ON M.L.K. DAY: Steve Goldfinger Remembers…

Shame

By Steve Goldfinger

It was a poker game we were really looking forward to.  Sure, we had had a few during the year, but this one was to be special. It would be just like the games we had been able to arrange when we were medical residents because Lloyd was coming to town.  And Lloyd never missed a game.

Lloyd was exceptional in many ways.  Not the least was his becoming the first African American to be appointed to the house staff at the MGH.  Lloyd was a superb doctor and human being, and he survived with dignity in a city rife with racism. This was probably no different than in his native Chicago, but, at least, there, he was at home.  There, he had brothers with whom he could endure and aspire.  Boston had to have been different. He must have had his share of diversions when away from the ordeal of residency. The only two I remember were his zeal for the Cleveland Browns (he would drive 650 miles to that city for a game) and for poker.

We were not card sharpies, only five or six guys at it for beers, laughs, and low- stake betting. We invented our own versions of poker with wild cards galore and betting sequences unheard of.

And so, all was ready that day,  April 4, 1968. The game was to be at my house in the evening, and the beer was cooling in the refrigerator.

At 7:05 that night, Martin Luther King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis, and the infamous shooting forever earmarked the nearby Lorraine Motel for its place in history.

So there we were, five of us assembling for the poker game, Lloyd included.

And what did we do?

Played poker.

What did we say?

Lots of trivial things that I cannot remember. But not a word about what had to be cemented in our individual and group consciousness that night, to the exclusion of anything else.

Not a word.

Why?

How could this be?

Were we trying to brave through the game we had so looked forward to, not wanting to spoil it (as though it hadn’t already been utterly ruined)?

Were we reluctant to talk about racial hatred when we were so embodying a kind of camaraderie that we mistakenly thought absolved us from having to face reality?

Were we just too damn young, and despite our growth in another world, too totally inept at being able to reach out when that reality screamed at us?

We have no good answers, only shame.

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.  

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: A TASTE FOR BORSCHT

A Taste for Borscht

by Dennis Greene 

It took me over a year to discover Amazon Prime’s charming TV series The Magnificent Mrs. Maisel but only two weeks to binge-watch the first two seasons. If you have not done so already, I’d recommend that you add this to your watchlist and catch up before the third season airs in 2019.  Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of The Gilmore Girls, is adept at showcasing strong female characters. This time, she switches  from  Rory and Lorelai’s contemporary life in the storybook Connecticut town of Stars Hollow to focus on the tumultuous lives of a well-to-do Jewish family living on New York City’s upper West Side in the late 1950’s. Rachel Brosnahan, as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, the protagonist and eponymous character, is brilliant as she transitions from a married, seven sisters educated housewife with two kids to a struggling, foul-mouthed stand-up comic whose marriage has ended.  Alex Bornstein is a scene stealer as her unlikely manager, and the rest of the large supporting cast–including Marin Hinkle ( Alan’s ex-wife on Two-and-a-Half Men) and Tony Shalhoub (the star of Monk)–are superbly skilled and energetic.  The sharp contrast between the Weissmans, Midge’s sophisticated, highly educated and emotionally repressed parents and the Maisels, Midge’s volatile and demonstrative garment industry in-laws, provides an ongoing source of humor and tension. The story is fast paced and the 50’s background music and dress sets the scene perfectly. The emotional twists and turns, punctuated by crisp, humorous dialogue and Midge’s biting stand-up routines make each hour fly by.  But these are not the only reasons that 16 episodes left me wanting more.

While anyone may enjoy this series, Jews of “a certain age” with New York City roots may find that the world of Midge Maisel particularly resonates.  I left Queens in 1952, when I was seven, and yet, many aspects of Midge’s world evoked strong responses in me.  Midge’s parents and her in-laws remind me of people I have known.  And we have all seen the conflicts that arise when offspring deviate from their controlling parents’ expected paths. Plus, the scenic background of the show reflects an era I remember fondly. When Midge’s four-year old son was sitting in front of a small black and white TV in his grandparents’ apartment, I caught a glimpse of Froggy the Gremlin, and then Howdy Doody on the screen which transported me back 60 years.

The most poignant images for me, though, were those during Midge and her family’s summer vacation at Steiner’s Mountain Resort, and that surprised me.  I had never visited the Catskills with my family.  My few visits to the Borscht Belt were after college and had been to chase girls. And yet,  I knew just what it would feel like to be a guest at a place like Steiner’s.  This could be the result of watching Dirty Dancing too many times, but I believe I have a more real connection. The Weissmans’ stay at Steiner’s made me recall my own family vacations at Camp Winadu when I was a kid.

The name “Winadu” sounds more Native American than Borscht Belt because of a compromise.  This boy’s camp in the Berkshires could have been named “Camp Winnick, Nadleson and Dube,” but the three founding friends from Brooklyn shortened  that by using the first two letters of each of their surnames.  They established a kosher Jewish boy’s camp near Pittsfield, Mass. around 1918. During the 1920s,  my rich grandparents sent my Dad from Brooklyn to Camp Winadu to rough it for the summer in cloth tents with rustic “outhouses.”  By 1950, the rustic camp had grown to include a  comfortable mountain resort with 32 guest rooms and separate guest quarters with a pool and tennis court.  There was also a guest dining hall with excellent cuisine.

Following World War II, Winadu alumni like my Dad began getting together at Winadu with their families the week after camp ended. My recollections of those family vacations in the Berkshires don’t seem any different from the Weissman’s annual vacations at Steiner’s.

My more direct experience with the Borscht Belt involved several stays at the famous Concord Hotel.  Ken Winnarick, a close college friend, was the grandson of the owner of the Concord, and he occasionally invited a few of us up for a free weekend.  Ken’s grandfather Arthur Winnarick, along with many other Borscht Belt resort owners, gave hundreds of aspiring performers their start in show business.  I recall once getting stoned in the Concord penthouse and then going down to the bar to see Woody Allen, a new stand-up comedian getting his start. He was pretty good.  I think we spoke to him after the show, but I doubt he remembers me.

You don’t need first-hand experience with either the Borscht Belt or stand-up comedy to appreciate Midge’s travails.  Almost anyone who has had some exposure to the extended New York Jewish Community will find things which stimulate memories or just make you smile.

If a displaced and out of touch Jew like me, who hasn’t lived in The City for 67 years and never knew a word of Yiddish, can get so immersed in Midge Maisel’s world, I’m sure many of you–especially “real” New Yorkers who remember the golden age of Broadway,  waiters at the Carnegie Deli who actually knew what a knish was, or ever purchased lipstick at the cosmetic counter at B. Altman–will enjoy reliving those days with Midge Maisel and her lunatic friends and family.  I can’t wait for Season 3 to begin.

Our BOLLI “Matters” pop culture guru 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.  Most recently, he has  led BOLLI study groups in science fiction reading.

 

 

DONNA’S “DIE HARD” STORY

A “DIE HARD” STORY

by Donna Johns

My first adult job was at the Library of Congress.  The grand old lady with the verdigris dome looks out on the Capitol of the United States.  To her right sits the Supreme Court.  Spread out around her like a hug are the Senate and House office buildings.  The Library exists to serve the needs of Congress and the nation.

Back in the 1970s, Washington D.C. was an open and surprisingly casual city.  It was not unusual to spy Ted Kennedy or Edward Brooke strolling from their offices across the big lawn to a roll call vote.  Tourists and federal worker bees intermingled with the mighty around the city.  The Tune In, a greasy spoon on Pennsylvania Avenue,  drew clerks, congressmen, and the occasional movie star.  They all hunkered in to vinyl-covered booth seats to grab beer, burgers, and a dose of insults from Ginny, the waitress.

I started out as “Letter N” in the Serial Records Office.  That meant that any magazine purchased by or donated to the Libary whose title began with the letter N needed to be recorded by me in our paper files.  Some were fun to leaf through at coffee breaks.  The New Yorker, New England Journal of Medicine, The Numismatist.  Others were deadly dull–all the state publications of Nebraska, North Dakota, Nevada.

Once a week, I went to the “sorting room” in the back where enormous laundry tubs full of N magazines were waiting for me to put into manageable piles.  It was in the sorting room that I learned about life in Washington.  My tutors were Sam and Ben, two massive, friendly men with voices like Barry White who took a liking to the little white girl from Boston.

They told me were the best crab shacks were, what neighborhoods to avoid, which congressmen liked to pinch bottoms.  They spun tales about their salad days and teased me about my accent.  They taught me how to drawl and brought me a bowl of chitterlings just to watch me gag.

One day, while I was sorting, I needed to go to the bathroom.  I headed for the closest ladies room, one I had not previously used.  When I stepped in, two of my co-workers turned from the sinks and looked at me with something that looked like astonishment.  I shrugged and ducked into a stall.  I could hear them muttering outside, and it didn’t sound pleasant.

When I got back to the sorting room, I cornered Sam.  “So what is LaTonya and Ellen’s problem ?  When I was in the ladies room, I thought they were going to have a stroke.”

He busted out laughing, took me by the arm, and led me back to the Ladies Room where he pointed to the door.  There, I could just make out the faint adhesive remains of the word “Colored” which had been scraped off.

“But that’s illegal,” I sputtered.

Sam nodded in agreement.  “But old habits, they die hard.  Those girls weren’t made at you.  I’m guessing they were shocked.  Doubt if any white lady has used a toilet in their EVER.”

I continued to use that restroom, even if it was out of the way from my letter N work station.  LaTonya and Ellen got used to it.  But the rest of the white ladies?  They continued to use the “right” ladies room.

Old habits die hard indeed.

BOLLI “Matters” contributor and “BOLLI After Dark” feature writer Donna Johns

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

 

JANUARY CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOHN RUDY: KITCHEN THINKING

KITCHEN THINKING

by John Rudy

Rather than providing yet another recipe I thought that, this month, I would provide some kitchen thoughts.  If you like this occasional side journey,  please let me know.

What temperature is my oven?

The recipe calls for you to bake a cake at 375° for 30 minutes, and it doesn’t come out right.  Why might that be?  First, your oven’s temperature reading might be wrong.  It is common for it to be off by as much as 10 degrees.  If you have a decent oven thermometer, try this:  put the thermometer on the middle rack, midway between the sides; set the temperature to 350 and wait until the thermometer stabilizes.  See what it says.   Maybe it says 310°.  Then try setting it for 350° and see what it says then.  If need be, then go to 400° and so on.  This will tell you how to adjust your recipe’s instructions  to meet your oven’s actual temperature.

Is the temperature the same at different places in my oven?

The configuration of your heating element and how the walls operate might be affecting your oven’s temperature.   So, move the sensor to different points in your oven and check it out.

What else is in your oven?

Have you tried to bake three pans of a layer cake, with two on one rack and the third on a lower rack?  If so, they won’t bake at the same speed.  So when you have to decide when to take each out you’ll have to check the pans separately.

How long does it take for an oven to cool off?

I have a cheesecake recipe that calls for baking, then turning the oven off, and  leaving the cake in the oven for an additional period of time.  My old oven would cool off quickly.  My new oven seems to take forever to cool off, so I have to crack the door.

How to use a meat thermometer

Most of us have meat thermometers that we use to determine whether the turkey or chicken or pork chop is ready.  (Cutting into them is not really a good idea as the juices escape.)  Additionally, every time you open the oven door to take a reading, the oven temperature might drop 20 degrees.  There is a nice solution, and that is a thermometer with a long cord so that it can go into the turkey (or whatever), through the oven door, and to the readout on your counter.  I bought a Taylor Model 1470N for about $15.

The thermometer works nicely.  I’m told it can also be used for cakes, but I haven’t tried it this way.

“Chef’s Corner” and “Tech Talk” feature writer for BOLLI “Matters” John Rudy

 

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? THE PONY RIDE by Barry David

THE PONY RIDE

By Barry David

The ring was oval-shaped, and we stood about midway on one side watching the ponies.  It was a glorious fall day. We were in no rush.

My granddaughter held my hand.  She had not yet decided about having a ride; it’s scary to try something new.  So we waited as she carefully appraised each pony as it passed by with its mounted child.

There were brown ones and black ones, some with mixed colors, and others with patterns.

I wondered what she was thinking.   Was she intimidated by them, simply afraid, or was she considering what color pony she’d like to ride?  What goes through a four-year-old’s head?  Lots!

“Would you like a ride?” I asked her.

“Yes,” was her reply, and there was no question about it.

“But I don’t want to ride on a big pony.”

“Okay,” I assured her.

“But I don’t want a small pony.”

“Oh,” I mumbled.  Where was this outing going?

In silence, we watched a few more go by and then, she said, “Papa, I want to ride on a medium pony.”

“Okay!”

A medium pony.  Not too big or too small.  Moderation.  And, given the times we are in as a nation, not too far left or right.

The extremes we deal with each day can make most of us uncomfortable whether in a pony ring or in politics.  Whether we are four or eighty-four, white or black, male or female, conservative or progressive, we are all simply part of the human web that connects us.

When faced with complex choices, compromise most often points the way to a lasting solution.   Sounds pretty basic, and it is.  Not rocket science, if egos are parked at the door.

Too many of our leaders need to get off their donkeys or elephants and mount a ring full of medium ponies.  If they just go on pony ride, they will help us all get “there” faster and “fairer.”  If not, we need to send them home on their donkeys or elephants, never to return.  We can’t allow any leader’s ego and dated ideology to screw up what can be a good pony ride for America.

And, oh, yes!  The pony ride—on a medium, light brown and white pony—was a great success.

BOLLI “Matters” contributor Barry David

Barry says that he and his wife Liz began taking courses at BOLLI “almost from the beginning while winding down my career in the computer field as GM of ADP.  Love taking subjects that I’ve not had exposure to before.  Being snowbirds, we’re delighted that spring semester is build the five-week offerings.  BOLLI has been and remains an important part of our life.”

 

 

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? ALLEGIANCE by Eleanor Jaffe

ALLEGIANCE

By Eleanor Jaffe

During Thanksgiving, I told my four Salt Lake City grandchildren about the lives, challenges, and sacrifices of my parents’ generation.  My mother, their Great-Grandma Fannie, had just died four months earlier.  I showed them documents and photographs of her grade school and high school graduations, my parents’ courtship,  and their young children, including me, their second of four.

I also told them about the generation that preceded my parents, the children’s great-great grandparents.  All four of them had emigrated from Poland/Russia.  All four of them suffered poverty and persecution, fear of conscription into the czar’s army, and traumatic family separations.  They had, in fact, survived the hardships of most Jewish immigrants to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century.

I tried to impress on the children that we are all incredibly more fortunate to have grown up in the U.S. than in Eastern Europe.  Or even more to the point, the Holocaust would have ensured our deaths and the end of our lineage.  Their survival made our fifth generation possible.  We owe these great-great grandparents our gratitude.

They listened…

When the visit ended, my husband and I flew east across the vastness that is our country, and I thought about “allegiance,” loyalty to these great United States that enabled our five generations to not only survive but be educated and thrive.  I thought about my cousins, on both sides of our family, and realized–as if for the first time–that five of my sixteen first cousins had left the U.S. to live elsewhere.  One married a Frenchman and has live din Marseilles for almost fifty years.  One married a Japanese woman and has lived in Tokyo for twenty-five years.  Three female cousins, who grew up just blocks away from my home, moved to Israel.  In fact, two of my aunts and one uncle followed their children and are buried in Jerusalem.

What happened to their “allegiance” to the United States, their gratitude for what this nation made possible for our family?  What happened to their first language, English?  Was it supplanted by the languages of their adopted countries?  In what languages do they dream?  Are their attachments to the stories of what their grandparents suffered, the summer camps they attended, their colleges, and their loyalty to the land where three of their fathers served in World War II still strong?

I recall that, when I was young, the romance of becoming a “sabra,” a pioneer in the new land of Israel seemed heroic, almost compelling.  It seemed to be the Ultimate in Leaving Home–I could go without being challenged.  And yet, after all that day dreaming, the ties that bind me to the U.S. have held tight, and I have stayed.

Today, huge political divisions assail our country.  Nevertheless, my sense of allegiance, of loyalty, to the land that made our family’s survival possible and democracy’s hopes still percolate within me.  They animate me to take political action because I can no longer take our freedoms for granted.

We cannot know what effects these family stories will have on our children and their children, but I hope that they are filled with awe and gratitude for those who came before them.  I hope their allegiance motivates them to make this country as great as it may yet become, almost as great as our grandparents hoped it would be.

Frequent BOLLI “Matters” contributor 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 special interest group.

JANUARY LINES FROM LYDIA: My Holiday Time Capsule

MY HOLIDAY TIME CAPSULE

By Lydia Bogar

Nostalgia grips me when it comes to the holidays–even when they come to a close in January.

Memories of my childhood ease my stressed-out mind.  In those days, we wrote holiday cards which we stamped and mailed on Thanksgiving weekend. Our family was not a big one, but Mom’s list was very long and including probably a hundred of our family’s beauty salon customers.

Anyway, the cards – glossy, religious, pastoral or with glitter – were usually 4 x 6 inches in size.  My job was to write our return address on the back flaps, make sure the flaps were tucked in–not glued because that cost an extra three cents–and sort them into local and out of state piles.

After Mom mailed them downtown,  the bounty would return within days.   Our letter carrier, Mr. Rodgers  (no kidding) would sometimes have to leave a large plastic bag of mail on the doorknob.  But the real motherlode came the week before Christmas when mail was delivered twice a day and once on Sunday.

There was a real touch of magic when it snowed.  On those nights, white and red lights, woven in through shrubs, sparkled on the crisp white yard, and green light bulbs in both patio fixtures gave everything a festive glow.

The tree at home was real and decorated with handmade children’s ornaments, four or five kinds of lights, and at least two boxes of tinsel. The tree in the shop was silver and adorned with decorations that changed style or color every couple of years; one year pink and red, blue and silver the next. And in the sixties, it was highlighted by a show-stopping, rotating multi-colored light.

My mother was a fabulous baker.  Supervised by my grandmother, she made Swedish cookies and bread.  She made Hungarian and Austrian pastries, including Linzer Torte, from my father’s side of the family.  When cooled, these wonderful treats were wrapped in wax paper and placed in air tight cans that on the shelf in the garage. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I discovered the joy of quality control;  I brought in the birds’ nest cookies and dropped a dollop of jam–usually apricot or strawberry –into these marvelous, one-bite delights.  Everything assembled on my mother’s cookie tray was full of sugar and butter and love.

The wreath  on the front door was adorned with tomtegubbas (Swedish elves) and small bundles of straw. The wreath at the back door was the traditional New England variety with red ribbons and silver bells.

No matter what holidays we all celebrated when we were children, those were the days when the milk man came every three days. The bread man came twice a week. The egg man came on Fridays, and the dry cleaner came on Mondays.

Light years ago.

BOLLI “Matters” feature writer Lydia Bogar

Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service.  She says that, while she “hails from Woosta,” she’s been “– educated at BOLLI.”  She serves as co-chair of BOLLI’s Writers Guild.