The year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. The first test tube baby was born. Cult leader Jim Jones told nine hundred members of his church to commit suicide. Girls were playing with Barbie Dolls and Easy Bake Ovens. Boys were playing with the Simon game and hot wheels.
And in his comedic persona of Mork from Ork, Robin Williams exploded on the scene.
In our household, television viewing was reserved for a couple of evening family shows, during which we let Williams, that comic genius, into our home and our lives. He first appeared on the show, Happy Days, and then sequed into the memorable Mork and Mindy.
I enjoyed the show very much, but Williams’ persona puzzled me. This enigmatic soul of comedy poked at my inner places. I needed to look deeper at him. I felt the need to study him. How could he keep up this crazy, oddball act? How could he keep up this raving wildness? I worried about him, which seemed odd to me. For God’s sake. I didn’t know the man personally.
Yet, on some essential level, I did know him. His depression, his mania, his genius was there for anyone to see—anyone, that is, who dared to, anyone who had lived with the same proclivities. I can’t let him go without a tribute to his gifts.
Mork is gone, and so is the planet Ork. So are Peter Pan and Hook.
Gone are the Happy Feet that rocked and zoomed across the frozen tundra.
Gone is The Fisher King whose craziness bore pins into our eyes and icy shards thick from the frozen wasteland into our hearts.
Gone is Mrs. Doubtfire who absorbed a child’s tears in her vast bosom. Gone is the booming voice that awakened Vietnam and promised relief from travails. Gone is Patch Adams restoring rosy cheeks to ashen children whose souls would soon be winging their way to heaven.
Gone is Jacob the Liar who gave solace, grace, and laughter to a tiny girl destined for the Nazi ovens.
Gone are those eyes of bottomless sadness, the depth of the deepest desert sands.
What’s left is a man whose own soul cried while he gave sustenance to millions with insane laughter and fathomless tears.
What’s left are our memories and yearnings to restore to his heart and soul that which he gave to ours.
What’s left is the knowledge that his pain couldn’t be healed.
What’s left is his profound imagination and creativity, someone who brought his emotions to soaring heights and allowed us unbridled laughter and play in Humor and Pathos.
Elaine considers reading her passion and inspiration. Writing is her muse, the creative influence in her Being. Her family is her All.
Due to the number and steepness of hills and mountains in Pennsylvania, it probably has more small towns and villages than any other state in the nation. It probably also has more places with idiosyncratic names than anywhere else in the western hemisphere. Lancaster County alone has the towns of Intercourse, Paradise, Fertility, Blue Ball, Mount Joy, Bird-in-Hand, and Climax. Many of these towns utilize their names to attract tourists, and local businesses do a booming business selling postcards and other paraphernalia. But this is only a small sampling of the numerous other strange place names one can find in the Keystone State. You can also send postcards from Egypt, Holland, Mexico, Scotland, and East Berlin, or you can stop for lunch in Mars or Moon. You can even go to college in California or Indiana without leaving Pennsylvania. I’m not sure just what you can do in the towns of Balls Mills, Bath Addition, Log Pile, Two Lick, or Lickdale, but I’m relatively certain the residents of Shickshiny, Smock, and Moosic have a decent sense of humor. If you want to live a laid-back lifestyle, you might want to relocate to Friendsville, Live Easy, Library, or Economy; and if you are particularly patriotic, you might move to Liberty PA. I don’t know why anyone would want to live on Squirrel Hill or in Seldom-Seen, and one can only hope the towns of Virginville, Stalker, and Panic aren’t located in close proximity.
It was because of this rich imagery of place names that a not-so-young, affluent real estate developer of Scottish and German descent decided to buy a large tract of land in the Pocono Mountain region of Pennsylvania. His name was Dewey Stump, and he intended to develop a new town that would be unlike anything ever previously attempted. His conception would be totally unlike Levittown, New Jersey or Columbia, Maryland. He wanted to build a town that would be a model for the future of America, a town that would be exclusively for the very rich and the super-rich. Conceptually, the town’s north and south sides would be divided by the town’s main street, Stump Boulevard, running east/west and aligned with the World Trade Center on Wall Street. The north side would be for old-money people and the south side for new-money people. There would be a large traffic circle in the middle of town with a two-story high bronze statue of himself, the founder of “fake news” and the Twitter King of North America. Each side of town would be further sub-divided by a red section and a blue section signifying whether it was ideal for conservatives or progressives… the color of street signs would change from red to blue or vice versa depending upon the current state of political realities. Major arteries on the north side would be named after robber- barons of old and, on the south side, after more recently affluent billionaires. Secondary streets would be named after well-known millionaire celebrities. There would at least be one golf course in each quadrant, but only residents of that quadrant could use that course. Finally, the town, to be called Greenback, was to have a nine-digit zip code consisting only of ones and zeros, with no dash between the first five and last four numbers. This was to signify the minimal net worth of anyone wishing to reside in the town.
As this was all just in Dewey’s head, he needed to consult with both an architect/planning firm and a marketing firm to begin to bring his wonderful vision to fruition. The architectural firm advised that his two-dimensional, rather flat conception of a site plan wasn’t practical in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The marketing firm advised that true conservatives wouldn’t want to live anywhere near true progressives and vice versa. The firm said, too, that old-money generally had nothing but disdain for new-money, and new-money could care less about old-money. They also thought the site was too remote from most urban amenities like five-star restaurants, theaters, and international airports. The post office also indicated that they couldn’t assign him the nine-digit zip code he wanted.
Dewey decided to charge ahead anyway, because, in his gut, he knew it would work. He borrowed heavily from a number of foreign banks, thinking he could easily sell the first hundred plots while construction was underway. But multi-millionaires and billionaires were stupefied by the concept and stayed away. He had to trash his brilliant idea and finally had to sell the land at a bargain basement price, causing him to file for bankruptcy. He lost his golf pants on the deal but managed to hold on to his “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. He never did pay either the architectural firm or the marketing firm, claiming that they didn’t give him the advice he wanted.
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, lead BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.
Here at BOLLI, one thing that unites us even more than our age, unfortunately, is cancer. I would bet the farm that everyone currently reading this has been touched directly by cancer.
My father died fifty-eight years ago of stomach and colon cancer. As a long time smoker, there were probably malignancies in his lungs as well. All three of my boy cousins have had gastrointestinal polyps surgically removed. As the only girl cousin, I had my first colonoscopy at age 50. Free and clear to date.
Being proactive is the only way to chase the fear away. Limit bad chemicals in your life: don’t use pesticides, filter your tap water, use organic cleaning products whenever possible, and don’t tuck your cell phone into your bra.
My best friend Betty died seven years ago. She had a lump behind her knee that she shrugged off for almost a year. The diagnosis of bone cancer was a true shock. Within a month, she lost most of her left leg. Within six months, she lost her life.
Fifteen minutes of sun exposure, especially in the morning, is the best way to increase the body’s production of Vitamin D.
Within four months of her second melanoma diagnosis, my daughter Joanne was in clinical trials at Dana Farber. It was too late for her, and the treatments made her viciously sick. She had worshipped the sun but slathered sunscreen on her little boys. Metastatic melanoma will take over your brain and kill your personality. Then it kills you.
Walking and exercise is good for overall health, and walking with a friend is even better. Two years ago, I admitted to being old enough to go to exercise at the Senior Center. Yoga is much easier now, and the new friends are great too! Breathing and meditation are easy remedies for insomnia.
My friend Sally retired to a golf course in South Carolina. Last year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a retired surgical nurse, she knows the questions to ask as well as the treatments that she will and won’t have. Surgery and radiation were sufficient, for now. Her youngest daughter is having radiation for a rare carcinoma. I pray for them both every day.
Being aware of signs, symptoms, and signals is not enough. Fighting this enemy helps families and survivors in a hundred different ways.
This summer will be my fourth cycle of volunteering at the Pan Mass Challenge, the largest and longest running charity bike ride in the country. I help to register riders on Friday afternoon and bag trash at Mass Maritime on Saturday afternoon. On the way home, both days, I cry tears of fulfillment.
Cultivating happiness is not easy.
It is necessary.
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.”
A recent Writers Guild prompt brought this bit of memoir from Steve Goldfinger–for the inveterate duffers in out midst.
Breaking the Ice: Aye, There’s the Rib!
by Steve Goldfinger
After my early days of hacking around scrubby Dyker Beach, Brooklyn’s only public golf course, I found myself playing The Country Club in Brookline from time to time. Yes THE Country Club, sanctuary of Boston Brahmans plus a handful of their chosen. Its name said it all.
My friend Tom, a fellow academic and ardent golfer, was one of their chosen. A few times a year, he would ask me to join him for 18 holes at this preserve available to but three hundred or so, a far cry from Dyker Beach’s availability to three million.
This time, it was for only nine holes. It was mid-January and the temperature had warmed up to 35 degrees, toasty enough for golf freaks who hadn’t teed up a ball for two months. The Country Club contained an extra nine holes that were kept open year round for such freaks.
Tom brought along his son Jeff, now 15, who was getting interested in the game. I had played with Jeff before, liked him, and was glad he was with us.
The air was brisk and the round uneventful, until we reached the seventh hole. Jeff’s drive put him about 150 yards from the green. I saw him pull a 4 iron out of his bag for his second shot.
“Use 6 iron,” I said. “You’ve grown a lot, and a 4 iron is much too much club.”
But 15 year-olds often have minds of their own. He stuck with the 4 iron, hit it cleanly, and watched it soar well over the green.
“Now, drop another ball,” I said, “and try a 6 iron.”
He did and hit the ball the perfect distance….but it veered off to the left and rolled onto a frozen pond. When we arrived at the pond’s edge, we saw the ball sitting there, ten feet away. Just sitting atop the glistening ice, waiting to be fetched. And feeling guilty that it was I who had consigned this $1.25 ball to such a fate, it was I who decided that I should be the fetcher.
I had gone two steps onto the ice when the inevitable crack came, and I crashed, sideways. I managed to stand up, the water above my waist. So cold I couldn’t utter a word. Tom and Jeff ran over to fish me out by extending an 8 iron for me to pull on. I noticed bleeding from my wrist where it had been scraped by ice as I fell through. Even then, I could barely say a word.
I was the shivering wretch of the three, though, insisting we go to the next tee to complete the round. I had just read The Right Stuff, and this was going to be my John Glenn moment. Tom and Jeff were still laughing as I teed up my ball. Then, when I tried to swing my driver, I was nearly felled by a horrifically painful crunch in my left rib cage. The technical name is crepitus, and it denoted a rib fracture. I tried to swing again but could use only my wrists to wave at the ball.
They escorted me back to the club house, bleeding wrist, broken rib, freezing torso, numb legs, sunken spirit.
I later asked Tom to petition the club’s Governing Council to post a sign alongside the pond on the seventh hole, to read: “Here Goldfinger couldn’t walk on water.”
Since joining BOLLI about two years ago, Steve has been writing. He’s taken memoir courses with Marjorie Roemer and worked on fiction with Betsy Campbell. In addition, he’s stretched his creative muscles into the world of acting as an intrepid CAST player.
INNER VISIONS: SELECTIONS FROM THE COLLECTION OF BEVERLY STEARNS BERSON
Davidow Gallery at Colby-Sawyer College
New London, NH
October 13 – December 10
Are you an art enthusiast looking for a good day trip? Try heading for New London, NH to see “Inner Visions.”
The new Bill and Sonja Carlson Davidow ’56 Art Gallery at Colby-Sawyer College features its inaugural exhibition: Inner Visions: Selections from the Collection of Beverly Stearns Bernson ’55. This is a wonderful collection of Outsider Art featuring paintings, drawings and sculpture from every major figure in this special genre. The exhibition will run until December 10 and will be open from 9-5 during the week and from 12-5 Saturday and Sunday except during school holidays. Help celebrate the college’s stunning new building and gallery by taking a trip to see this exhibition featuring works from BOLLI member Beverly’s extensive collection!
For forty years, David Greenfield maintained a full time periodontal practice and teaching appointment at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Now in the encore phase of his career, with clinical and academic periodontics no longer playing a role in daily life, he channels most of his energy into photography. His latest venture is a photo-blog, home for selected new images and accompanying narratives.
When film was the light-sensitive media of choice, David’s work was primarily black and white. With images now recorded digitally, his portfolio has expanded and is replete with color. During the film era, his greatest photographic joy was experienced shooting with a vintage Leica III, circa 1950, formerly used by his father. In 1996, David published Journey to Poland: A Family Mission which chronicled his investigative trip to research the experience of his parents during the war in Europe 70 years ago. That project ignited his interest in photojournalism and in ‘telling the story’ with imagery.
‘There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in’
The lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem include his vision of a world in need of repair. In these lines, however, he notes that light streaming through the cracks can show the way.
Cohen was surely not thinking about photography when he composed those lyrics, but who better than a photographer to capture the light streaming through the cracks and process it into imagery to inspire the repair process? My photography has that objective when working with not-for-profits that want to ‘tell their story’ and promote their missions using imagery.
Be sure to click on both of the following links to get to David’s photo gallery and blog, both of which are stunning. (Both are listed as well on our list of “BOLLI Bloggers” which can be reached from the BOLLI Matters home page.
On Thursday, October 5, the Lunch & Learn Committee is pleased to welcome Brendan Emmett Quigley to BOLLI. Quigley has been described as a “crossword wunderkind” whose work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and The Onion. He is also The New York Times’ sixth-most frequently published crossword creator. Quigley appeared in the documentary Wordplay and the book Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession.
Should you like to do a little crossword practice before his visit, you might visit his website: http://www.brendanemmettquigley.com/ where you can find easy, medium, and hard puzzles which you can work interactively.
One of our own puzzle enthusiasts, Guy Moss, has done some research about the history of the crossword which you might find to be of particular interest in light of Quigley’s visit.
THE HISTORY OF THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE
By Guy Moss
A puzzle. The origins of this funny word go back to the Old French “pusle,” which means to bewilder or confuse. And indeed, think of how many variations have been created over the years, leaving one in a state of puzzlement, obligated to puzzle out a solution.
The jigsaw puzzle, for example, is a very old classic. Credit for inventing the first goes to John Spilsbury of London, who in 1767 glued a map to a piece of wood and cut out each country. In 1880, Milton Bradley, already a successful toy and game marketer, started to produce the first jigsaw puzzle for children. It featured a train and was named “The Smashed Up Locomotive.” Today for $299.95 at Hammacher Schlemmer, you can buy the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, measuring 17’ by 6’ and containing 32,256 pieces.
Logic puzzles were first officially introduced in 1886 by Lewis Carroll, who, in addition to being a famous author, was a mathematician and logician. These are the type that give you certain limited information (“Smith, who married Brown’s sister, earns more than the doctor, etc.”) from which you must logically deduce the desired conclusions.
The word search puzzle, a favorite among children, is credited to Norma Gebat, who published the first, only as recently as 1968, in a newspaper in Oklahoma.
And then there’s the Sudoku puzzle, an even more recent innovation developed by an Indiana architect, Howard Garns, through Dell Magazine in 1979. Calling it “Number Place,” he built on a concept dating back to the 1700s and a puzzle then called “Latin Squares.” In the 1980s, the Japanese began publishing a more developed version, and the very first U.S. Sudoku game was printed in the New York Times just a little over twelve years ago. The word, by the way, is an abbreviation of a Japanese phrase, “Suji wa dokushiri ni kagiru,” which means “the numbers must be single.” This reflects the puzzle’s nature, where each of the numbers 1-9 may appear only once in each row, column, or box.
But the most popular and widespread game in the world is the crossword puzzle. Close to 99% of the world’s daily newspapers each carry a crossword. During World War II, when there was an acute paper shortage, American newspapers tried to drop the crossword, but fan protests reinstated them. In England, where the paper shortage was more serious, crosswords still had their place in four-page condensed newspapers. They were considered a therapeutic diversion from the horrors of war.
Arguably, the origin of the crossword may be traced back to the basic human need to solve enigmas, with a very early manifestation being the riddle. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx is credited with asking one of the first: “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening?” As we know from Sophocles, Oedipus correctly answers, man. Indeed, riddle-solving was a popular party game among the Romans.
Over time, a wide variety of word-oriented puzzles evolved that ultimately influenced the crossword. They include the rebus, a visual puzzle that combines words and pictures, is an offshoot of the riddle, and some credit the hieroglyphics of Egypt and Phoenicia as the models for these. Parenthetically, priests in northern France in the 16th and early 17th centuries used a combination of words and pictures to make their Easter messages accessible to their illiterate parishioners.
Anagrams also became popular, and, in one form or another, date back thousands of years. Authors, for example, often rearranged the letters in their names to create handy pseudonyms. And, Jewish cabalists believed the Scriptures contained encoded messages.
The crossword puzzle, however, is thought most directly to descend from the word square, where words are arranged to read the same vertically and horizontally. The earliest version, somewhat different, is attributed to an early Egyptian, Moschion, who, around 300 A.D., carved one square that he subdivided into another 1,521 squares, each containing a Greek letter. If one started in the center and followed certain directions, the phrase “Moschion to Osiris, for the treatment which cured his foot” would repeat itself, apparently reflecting the creator’s gratitude to the god of the underworld for some remarkable recovery.
An important variation on this theme was the acrostic, which came into its own in Victorian England. This involved a series of lines or a poem in which specified letters of each line, to be discovered and then taken in order, spelled out a word or phrase. A famous double acrostic is attributed to Queen Victoria, purportedly penned for her children and reading on the edges, down and then up, “Newcastle Coalmines.”
New word games, of course, evolved to meet a growing demand. For example, consider conundrums: riddles with pun-filled answers. “Why is the Prince of Wales like a gorilla, a bald man, and an orphan?” The answer: “Because the prince is the heir-apparent, the gorilla is a hairy parent, the bald man has no hair apparent, and the orphan has ne’er a parent.” Or, consider letter manipulation: adjusting a word by one letter to create another word. An example: “Take away one letter, and I murder; take away two, and I am dying, if the whole does not save me.” The answer is “skill” [“kill” to “ill” unless saved by “skill”].
As we know it today, the crossword was born on December 21, 1913 when the first such puzzle was published in the “Fun” section of the now defunct New York World. Arthur Wynne, born and raised in Liverpool, England who emigrated to the United States at 19, was then the editor of this supplement and, believing that the older math puzzles, anagrams, etc. seemed dated, was determined to feature something new and special in the Christmas issue. His innovation was to modify the word square concept so that a grid read differently across and down based on clues. He titled the puzzle “Word-Cross.” One might note that in this first puzzle there were no black filler spaces, the grid is diamond shaped with a hole in the middle, and the clues were not broken into across and down sections based solely on the starting number.
To everyone’s surprise, Wynne’s puzzle was an immediate hit, and letters to the editor encouraged its continuance. By mid-January of 1914, the puzzle’s name had been changed to “Cross-Word,” reflecting the subtitle which urged readers to find the missing cross words. Readers started sending in their own versions, and within a month, a Mrs. M.B. Wood of New York became the first published by-lined outside crossword puzzle contributor in history. Contributed puzzles abounded (very soon up to 25 a day), and with them, came innovations in shapes and clues, even puzzles within puzzles. Apparently, the only folks who were antagonistic were the paper’s typesetters, who found the format especially burdensome and annoying.
Surprisingly, the World was the sole publisher of crosswords for close to ten years. During the early 1920s, however, other newspapers here and abroad picked up this popular pastime, and within a decade, they were both featured in almost all American newspapers and began to take the form familiar today. In 1924, the first crossword puzzle book appeared and, while initially viewed as a high risk by the publishers, flew off the shelves. A crossword craze developed to such an extent that the NY Public Library was forced to limit users’ dictionary time to five minutes each, and one train line made dictionaries available in each of its cars for commuters. Sales of dictionaries and thesauruses increased. One Cleveland woman was granted a divorce because her husband would do nothing but work on crosswords all day. A man was arrested for disturbing the peace because he wouldn’t leave a restaurant until he finished his puzzle. A telephone worker shot his wife because she wouldn’t help him with a crossword and then killed himself! And a hit song was written, entitled “Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure You Out).” Despite all this, the New York Times waited until 1942 to publish its first crossword puzzle – the Sunday variety only, with the smaller daily editions beginning in 1950. According to one source, they felt it was childish, sinful, and provided for no real mental development.
In 1921, at the World, Mr. Wynne found himself not only contemplating retirement but also badly in need of assistance because of the volume of puzzles being contributed as well as extensive errors appearing in the paper. John Cosgrove, the World’s Sunday Magazine editor, hired a young woman named Margaret Petherbridge to help. She had been Wynne’s stepdaughter’s roommate at Smith, and after initially focusing solely on aesthetics and not even doing the puzzles herself, she mastered the art of editing them and created many of the innovations in place today. Petherbridge also collaborated in the publication of the early puzzle books and resigned from the World in 1926 when she married publisher John Farrar. Later, after the Times entered the field, it hired then Margaret Farrar, the top name in crosswords, to be their new puzzle editor. Her instructions from Times editor Arthur Hays Sulzberger were to keep the puzzles focused on the news, keep them dignified, and enable readers to solve them in around twenty minutes – the average time commuters spent on the subway. Farrar remained editor until 1969, when she was 72, and was followed by only three others: Will Weng, Eugene Maleska, and now Will Shortz.
The annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is the nation’s oldest and largest event of its kind. Founded and directed by Will Shortz, it is held in Stamford, CT and draws well over 500 contestants. The program consists of warm-up games on Friday, competitive crossword competitions throughout Saturday and Sunday mornings, a variety show, and then a championship playoff on Sunday afternoon. All the puzzles are specially created for the tournament , and awards are given in 20 categories, with the event’s overall winner taking home a grand prize of $7,000. The 41st annual contest will take place from March 23 – 25, 2018 at the Stamford Marriott.
If nothing else, you can now better appreciate how Mr. Wynne’s maiden effort evolved and where it has gone in over the last 100 plus years.
For more about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, including past winners and other information, be sure to go to
Guy describes himself as “a semi-retired attorney specializing in bankruptcy law with the firm of Riemer & Braunstein LLP in Boston. He lives in Newton, joined BOLLI in 2016, and enjoys, among other things, travel, reading, history, photography, art, museums, and games. This piece on the origin of the crossword puzzle was developed originally for the Eight O’Clock Club, a local discussion group of which Guy is a member. It was sparked by the awareness that 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle and a curiosity about how various common games, notably word games, arose.”
We at BOLLI Matters so appreciate hearing from our readers! Please, leave a comment below–
At our most recent Writers Guild session, we shared our work with a “conspiracy theory” prompt in which we challenged ourselves to stretch our imaginations into the “fantastic” and write with authority. As autumn creeps upon us, this piece of fiction by Quinn Rosefsky took many of us right back to summer camp… We thoroughly enjoyed it and are sure you will too.
Quinn says that: “Walkabout” started as a chapter in a book I call: Camp Arawakee .The manuscript was on a shelf in my closet for over twenty-five years. At one time, the book had enough strength to entice an agent to take interest. However, no publishers ever bothered to take a nibble. That was disheartening. More recently, I summoned the courage to take a fresh look. After all, in the past several years, I have somehow managed to write and re-write many times, what on paper looks like a mere 200,000 words. That changes a person. Let me tell you! So, what we now have in “Walkabout” is the fresh, 2017 version of the sentiments which first came to life so long ago. I’d be interested to know if anyone can come up with an ending to the “story within a story.” Having said that, you should probably read the story before reading this brief essay
By Quinn Rosefsky
Where was Louis? The boys in Turtle Cabin waited in the fading light for their counselor to return from chatting with the pretty dark-haired nurse in the infirmary. Charlie, Teddy and Sean made up a contest. Who could jump the farthest from the edge of the lean-to onto the ground? A few feet away, Pete and Michael began arguing about whose turn it was to sweep the floor the next morning. As the first stars began to appear, Louis strode into view.
“Story!” the boys said, one after another.
The boys and Louis, dangling their legs, huddled on the edge of the lean-to.
“It was as hot as an oven the day I saw my first opal,” Louis said, dumping a bag of strange pebbles into his palm. “I’d been behind the wheel of my truck for hours and the flies were driving me crazy. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. That’s when I drove the truck off the road into a ditch. There was no way I could get the wheels free. I sat down under the only gum tree around to rest.
“Just as I closed my eyes, something flashed at my feet. I bent over. There it was lying on top of the ground, the most fiery opal I’d ever seen.”
Louis paused to adjust the bush hat he always wore, even in the shower.
“What’s an opal?” Charlie said.
“It’s a jewel almost as precious as a diamond but still worth a lot of money.”
“Let him get on with the story,” Pete said, elbowing Charlie.
“Anyhow, just then, an Aborigine, his eyes so bright they looked like they were on fire, walked out of the bush and came straight towards me. He was wearing dusty blue jeans and no shirt.”
“What’s an Aborigine?” Ronnie said.
“They’re our native Australians, the ones who were there when Europeans first began to settle the continent. Same as your American Indians were here first.”
“Are there a lot of them?” Sean asked.
“Not any more. They’ve had a rough time.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Not at all. They never were and never will be. They’re the ones who protect life in all its forms. That’s why the bush has been unspoiled for thousands of years.
“This particular Aborigine, who said his name was Jack, was on what’s called a walkabout. He’d been living alone in the bush for over a year, learning what he was to do with his life.
“As soon as Jack came to within a few yards, he stood still. He didn’t move for five minutes, not a muscle. It was as if he’d turned into a statue.
“Then Jack moved. First he pointed to my opal and then he took it from my hand and turned it over and over. Then he said: ‘Follow me.’
“We walked along an invisible track in the bush for about an hour. Finally, Jack stopped and pointed to the ground. I was completely mystified. Opals, dozens of them, were everywhere. I ran about like a man possessed. I was rich!
“Then I remembered my car was still stuck in the ditch an hour away from where I was. But what good would it do me to have all those opals if I never got out of the bush? I looked around to thank Jack, but he was gone. I was alone with no truck, no water and the hot sun beating down on me.”
“What happened next?” Charlie asked.
“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” Louis said.
“It’s not fair,” Pete said stomping his feet.
“That’s enough, Pete,” Louis said, wagging his finger. “I’ll give you guys fifteen minutes to get ready for bed and then it’s lights out.”
“How can I fall asleep not knowing if you survived?” Sean asked.
Quinn is a familiar face at BOLLI where he takes courses, teaches courses, serves on the Study Group Support Committee, participates in the New Yorker Fiction Group, the Writers Guild, and more!
Our Writers’ Guild prompt for this week was this “Keep Calm and Look in Lost & Found” image. As always, some chose to use the prompt while others did not. We all thoroughly enjoyed Steve Goldfinger’s approach, and we felt that many BOLLI members might be able to relate!
LOST & FOUND
By Steve Goldfinger
For a moment, my wandering brain lost the prompt, but now I remember. Ah, yes. “Lost and Found.”
Well, it’s easy to lose things. Car keys, cell phones, shopping lists, hearing aids. Names of people whose faces are imprinted in my skull, faces of people whose names are as secure in my mind as swallows in cliff dwellings.
I cannot find the treasured score card that documented the best round of golf I ever played. I was 21 year old, knew I would never have so low a score again, and promised I would keep it to show my grandchildren. But where is it now? Hiding somewhere in my attic or moldering at the bottom of some forsaken garbage dump?
When I lost my virginity, I knew I had also found something. But when I lost my wallet yesterday, the only thing I found was an empty back pocket. My only consolation was that my credit card was not longer in it. Once again, the piece of plastic was undoubtedly sitting next to the cash register of the last restaurant I ate at. Again, I neglected to retrieve it after I signed the check. Damn it. I want it back. Now, what was the name of that restaurant?
After driving to the MFA to see the new exhibit that so excited me when I read the review in The Globe, I forgot which one it was. When a large sign reminded me and told me where it was, I had to ask a guard to direct me to the stairway I had marched to directly so many times in the past. It was a great exhibit…fine paintings and etchings by…oh, shit!
And what have I found?
Perhaps a new internal tempo that allows me to drive more slowly, aware as I am that, in front of me, the lane seems to have narrowed, and too many dents and scrapes have appeared on my car.
Or the magic of the remote, being able to put a ball game on a 40 minute delay so I can then zip through the commercials to get to the action.
Or the ability to justify my lifestyle–couch potato, bacon and eggs, steaks, morning croissants, and evening ice cream–by “Hey, I’m 82 and just back from Alaska where I survived a strenuous hike. Good genes. Thanks, Mom and Dad.”
Or how easy it has been to depart from the world of medicine. A satisfying six decades, but in the end, too many directives separating me from patients, too many memory lapses, too many teaching moments falling short of my expectations, threatening my pride.
Or my ability to respond to writing prompts in perhaps a better way than I have responded to social ones over the years.
Since joining BOLLI nearly two years ago, Steve has been exploring new ventures. He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre).
Interested in joining either one yourself? During the fall term, the Guild will meet on Wednesday mornings from 9:45-11. And CAST will meet on Fridays from 12:30-2. All are welcome!
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