WHAT’S MY STORY? THIS ONE’S FOR MARTY KAFKA

MIGHTY MALCOLM MEETS HIS MATCH

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…

A CAUTIONARY TALE FROM DONNA–IN FABLE FORM

A FABLE

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.

 

MEMOIR WRITING WITH MARTY: OF MICE AND MAN

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.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE? WITH LARRY: BE CAREFUL…

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

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.  

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? FRIENDSHIP

FRIENDSHIP

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!

MEMOIR WRITING: A SPECIAL MOMENT WITH LOIS SOCKOL

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!”