organization had over 9,000 members and over 150 local chapters.  The paid and unpaid administrators of the RWA began to be held accountable for the exclusion of people of color in their annual awards. As year after year passed with no recognition, groups of writers became more organized and vocal. At last year’s awards, the RITA judges were loudly booed at the annual conference. Then one of the leaders of the resistance was officially sanctioned in a backdoor, apparently illegal, ethics subcommittee meeting.  The reason? She publicly called another member’s new novel “f..king racist trash.”

Tempest in a teapot? That’s what I initially thought, but within two weeks, almost half of the RWA members had cancelled memberships, the entire executive board and two(!) presidents resigned. Almost leaderless. The awards were cancelled, the annual conference is in danger of being cancelled, and local chapters are disbanding. Battle lines are drawn, and neither side seems interested in talking to the other. Sound familiar?

Then focus shifted to a book recently released and already chosen as an Oprah book. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a story of a mother and son escaping from a drug cartel in Acapulco and attempting to enter the United States after the murder of their family. Latinx authors began to question how a white woman could possibly reflect this experience. Tempest in a teapot? Nope. As more people read it, excerpts began appearing on Twitter. Then parodies. A wave of disdain for a book which apparently does not reflect the experiences of Latinx women.

Then came the launch party. A tony affair with lobster and champagne. Lovely purple floral arrangements in containers wrapped in barbed wire. Completely tone deaf, but you could blame the publishing house’s event planner for that one. If only the author hadn’t appeared and proudly displayed her very expensive manicure. It featured the same barbed wire motif.

Is it a crime to be tone deaf and insensitive? One thing is clear. The publishing world is taking sides. Authors are demanding that the gatekeepers of the industry open those gates to people with different life experiences, different skin color, different sexual orientation. The next battleground of identity politics.

I read it on Twitter, raw and uncensored.

BOLLI Matters feature writer, Writers Guild member, CAST and Sceniors actress, and more–Donna Johns

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



by Lydia Bogar

CRASH – blue truck meets red car

Oh, shit.

Are you okay?

I think so.

I was at the top of the hill.  I saw him hit you.

Son of a bitch.

Sit in the cruiser.

No, I’m good.

Son of a bitch.  Didn’t he see me?

Do you need EMS?

No, I’m good.

He’s not hurt, and, no, it doesn’t seem that he’s been drinking. His pizza landed on the floor.

Son of a bitch.

The tire mounted on the front of his truck saved you from a big hurt.

Here’s Worcester PD.

Sit in my …

I wish this damn phone took pictures.

Worcester will write him up and maybe take pictures.

Who are you calling …

I can’t be the reporting officer because I witnessed the accident.

He knocked me across three lanes of … how did he not hit anyone else?

You were lucky. This could’ve gone south in a dozen different ways. I can take you home as soon as the wrecker hooks up your car. Get your papers and stuff out of the …

He could have pushed me into that ditch. Damn!

Let’s get you home.


My friend State Trooper Daniel Duffy, USMC (Ret) died on March 25, 1993, seven years and one day after this accident.

BOLLI Matters 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 Woosta– educated at BOLLI.”



by Steve Goldfinger

The year was 1960, and an astounding report from Johns Hopkins had just appeared in a major medical journal. The authors described reviving patients who had died before their eyes by starting external chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing, so-called cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Prior to this, the only maneuver that ever worked was to cut open the chest, reach in between ribs, grab the dying patient’s heart and start squeezing it. A ghastly way to usher out a life, as was usually the case. But now, there was something new.

An intern, working alone on a floor upstairs, I was called from the emergency room by a resident. And he sounded totally different from his usually unflappable self.

“You won’t believe this,” he began. “A woman was brought in by her children a few minutes ago. We took her to a back room and, just as we began to take a history, she died. Right in front of us. No pulse. No heartbeat. Eyes rolled up. So we began to push on her chest and breathe into her mouth. Like we read about.  And we got a pulse back! She actually looked at us! Seemed not to know what was going on.  Lots of moaning. I know we broke a few ribs when we were pounding on her chest, but we couldn’t help that. She’s very old, pretty frail, sick looking, but her vital signs are stable, and we’re sending her up to your floor. She’ll be there in a few minutes. Wow…we saved her! This is a first at MGH!”

She was indeed frail, very frail, I noted as she was wheeled into our open ward, her son and daughter-in-law trailing close behind. As the attendants began to transfer her into a bed, I took the two aside to tell them about the miracle that had just happened and to take a history. Tears came to their eyes as I explained the new maneuver and how it had brought her back to life.

But they were not tears of joy.

“You don’t understand, doctor,” the woman’s son said. “ She has end stage cancer. It’s all through her body, and it has moved into her bones. We brought her here to die.  We wanted her to be comfortable at the end.”


BOLLI Matters feature writer Steve Goldfinger

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!




by Steve Goldfinger

On a sweltering August morning in 1944, I sat outside the door of Camp Kee Wah Kee’s infirmary.  I remember the rough wooden bench, the buzzing of horse flies, and—above all—the excruciating headache and fever that had brought me there.

Hours later, my Uncle Dick arrived to put me in his car and take me home. On the way, I asked what was happening.

“Well, there’s a polio epidemic,” he said, “and the camp is closing.”

Just the word polio provided a major scare at that time, but I honestly do not remember how frightened I was during that ride home. I may not have realized that my headache was caused by the polio virus, which I associated only with life-long paralysis.  Later, I learned that three of the seven other kids in my bunk had been so afflicted.  As I later learned, fewer than 1% of infections cause paralytic polio.


On a cool evening in the summer of 1955, a long line of dad’s patients—children and adults—filed from the front door of our house, down the flagstone path, and onto a stretch of sidewalk beyond. They were all healthy and were there in order to remain that way. Once they entered the house, they would go through the waiting room and into the office. Dad then inoculated each of them with a dose of the just-released vaccine pioneered by the decade’s hero, Jonas Salk. Inoculation programs were underway all over the city.


One day in the 1980s, I was nabbed by a young doctor in training who was perplexed by one of the questions on the national board examination he had just taken. It described a young man who developed fever, then muscle pains, and, later, progressive weakness of both legs. There had been no loss of sensation in the legs. My trainee said he had never seen or been taught about such a case, and he couldn’t imagine what the correct answer was.

That’s how effective that vaccination program had been.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Steve Goldfinger

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!




by Larry Schwirian

Writers Guild Prompt:  Dinner Date

I have never had occasion to go on a romantic dinner date with anyone other than my wife.  She and I were classmates and friends for three years before we started dating, so we already knew each other pretty well.  I never had to worry about what I could or couldn’t say with her because I already knew many of her likes and dislikes.  Plus, while we were still in school, there wasn’t a lot of money for going out to dinner anyway. Going out for pizza, taking a trip to the art museum, or going to an occasional movie were more typical of our dates. As I had a full class load and drove a cab part time while in school, I didn’t have a lot of time for dating anyway.

I’ve never given a great deal of thought to what it must be like, as a full-fledged adult, to sit down for a nice dinner with an unfamiliar female companion just for the sake of getting to know one-another…it must really be awkward.

Imagining what it might be like for a young adult in today’s digital world, all kinds of questions come to mind…

Who wrote the algorithm that paired the two of us as compatible, and what were the primary traits or answers to questions that resulted in this pairing?  Did she research me on the web and find out what a dweeb I really am…I hope she at least learned that I’m not a direct descendent of Jack the Ripper.  I Googled her, but my search gave me dozens of women with the same name. Why did she pick me instead of dozens of others…or was it the algorithm? Should I be my normal, boring self, or should I pretend to be what I’d really like to be?  Was the photo she sent really of her?  Was it current,  or was it ten years old?  Should I let her start the conversation, or should I be bold and jump right in with both feet? Is she looking for a significant other, or is she just looking for a good time?  And what am I looking for?

Maybe we should begin the conversation by agreeing on a “safe word” that will allow either of us to bail-out if questions become too personal.

Why am I doing this?

I don’t envy young people.  Dating–along with everything else these days–has just become too complicated.

BOLLI Matters feature writer 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.  


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.




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.


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.

TECH TALK: with John Rudy–Courses, Tours, and Books Online

Courses, Tours, and Books Online–Many Free

by John Rudy

For the next couple of months,  we will all be spending a lot more time at home which gives us an opportunity to do things you might have thought about but not tried.  This post is certainly not complete, but it provides some thoughts.

Courses: About 10 years ago, I heard that there was going to be an online course on artificial intelligence taught by two Stanford Professors.   Course “chapters” would come out weekly, and the entire course would stay up for some number of months.  It was free, and you could watch at any time or even multiple times.  There were quizzes (computer graded) and, as I recall, a test at the end.  My memory is foggy, but something like 100,000 people signed up to take the course.  It was very difficult and heavily mathematical and wasn’t really what I wanted, so I skimmed the last half.  About 5000 people finished.  Some viewed that as a failure; I thought that 5000 finishing a course was fantastic.

At about the same time, MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley formed a company called EDX and started producing online courseware.  https://www.edx.org/   There are now something like 2500 courses available from EDX generated by around 140 universities.  Quality varies considerably as does technical depth.  Coursera https://www.coursera.org/  is a competitor with, I think, a similarly sized catalog.  UDEMY is another competitor.  Here is an article that contrasts all three.   https://medium.com/@EADCourses/udemy-vs-coursera-vs-udacity-vs-edx-online-courses-176b13f4bb68

In the last few years, some MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have a charging option where a professor grades papers, and some places (I think Carnegie Mellon is one) even use them within a degree program.

I have taken maybe 20 MOOC courses.  Among them, I’ve taken The Science of Cooking from Harvard; Basic Genetics from MIT; Michael Sandel’s Harvard course on Justice;  three courses on the Civil War. One nice feature is that you can take just as much as you want.  If you know nothing about a subject, you might do the first half a dozen lectures and decide that the itch has been scratched.

TED Talks. www.Ted.com  I have listened to dozens of TED talks.  They are generally about 15 minutes long and you can easily look for those in a specific category, those put up most recently, or those that are the most popular.  The most popular ones have had millions of views.  I won’t list my favorites.

MUSEUM Tours.  Most museums and other cultural attractions are closed, but a phenomenon of the last few years has been the development of virtual tours.  They vary greatly in quality and in the amount of verbiage provided (written or aural).  Just start poking around.  Travel and Leisure has identified a dozen at https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours

Books.  There are lots of ways to get books as all of you know, and virtually everything is available through Kindle or a similar system.  There are many books that are available free, particularly those who have outlived the copyright.  That, of course, includes the “classics”.  My friend Steve Isenberg has compiled a rather long list of sites through which one can obtain free on-line books.  He has agreed to let me share it: https://wiki.toku.us/doku.php?id=free_ebooks

Let’s keep each other posted on good online activities for us to consider during these days at home.

BOLLI “Matters” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide him with questions,  comments, or suggestions about future tech items to cover. 



from Sue Wurster

I can’t even imagine how we would have managed to keep ourselves sane during this kind of situation in the days before the internet and social media–all of that technology is certainly proving to be invaluable at the moment!

So, what can we share about how we’re spending our time these days?  Here are some thoughts and suggestions from some BOLLI members–and we’d all appreciate more!

First, for those of us who love theatre, I did a little “arts and entertainment” culling of The New York Times and found a couple of gems.  I have two young high school friends who, last week, were bemoaning the fact that Newton North had just completed their tech/dress rehearsal, opening and closing of Hello, Dolly!–all in one night.  They had some good pictures to share, which certainly showed off their tech work, but, of course, the pictures couldn’t really provide the essence of the musical–the music!  NYT’s theatre editor Scott Heller says that many are taking kids like Jayce and Dylan to heart and are finding ways to share their work.  (Click on this link for an uplifting article:  NYT article about school musicals)

And here’s a piece about other ways to view theatre these days:  (Click here for another NYT article:  other ways to see theatre)

Click here to see this array of new work–one added every 15 minutes!


A variety of Writers Guild, Photo Group, and other BOLLI members share their recommendations:  

Lois Sockol says that, “Now that I have some at-home time on my hands, here’s a couple of rewarding things I’ve done. I made the decision (for the 100th time) to sort through and organize a collection of family pictures. After an hour or so, nothing was organized, but I had such a happy time rummaging through years of delightful memories! I have also discovered that some museums have virtual tours, and although the experience doesn’t provide quite the same thrill as my original visits, what a delight to roam the corridors of the Louvre and the British Museum! There are other virtual tour museums as well.  I just haven’t as yet made the journey, but I will.

“Part of me says get into bed,” Maxine Weintraub recommends,  “turn on old movies, and eat coffee ice cream.”  She adds that she’s taken to dancing to country music on channel 534.  (“Or maybe it is 538.”) in her nightgown for fifteen to thirty minutes every morning.  She promises to leave her building once a day to either take a walk or a drive–windows open, good music playing loudly on the car radio.   She says she’s been doing some harder stuff–“working on the collection of short stories I have been fiddling with for years.”  Staying in touch with good friends who are also incarcerated is key–  as is trying not to get annoyed at being labeled “the elderly.”

Max seems to have inspired Larry Schwirian who has taken to long walks with others (but finds it hard to communicate with fellow walkers when trying to maintain 6 foot distances between them) and suggests that “We could have a pajama fashion show.”

Lydia Bogar, too, echoes Max’s promise to get out of the house.  “The sun is shining.  Take a walk,” she says.  “Walk a long loop around your neighborhood and then drive it to measure the distance.  Tomorrow, walk a longer loop and measure that.  By the time you are ready to walk the Turnpike in the breakdown lane, the panic will have passed.

For those who need new viewing options, Kathy Wangh shares a link to free streaming sources.  Click here ,

Of course, we’re all reading.  BOLLI Matters  technology writer and resident chef John Rudy offers a link about free e-books.

Mel Markowitz suggests trying ham radio! “I’ve been a ham since 1958 and just spoke with Damian, 3000 feet above sea level on the side of a volcano, in the Canary Islands 🇮🇨!”

Donna Johns, who says her tub has never been so clean, is a fan of the online MasterClass program.

(I am a Khan Academy fan.)

Edie Aldort is also a walker–she’s appreciating the fact that the drone of traffic has lessened a bit, but she’s wondering if her dog needs to maintain a 6 foot social distance from other canines…

“This morning I am feeling grateful to be retired, in a warm, cozy house, with plenty of food and entertainment opportunities,” says Linda Braun.  She adds that her book group met online via Zoom.  “We all saw and heard one another very well;  I hope some of our classes will resume using that resource.”  (Stay tuned, Linda!)

My 9 month-old grandbaby provides lots of ideas:  play with the wastebaskets, dump all the bins of videos on the floor and then try to get out of the pile, pull the whole basket of old Plays magazines off the shelf and watch them slide everwhere–then try eating the covers; empty the family room toy bin, rolling everything that is round or has wheels.  If it doesn’t roll, just try to eat it instead. The 19 and 21 year-olds provide their share as well:  raid the fridge, cupboards, and pantry–leave empty bags, boxes, and bottles on the kitchen counters…or the floor.  Cook stuff, using as many pots and pans as possible–leave them on the stove or, occasionally, in the sink but certainly don’t rinse them.  Or just order in and charge it to Mum…

The hoarding of toilet paper, paper towels, wipes, and, worst of all, the baby formula my grandboy needs is so demoralizing…

BUT yesterday, on our neighborhood online message board, people were posting things like, “Am going to CVS at about 3:15—need anything?” and “My 8th grade son is volunteering to take out your trash, rake your yard, clean out your garage, or whatever.”  Seeing the neighborhood functioning like a true neighborhood is a pretty uplifting thing.

As is Gene Kupferschmid‘s view of “Two mourning doves making love on my little balcony.  A glimpse of Spring.”

Don’t lose heart–our BOLLI courses will start going online in the coming week!

“This is a time to appreciate and share gratitude for all the positive things we have in our lives. Family, friends, neighborhood, access to food. We have each other for support. I am sending an email embrace to all of you. No risk of infection! Hugs and Health,”  Marty Kafka

So, in the comment box below, tell us what you’re doing to keep alert and busy!  Share books, movies, and tv shows of interest.  Send other ideas to BOLLI Matters’s blogmaster:  susanlwurster@gmail.com.






By L. Schwirian

Prompt: “Chopped” Writing – as in the Food Channel show of the same name; writers use a set of unusual ingredients to create a piece of writing.

In this case, the ingredients were:

3 Objects: a bugle, a pair of scissors, a dying plant                                                2 People: a police officer and a fairly deaf patron                                                1 Place: the library


Alice Whitehead was a librarian for over 50 years. She started when still in high school, then went to college to earn a degree in Library Science, and was anointed chief librarian after graduation. Married to her high school sweetheart Rolf, a police officer, she raised three sons…all of whom spent time with her in the library after school. By the time they graduated, each had read practically every book the library had to offer.

She loved her books and her work, and she always looked forward to meeting and helping new families in the community. Over the years, she helped to teach many young lads and lassies how to do research and find references. Teaching youngsters how to read between the lines was one of her specialties. Alice was one of the most widely read and respected people in the county when it came to understanding and promoting Shakespeare and other classic literature.

Now in her mid-70s, Alice knew that her time at the library was nearing an end, and she wanted to show her appreciation to the community by planning a celebration. As a very humble person, she didn’t want to make the party about herself or her retirement. There was one living thing in the library that was even older than Alice and clearly was now slowly dying.  Mama Jade, a potted plant, deserved to be celebrated. This icon of resilience had occupied the same spot in the reading room since before anyone could remember. Alice had watered and diligently nurtured Mama Jade since she was a teenager, and both grew up and aged together gracefully.

Over the decades, hundreds of clippings had been entrusted to families throughout the county, and Alice, being a librarian, kept copious records of every family or individual recipient. She contacted those who had received original clippings and asked these people to contact others who had received second, third, or fourth generation clippings to become part of the celebration.

On the appointed day, close to two hundred people, including the chief of police, showed up to celebrate both Mama Jade and Alice. There was food and drink for everyone, but the highlight of the celebration was Alice, with her sparkly silver scissors, standing next to Mama Jade. It was Alice’s intent to help give Mama Jade a glorious ending by systematically clipping her remaining appendages and ceremoniously offering them to onlookers. To add to the solemnity of the final act, Alice’s grandson, a twelve-year-old Boy Scout, raised his bugle and began playing Taps. Nearly everyone in the audience was deeply moved, and 98-year-old Matilda Higgins, a near deaf library patron, was in tears even though she could hardly hear the bugle.

BOLLI “Matters” feature writer and co-chair of the Writers Guild 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. 



by Sue Wurster

The saucepan I hurled across the slight expanse of my efficiency apartment clattered against the radiator and rolled up against the bathroom door.  The mouse didn’t even blink.  I swear it just shrugged its shoulders and yawned.  Totally blasé.  “Geez!”  I thought.  “Even the mice  in New York are tough.” 

Keeping  my eye on the creature, I managed to back across the room to the safety of the sofa where I tucked my feet up under the pillows, pulled out my phone, and dialed.  Oh, pick up, Deb.  Pleeeeease, pick up, I breathed as the phone rang across the hall.

“Oh, thank God you’re home!” I shouted as my neighbor and best friend answered.

“If you’re going to shout, why bother with the phone?  It’s not like this is long distance–”

“Deb, listen!  This is important.  I need to borrow Cleo.  There’s a mouse in here!”

Within minutes, Deb—with Cleo in hand—cautiously opened my door.  “Is it still here?” she asked, hoping, of course, that the rodent had left the premises.

I nodded toward the radiator where he was maintaining his totally unconcerned cool.  If he had been wearing a t-shirt, a pack of Camels would have rested under one sleeve.

“Oh, my God—it’s a mouse all right.”

“Ya think?”

Deb set her large black and white lap cat down on the braided rug, directly in its adversary’s line of sight, and hopped onto the couch with me to witness what was sure to be a dramatic stand-off.

Cleo pawed the rug, stretched, circled, and laid down for a nap.

“Kill!” Deb urged, extending her long right leg and nudging her recalcitrant feline with her size 11 foot.

The mouse sauntered back to his hole under the radiator pipes.

“What’s with your cat?  Hasn’t she ever seen a mouse before?”

“Quite possibly not,” Deb mused.  “But, anyway, he’s gone—probably scared off by the threat of Cleo’s mere presence.”

“Oh, right,” I responded snidely.  “Did you see the look on his face?  He smirked at us.”

“I think he rolled his eyes first,” Deb added.

“What if he comes back?  Like, when I’m trying to sleep? What if he–”

“Want Cleo to sleep over?”  Deb offered.

“Will you stay too?”


Five hours later, I hissed at my friend who was asleep on the couch.  “Deb!  He’s on the dresser!”

The clear sound of tiny feet scrabbling across the wood surface was followed by a  deep and resonant Clunk!

 “What was that?”  Deb whispered.

“The wastebasket!” I realized.  “He must have gone over the edge and landed in the bin!  Quick! Get that cookie sheet from the counter.”

“Uh, this is hardly the time to be thinking about cookies–”

“To put on top of the basket, dimwit!”

“Oh, yeah—that makes sense.”  Deb hopped to the kitchenette while I grabbed the basket and braved a glance inside.  The mouse was there all right.  And at this point, he was not rolling his eyes or smirking at us, but he was also clearly not in the least bit pleased.

Cleo snored.

“Now what?”  Deb asked.

 “Malcolm will know what to do.”


In the lobby, Malcolm—our totally intimidating, brawny, former Green Bay Packer doorman and the toughest guy in all of New York’s five boroughs—quivered.  He actually trembled when we proffered the basket.

“A mouse?”  he shuddered.  “…in there?”   After we nodded, Malcolm the Giant took an extremely deep breath and, still clearly unnerved,  reached gingerly for the bin.  Holding it stiffly, arms fully extended, he carried it, like an unexploded bomb, across the lobby to the rear hallway.  “Come on,” he directed.  We followed.

“Okay.  It’s gonna go like this,” he said in the back hall as the theme from Mission Impossible pulsed in my head.  “We’re gonna use the alley door–and we’ve gotta be quick.”

When our little parade reached the huge and heavy service entrance door, Malcolm handed me the bin and turned the huge crank to unbolt the old metal portal.  “You don’t care about the wastebasket do you?” he asked cautiously.

“Hardly!” I blurted.  “And it’s not like I’ll ever use the cookie sheet again either.”

“Okay,” Malcolm breathed.  And then, like a massive Scotsman winding up for the hammer throw of a lifetime, he reared back, lunged forward, and let the bin rip into the back alley.  By the echoing sounds  of metal whacking against cement block and brick, it must have landed nearly a block away.  Nonetheless, Malcolm instantly pulled the ponderous door shut, threw the bolt back in place, and crumpled against the jamb, panting like he had just escaped a bloodthirsty, invading Mongol horde pounding down the alley with battering rams.

Once his breathing slowed to almost normal, Malcolm mustered an awkward, even apologetic grin.  “Um…” he finally managed, “can we, like, just keep this just between the three of us?  I mean, it’s kind of…”

“Don’t say another word,” Deb soothed.

“It’s our secret,” I assured him, crossing my heart.

We beamed in admiration as we led our hesitant hero back to the safety of his front lobby desk.

BOLLI member and BOLLI “Matters” blogmaster Sue Wurster

Marty Kafka’s obsessive deep concern over his apparent muricidal nature brought to mind my own memorable moment with a mouse.   Recently, I had to have my house de-squirrel-ized with a trap door under the eaves similar to what Marty describes.  That night, I  dreamed that, in the morning, I  found hundreds of indignant squirrels standing on my back porch, their arms crossed in defiance, staring murderously at me…



Big Brother Bob Emery and Friends

By Donna Johns

Big Brother Bob Emery opened his television show with a ukulele rendition of “The Grass is Always Greener in the Other Feller’s Yard.”  Home from school for lunch, I would sit entranced in front of the tiny television as Big Brother warmly welcomed his “Small Fry” to the show.  I was a card-carrying member of the Small Fry Club, as were all my friends.

Big Brother led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a Hail to the Chief toast to the portrait of Dwight Eisenhower.  Of course, we all toasted with milk.  Then, he would show a Popeye cartoon, have a little puppet show, and teach us about manners like saying “please” and “thank you.”  He signed off with another ukulele song: “So Long, Small Fry.  It’s Time to Say Goodbye.”

I envied the children spread out on the carpet around Big Brother.  I wanted nothing more than to meet him and hear his kindly voice praise me for one thing or another.  Then, he began collecting money for good causes in the community, starting with relief money for the Worcester Tornado victims.

When I was a Brownie, I suggested that we help raise money for the Jimmy Fund and take it to Big Brother.  Everyone was excited, and we begged for money from every relative.  With a tidy sum collected, we got our invitation to attend the show.  I was in heaven.

We arrived at the studio, and one of Big Brother’s “helpers” whipped us into shape.  We were on the right side of his chair.  Cub Scouts sat to his left.  We waited for Big Brother to arrive.  And waited.  And waited some more.   Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity and my hero walked right past us, said not a word, sat down with a sigh, and began strumming.  We were on television.

The man never acknowledged us.  No compliment for our much practices, crisp salute to the flag.  No pat on the head.  He never even took our envelope of money.  He thanks the Cub Scouts instead.  When the show was finished, he walked briskly out of the studio.

I went home and threw my Small Fry Club membership card away. I never watched Big Brother again.

MORAL:  It’s fine to have heroes.  Just don’t meet them.

BOLLI member and 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.



Of Mice and Man

By Marty Kafka

The recent winter weather was particularly harsh when Adam heard them scamper behind the walls of his bedroom. He reported the noises as a matter of fact the next morning while we savored Scottish lox and fresh bagels, a brunch indulgence that commemorates his visits from the West Coast.

This was not the first time we had been afflicted by mice, but it had been many years since their last visitation. I quietly ventured up into our attic, the repository of our family papers, tax returns, old furniture, and pictures. If we couldn’t part with a belonging, it resided in our attic. With lots of open space and a slanting low ceiling, we rarely visited this no-man’s land of exiled possessions.

I could have let the matter drop, but about a decade ago, we found a dead mouse on our upstairs steps–inside our living space. I’m an upper-middle class liberal by nature, but my big tent doesn’t include house mice. Something had to be done.

From our last encounter with these shy rodents, I had purchased two mouse traps. Not the kind that loudly cracks the neck of the victim when they are inexorably drawn by winter’s cold and hunger to the irresistible bait. Rather, I had two mouse traps that were advertised as “humane–no chemicals, no glue, no electricity, no poison.” Stick the bait in the back of the five-inch long, hollow cylindrical trap, and when the mouse visits at night, a one-way trap door closes behind them. There are a few breathing holes so that, while contained, in theory, the mouse is supposed to remain alive, but it literally can’t move.  It can’t turn around–it is immobilized. Carefully, I cut out home-made cardboard feeding squares, smeared Whole Foods organic peanut butter on the squares, placed them at the back of the traps, and waited patiently.

For a couple of days, there was no action at the traps so I stopped my daily checking. After a few more days passed, however, Karen reminded me to check the traps—so, on the next morning, I did. Two immobilized  mice–both dead, were just starting to decay. I carefully carried the traps and their prey outside with gloved hands, spilled their contents in a remote section of our back yard, cleaned the traps scrupulously in our basement utility sink, and let the seasoned mousetraps rest.

Like the nocturnal activity of the meek mice, it was during my bedtime hour that insidious thoughts of my callous disregard of innocent life came back to taunt me, reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. I was a cold-blooded muricidal killer. I was merciless. I let those helpless rodents suffer. Did they die from brute starvation, from asphyxiation, from hypothermia?

I had dehumanized these innocent creatures. I trapped them effectively, but now I was also trapped–by the obsession of my own remorse. Maybe I should have just let the mice set up a home base in our attic? Live and let live!  But what if they mated in the coming spring? Would we have a rodent family surviving by nibbling away at our old tax returns?  Or worse, a family of varmints crawling down to our family living space again, this time spreading some vicious infectious disease, like vampire mice seeking bloody vengeance?

Fortunately, as time has passed, I have been able to dismiss these lurid guilty thoughts, but is that really a good thing for my mental health? Has my conscience become irrevocably hardened as an unintended consequence of capturing and killing undocumented immigrant mice seeking any available shelter? Am I a cold-blooded muricidal maniac?

In penance, I vow to purchase new, larger traps so mice can be apprehended but not immobilized. I sincerely hope that I have murdered my last mouse–may those I did dispatch rest in peace in a fabled, far-away land of plenty.

BOLLI Member and memoir writer Marty Kafka
Marty Kafka is a retired psychiatrist whose passions include his wife Karen and their family, international travel, and jazz piano. 
In addition, Marty has found a retirement career taking BOLLI classes, writing memoir, and being active in the Photography special interest group.



By Larry Schwirian

Prompt: What kind of problems would Superman have in old age?

When I was a young kid growing-up, I had fantasies of being a super hero; Superman seemed to me to have all the physical qualities that I aspired to have as an adult. But I never thought about some of the problems he might encounter as time passed and he aged, especially what his life might be like as an octogenarian or nonagenarian. In particular, I never thought about what would happen if his secret identity was ever discovered.

One of the things that Clark Kent had to do in order to keep his secret identity was to allow himself to age like a normal human. This was not really much of a problem when he was in his 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, but by the time he reached retirement age, his physical appearance was anything but super. He was practically bald, had sagging chins, was developing age spots, and was more than a little overweight.  He was so overweight, in fact, that he had to use his X-ray vision to be able to see his feet. Also, since he was never able to go to an earthly dentist, many of his teeth were rotted or missing.

Metropolis had grown substantially over the years since it was considered one of the safest cities in the world, and Clark Kent was getting tired of being constantly called upon by the mayor to solve the city’s problems. He badly needed some rest, so he grabbed Lois, left his home town, and flew south to Miami Beach.

He and Lois Lane had finally become a couple some thirty years earlier when Lois figured out his real identity when she caught him taking off his Clark Kent clothes in a phone booth. She just couldn’t believe that the eternally wimpy Clark could actually be her dream lover.  As it turned out he was never able to fulfill her dream anyway since his public moniker “man of steel” turned out to be a double entendre; Lois took one look and nixed the whole idea.  They never bothered to marry either, since Clark didn’t have a birth certificate, at least from any Earthly place, and being such a Boy Scout, he refused to forge a fake certificate.

By the time he became an octogenarian, all he wanted to do was sit back and enjoy his retirement. However, Russian agents had hacked into his Facebook and Twitter accounts some years earlier and outed him to the American public. Now everywhere he went, no matter his aged appearance, he was asked to perform tricks like jumping over tall buildings or stopping speeding trains. Occasionally, some jerk even took a pot shot at him to see if he would survive.  What a pain in the butt these guys were since he would then have to call the authorities.  He really missed his anonymity.

One of the most excruciatingly difficult things about being an aging super-person was the public embarrassment of having to apologize for things he could no longer control. Especially when it came to bodily functions.  Every time he farted in a theatre, the place would quickly empty of patrons; the smell was just disgustingly unworldly. When he belched, it could be heard everywhere within a half mile radius and would set off car alarms.  When he sneezed, anyone within one-hundred yards would typically be blown away, and trees and bushes would be defoliated. No one except Lois wanted to be around him anymore. He frequently wanted to die but didn’t know how or even if it was even possible for him to do so on planet Earth.

Finally, one fine morning he donned his old ill-fitting Superman outfit, threw on his cape, kissed Lois goodbye and set of for the ninety-three million mile journey to the center of the sun where he hoped to end it all.

BOLLI Matters feature writer and co-chair of the Writers Guild, Larry Schwirian

Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, 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.  



By Sandy Miller-Jacobs

Friends play such an important role in our lives. When we were young, we played with our friends, whether it was games of pretend or riding bikes or playing sports.  Often, the time we spent with our friends enabled us to do something we couldn’t do alone. You might play Solitaire by yourself, but you couldn’t play Go Fish alone. Nor could you play any of your board games alone. Monopoly and Scrabble definitely needed at least one friend, if not two or three. A bike ride was always more fun when friends joined you to ride through the neighborhood. Sports, from “Hit the Penny” to tennis, always needed friends not only in order to play but also to cheer us on.

As we got older, our friends were there to spend time with, whether to talk, reminisce, or think up new adventures. A friend was there to help sort out our ideas, to dream with, to share our ups and downs, especially during our teen years. Through high school and college, we spent hours talking about people we dated, teachers who frustrated or challenged us, songs and singers we liked, our future lives.

While our friendship groups changed as some married, moved away, or ventured in directions we wouldn’t follow, there were always some who remained in our lives. These are the friends who knew us when we were young,  knew our homes, our parents, siblings, and even our cousins. They have served as reminders, knowing who we were and who we still are.  We have been there for each other as we have aged, and we still remember the younger versions of ourselves. They have seen us in the best and worst of times – through the joys of marriage and the pain of divorce, sharing the joys and difficulties of children and grandchildren, and supporting us through the deaths of loved ones.

It’s the friendships that last over time that remain the most important to us.  In many ways, they keep us centered. They know what upsets us and what brings us joy.  They know just what to say to raise or keep our spirits us.  They recognize the parts of us that have grown with us, and they reflect how we have matured over time.   Only our siblings and cousins may have the same sense of who we have been and who we have become.

So, make time to be with your friends as well as relatives whom you consider friends.  It’s reminiscent of a song from Girl Scouts: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”

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.  (She was instrumental in creating the SIG on Aging with Enthusiasm and Resilience.) Sometimes she takes the risk and shares her hobbies and ideas with BOLLI members!


More Than a Sports Memory to Me

125th Anniversary Needham-Wellesley Thanksgiving Day Game, 2007

by Lois Sockol

Thanksgiving Day 1982. The stands at Needham’s Memorial Park field were packed, sardine-like. A five feet deep overflow hovered along the sidelines as hundreds more carpeted the hill that rose to the high school building. Some judged the crowd to be upwards of eight thousand. Usual attendance at ordinary seasonal games hovered around 80 or so.

This noteworthy day marked the 100th anniversary of the oldest public High School football rivalry in New England.  The Needham-Wellesley rivalry, the angry child of an acrimonious split in 1881 when, after 250 years of union, West Needham separated itself from East Needham, tookits high school with it, and became Wellesley. That bitter split, was the genesis of this century old high school rivalry. Today the crisp, clear fall air bristled in anticipation.  As old as it was, this rivalry had never lost its tinge of enmity.

“A 100th anniversary deserves the effort,” said Ron Sockol, who, during his Pop Warner coaching days, had instructed most of Needham’s varsity team.  For almost a year promoting, he worked tirelessly to promote the event, rounding up surviving alumni players to be honored on the field.

Among the thousands who came were National TV cameramen and media reporters. This day would take its rightful place in High School sport’s history.

As the teams lined up, a sudden hush fell.  Even the air seemed tensed and focused.

Needham won the toss and opted to receive. Wellesley’s kickoff was low and forceful, deep into Needham territory. A collective rumble followed the wide receiver who caught the ball on his own two-yard line and started racing down the field, dodging would-be tacklers, as if predestined to score. The rumble grew louder with each yard gained, each tackle avoided, exploding into a roar as the receiver crossed the goal line.  A 98-yard run, the longest kick off return in Needham’s long history. A fitting beginning for a centennial game.

During the ensuing battle for yardage, Needham held its own and led at half time. The Needham supporters joyfully exchanged thumbs up and hugs. A small group of teens near the thirty-yard line danced a jig. I spied a TV cameraman and a reporter heading toward the wide receiver who had made the initial dramatic run. I was not close enough to hear the interview and could only imagine what was said . It was not until the televised evening news that I heard their exchange.

“So, young man, how did it feel to run back that kick-off and score the first touchdown?”

“Well, uh, Charlie Walsh opened a hole, and I just put the wheels on.”

I was thrilled when he scored, just as any mother would be, but it was hearing Jim’s humble words that permanently etched this memorable day into my heart.

BOLLI Member and SGL Lois Sockol

“I’ve been blessed with a marriage of 65 years.  We raised four boys we are proud of and  enjoy the reward of 9 grandchildren.  I taught public school for 25 years, published an instructional manual to aid teachers in teaching children who are high risk for learning to read, and conducted seminars on the teaching of reading. I have been active in Needham for 36 years as a Library Trustee and a Town Meeting member.  And now, I have the joy of being a member of BOLLI!”


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