Category Archives: Stories from Steve

STORIES FROM STEVE: THE TWO OF US

THE TWO OF US

By Steve Goldfinger

 She is a lot older than me (and I am old enough), yet our love endures and even grows stronger from year to year. She is full of soft charm, gentle shadows, and her commitment to my needs is unswerving.  Above all, her tenacious hold on beauty defies the new wrinkles that appear as inevitably as the seasons.

When I met 33 Birch Hill Road in 1966, she was 84 years old. She faced out on a gentle circle, comfortable with the two other venerable homes that bordered it. She embraced my wife and four sons as we moved in, and she did not shudder when we put her through some minor surgery, both cosmetic and reconstructive, at the start.

With pride, I took in her many graceful rooms. I loved the huge, multi-paned window with its arched top above her central staircase. The third floor, all one room, posed a challenge for one’s imagination when it came to livening it with furnishings.

Over the years, my infatuation with 33 Birch Hill transformed into love, exactly paralleling the ever-deepening love within the family she nurtured. I look back on the nooks and bindings that are shared between a home and those who call it such, and a bounty of remembrances springs forth.

Ed building the substantial back deck the summer after graduating from college. It remains sturdy and well used to this day, the one and only construction effort of his life.

The tee-off spot for the nine hole frisbee golf course Michael created, the “holes” being tree trunks, rocks, and assorted  landmarks around our circle.

The ghost piano sonata that startled my wife and me as we ate breakfast one morning, alone in the house. Well, not entirely alone. There was that squirrel who descended the open chimney, found the living room, and took a liking to the piano’s keyboard.

Peter tossing out carrots from his second floor window, his act in plain view of those of us sitting on the deck. He hated the carrots that Barbara always gave him to keep him healthy.

David’s room, its walls covered with large posters of dead rock stars. Also, music from his clarinet and later, his guitar. And the songs he wrote.

33 Birch Hill and I have aged noticeably in recent years. She has just undergone the replacement of three wood gutters at exorbitant expense while my left hip was replaced at virtually no cost, thanks to Medicare. She has needed an entire re-do of her front portico and new granite steps to finally replace her ever-rotting wooden ones.  She needs paint, inside and out. I need eye injections for macular degeneration. I need omeprazole for reflux and Eliquis for a heart that occasionally beats irregularly.

Love in later years does not change much—only in the intimacies and frailties that emerge.

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!

STORIES FROM STEVE: A FANTASY DINNER PARTY

THE MORE EXOTIC THE BETTER

by Steve Goldfinger

I like food—the more exotic the better.  So, who would I invite to a fantasy dinner party?

Marcus Gavius Apicius, Emperor Elagabalus, and William Buckland—only if they brought their chefs along to prepare their meals.  And Mahatma Gandhi, so I could see his face as he watched the others feast.

Apicius, a first century Roman, is renowned for his imaginative delectables. He brought culinary artistry to new realms, feeding his guests lark tongue pie, flamingo tongue, dolphin meatballs, jellyfish omelets, and boiled parrot. Homage to the chef!

Elagabalus, the depraved boy emperor, lived but 21 years. After his guests enjoyed such savories as camel heels, parrot heads, nightingale tongue, peacock brains, and mice baked in poppies and honey, they would disgorge themselves in order to have a second round of the same. Elagapalus liked surprise endings.  At the end of one food orgy, several of the gourmands remarked on how pleasant it would be if they could then be smothered under the scent of roses. Elagabalus obliged. At the end of their very next feast, he had them suffocated to death by tons of rose petals. He was known for concluding other banquets by unleashing wild animals on his thoroughly stuffed guests.

Second thoughts about inviting this lad.

William Buckland, Vicar and Professor of Geology at Oxford University in the 19th century, was also a man of dietary oddities: rodents, crocodiles, hedgehogs, moles, roast joint of bear, puppy, and his most historic swallowed morsel—the embalmed heart of King Louis XIV that had  been stolen from the king’s tomb and eventually came his way. When asked how the king’s heart tasted, Buckland replied that it would have gone a bit better with gravy prepared from the blood of a marmoset. Although he claimed he would eat anything organic, the vicar once admitted he could not be tempted to have a second helping of stewed housefly.

So I’m looking at Gandhi, seated in front of his goat milk, orange, nuts, stewed vegetables and concoction of ginger, lemons, strained butter, and aloe juice.

He is looking at me.

Shall I offer him a spoonful of my matzoh ball soup?

God, if I do, he might want me to try his concoction.

Better lie low.

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!

STORIES FROM STEVE: RITES OF PASSAGE

RITES OF PASSAGE

by Steve Goldfinger

I spent about two months learning to chant strange sounds in a way that would meet with the rabbi’s approval. It was my Torah rendition for my bar mitzvah at temple Pri Eitz Chaim, the ultra-orthodox synagogue on Ocean Avenue. The chant came off well enough, but my grandfather was not in the congregation to hear it.  He was in an oxygen tent set up on his bed in his small apartment.

My grandfather Emil Goldfinger was a pillar among the elders of Pri Eitz Chaim and the reason for my six years of Hebrew school torture in its airless, foul-smelling basement four afternoons a week plus Friday nights and Sunday mornings.  My parents only entered the synagogue on high holy days. The rest of the year, they never so much as lit candles on Friday night.  But for my grandfather’s sake, they sent me to Hebrew school.

My resentment was evident in the classroom.

I was painfully slow in speed reading Hebrew during competitions. I never even tried to understand Mr. Ben-Ezra’s instructions to the class, spoken in Hebrew–except perhaps shev ba kiseh, which meant “sit down in your seat.” I sometimes confused the holidays and never understood Tisha b’av.   Plus, I gave Hadassah Cohen murderous looks when she ripped out the page with the nude picture of Adam and Eve before passing out new textbooks.

My Hebrew name, Simcha, means “Joy,” and there were quizzical looks on my teachers’ faces when they called upon “Simcha” to answer their questions.

My parents remembered me sometimes sitting on the curb outside the synagogue with a forlorn look just before going inside for my ninety minutes of confinement. Little did they know that I had 40 cents in my pocket for a pastrami sandwich at Ruby’s which I would bolt down before arriving at Pri Eitz Chaim.

A tiny victory came at last, in my final year, when Rabbi Turk called me into his office and suggested I take off one day a week.

I did manage to graduate…with a 29% average. Recently, I chanced upon a faded copy of the graduation program, which said it all. Of the eleven of us at that crowning ceremony, ten received prizes of one sort or another.

However, they did spell my name correctly.

But surely it was the bar mitzvah, not the graduation, that was my rite of passage.

Emil Goldfinger’s rite of passage came five days later with his final breath…

Chanting was again heard.

 

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!

 

STORIES FROM STEVE: AT THE BORDER IN DREAMLAND

Prompt: Eating an American meal in a foreign country

At the Border in Dreamland

by Steve Goldfinger

I sat in a run-down taqueria, savoring my mac and cheese, trying to give the locals a sense of what really good food could be—when, suddenly, I got hit in the cheek with a viciously thrown enchilada.  It was followed by another that splattered on my elbow. Two hot tamales followed. A chorus of “Yankee go home!” erupted from all four tables. Then, the kitchen door opened, and out stepped Pancho Villa, rifle in hand, chest covered with medals and two crossed belts of shiny bullets.

What to do?  Only the day before, I had tried to get back home to the states, but a huge wall had prevented me from crossing the border. I begged. I pleaded. But the policia federal would not let me cross it.

And now, I was begging Pancho Villa not to kill me.

He let his gun drop and strode to my table. “There are many ways to die,” he said with a toothy grin. Then he reached into his sack and pulled out a huge jar of chili peppers, dumping about half of them onto my mac and cheese. He stirred them in with the barrel of his rifle. “This should do it,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Burn your kishkes out.” A roar of laughter filled the small establishment.

What did I hear?  Kishkes?

“Lansman?” I countered cautiously.

“Yes, yes……Galicia,” he responded. “And you?”

“Litvak.”

“Mexico isn’t what you think it is, and certainly I am not. Listen, you can call me by my real name…Schmuel.  And I’ll take you to the best restaurant in Guadalajara. Ratner’s.”

“Ratner’s? How can I believe you Panch—I mean Schmuel?”

“Well, those photos on the wall were taken in 1916 when General Pershing was sent here to get rid of me. Actually, we became good friends, and he loved it when I took him to Ratner’s. He adored gefilte fish. Also kugel and kasha varnishkas. When an outbreak of diarrhea nearly decimated his troops, he ordered each of them to eat 10 matzohs a day—a few too many for some who got so bound up they had to be evacuated. The general used the same remedy when dysentery felled hordes of his soldiers in World War I.”

Schmuel “Pancho” Villa continued.

“Pershing didn’t want to leave Mexico—not after I introduced him to Rosalita and she made him her exclusive at the Casa de Delicias.  He called her his little gattito, and she bathed him every day in her special love potion, oil of licorice. If you ever wondered how he got his nickname Black Jack, my lansman, that is how.”

So much history I never knew.

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!

STORIES FROM STEVE: SWOON SONG

Swoon Song

by Steve Goldfinger

During four years of medical school, I saw classmates faint three times. They went down so suddenly and unexpectedly that I was certain they had tripped on something.  But no, there had been nothing near them to trip on.

My most vivid memory of such a swoon dates back to our first year, indeed our first encounter with a patient. And to the everlasting embarassment of Shirley Dalling, the swoonee, the entire class was witness to her fall. Shirley, one of the 11 women in our class of 120, was on center stage that afternoon.

The setting was one of those large steeply banked amphitheaters with about 10 rows of eager students waiting to meet a real patient. Presiding over the encounter was the legendary Dr. Yale Kneeland, Jr., tall in his long white coat and exuding the great charm that typified his privileged nature. His first name said it all.

He greeted us with a few condescending words. Then, in his unmistakable baritone,  he boomed, “Please wheel in our patient.”

Doors slid behind the floor of the amphitheater and an attendant pushed in a gurney. Lying flat on it was a man, perhaps in his fifties, with one noteworthy feature – a greatly protruding belly easily perceived through the sheet that draped it.

“This is Mr. O’Brien, colleagues,” said Dr. Kneeland before turning to Mr. O’Brien to add, “This is a rather large group of young doctors.”

He went on. “Now I would like to have a volunteer to come up and examine

Mr. O’Brien. How about you?” he demanded of Shirley who was sitting quietly in the first row, not daring to raise her hand.

He brought her to the side of the gurney and then introduced her to the patient in his usual mellifluous style.

“Now, my young friends, because of his liver problem Mr.O’Brien has accumulated a very large amount of fluid in his abdomen.” He removed the sheet. “By palpating his abdomen, you can actually feel the fluid, like jelly being pushed around inside.

Miss Dalling, would you be good enough to push on Mr. O’Brien’s belly?”

Shirley did so…and immediately dropped to the floor, a sack of jelly herself.

End of demonstration.

Kneeland knew exactly what to do. Totally poised and in a clear voice, he asked that the patient be wheeled out through the doors behind them.

I remember Mr. O’Brien’s words as he slipped through the doors.

“How’s the young doctor?”

“Stories from Steve” feature writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI a few years ago, 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 and more!

STORIES FROM STEVE: Firsts

 

by Steve Goldfinger

At age ten, I went to my first opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. Its composer was Vaughan Williams. Its librettist, Gertrude Stein. The line, “Pigeons on the grass alas” was her most memorable absurdity. Some of my classmates who were there with me probably still remember it. They may also recall that, not long afterward, we were taken to see a play performed by the Jean Louis Barrault company. As it was entirely in French, I am certain not a single word of it remains in our minds.

So, why were we fifth graders bused from PS 193 into the big city for these bewildering performances? Well, we were a group of bright kids selected from various elementary schools across Brooklyn who would comprise a so-called “opportunity” class that would last from grades 5 through 8. Our curriculum was intended to maximize what was thought to be our potential.

It wasn’t all artsy stuff. Back in 1946, we had some serious discussions about the world and concluded that communism was probably best for China. That same year, Miss Sullivan taught us about propaganda techniques in advertising. I learned not to be duped by testimonials and glittering generalities.

My mind was challenged.

I witnessed my first death in 1946.  Fred Cornman’s father, a musician, came in to play the piano for the class.  We sat in the auditorium, listening. Suddenly, a clamor of discordant notes erupted from the piano as he slumped onto to the keyboard. And at that moment, for the only time in my life, I heard a loud death rattle.  I knew exactly what was happening. I raced from my seat down an aisle to the back exit to escape. Miss Sullivan was close behind me, running to the principal’s office.

I can still hear that rattle.

I fell in love for the first time in the eighth grade. Her name was Paula. She sat next to me. She was beautiful, clearly the most popular girl in the class. The rare Sadie Hawkins Day (February 29th) was traditionally when girls would ask boys to a dance. I couldn’t bear the thought that she might ask someone else, so I oafishly pre-empted her by inviting her to go with me. She accepted. Over the next months, my thoughts were torrid; our behavior was chaste. I remember the thrill of her allowing me to put my arm around her shoulder at a movie. I remember kissing her at her door. It was the first time we kissed. I mean really kissed.  And it was the last time we dated. We went to separate high schools.  So obsessed was I with Paula that I did not date again until my senior year.

My heart still skips a beat when I think of her seventy years later.

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI a few years ago, 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.

STORIES FROM STEVE: I QUIT

I QUIT

By Steve Goldfinger

“Giving up smoking is easy,” Mark Twain said.  “I’ve done it hundreds of times”  

My tally is a lot lower, perhaps ten or twelve times.  My fervent intentions were almost always foiled after I drank a little alcohol with a pal who was lighting up. “Can I have one?” invariably led to more.

At one point, I was seeing a patient who flaunted a pack of Lucky Strikes in his front shirt pocket. How I craved one, and my ensuing strategy was craven. He was in for a routine health check up, and I strongly urged him to quit smoking. The best way, I assured him, was to go cold turkey. “Toss that pack into that waste basket. Right now,” I implored.  He did.  I went for that waste basket as soon he was out the door.

That was 50 years ago, and I’ve been clean for about that long now.

It wasn’t so easy when it came to golf.   I can think of dozens of occasions when, driving home from a horrendous round with my golf buddy, I assured him that the end had come.  Never again.  Why torture myself?  Why destroy a perfectly gorgeous Sunday morning by hitting one wretched shot after another, succumbing to outbursts of temper, and cursing–so unlike me during the rest of my week. He would smile and remind me of the two good shots I had made that day.  And, sure enough, during the week, I thought about those shots, remembered how many wonderful ones I had hit in my prime.  Just recapture the rhythm, the mind set, the joy of being out in nature, the camaraderie, I said to myself.  And the next Sunday, I was out there with him again.  And the ride back was no different.

There was only one way to truly quit, and I proceeded to do it. Last year, I prepared a professional looking affadavit entitled Goldfinger’s Last Round of Golf and in it, detailed all my foozled and otherwise mis-hit shots, hole by hole. I sent it out to all my golfing friends– recent ones and others from years ago.

So far, this has worked.  I even gave my clubs to one of my sons. But I had this dream last night: I was out on the course with a player who was hitting magnificent shots with a set of curious-looking clubs, a recent breakthrough innovation by a club manufacturer who was advertising them widely.

I asked if I could swing one. When  I did,  the ball soared high and far, in a trajectory that would have made me proud even at my golfing peak.

These clubs can be purchased online or at a nearby golf store. They are handsome and affordable.

Tune in next month.

 

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI a few years ago 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.  

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.  

STORIES FROM STEVE: BILL RUSSELL

BILL RUSSELL

by Steve Goldfinger

As a medical intern, I helped care for a man who was the professional at a nearby golf course., and when he learned of my passion for the game, he invited me to come and play there. I did.

When you finish your round,”  he said as he escorted me to the first tee, “come to the clubhouse for beer with some friends of mine.”  So, after my usual mediocre round of golf, I trudged up  the hill to the white-framed building where the dining area was empty save for four laughing guys sitting at nearby table: my host and his friends–Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Bill Russell’s brother.  With my dropped jaw, I could only mumble  a few words in response to their hearty welcome.

Although not a rabid basketball fan, I did tend to follow the Celtics on a near-daily basis, and I was eager to hear them talk, to glean the kind of inside information I could gloatingly share with friends. And yet, they suddenly centered on me, the doctor.  I was asked about the treatment Russell had been receiving for his ankle sprain.  I was told about the games K.C. missed because of appendicitis when they both played college basketball for USF.  We also joked about golf, how the water holes had overflowed their banks after we were done with them.

It was one of those “experiences of a lifetime.”  And yet, I thought later, we had enjoyed  ourselves at what was really a rather second rate club.  Unfortunately, the Russells and K.C. Jones were unlikely to ever be invited to any of Boston’s elite clubs. That was the way it was in those days.  Color colored a lot of attitudes.  Russell made little effort to disguise his feelings about how shabbily he was treated by Boston fans. Their hero, for sure–that black guy, for certain.  His sometimes unsuppressed insolence didn’t help.

Years later, I found myself sitting first class on a trans-continental flight, thanks to an upgrade. The compartment was almost empty. When I glanced across the aisle, there, believe it or not, was the impossibly long frame and unmistakable face of Bill Russell.  My immediate instinct was to go over and sit next to him, to remind him of the beers and jokes we had shared at that golf course so long ago,  to immediately recapture the kind of kinship one can slide into so easily over drinks at the 19th hole.

But a rush of propriety (or was it reality?) overcame me.  Why do a thing like that?  Would he even remember that remote, trivial, 40 minute episode in his life?  And If by any chance he did, would it trigger a memory of the bitterness that permeated his Boston years?  And who is this asshole, anyway, to  want to strike up a conversation?

I returned to my book.  Best to settle for one experience of a lifetime than to try to create another that could go horribly wrong.

Our “BOLLI Matters” feature writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI two years ago, 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.  

 

 

STORIES FROM STEVE: ON MIRACLES

On…

by Steve Goldfinger

“A miracle is a violation of nature,” wrote David Hume, the dour 18th century Scot philosopher.  He virtually demolished the possibility of a miracle ever happening by posing the following question double-edged question.  Which is more likely–that the event took place, or that the testimony describing it was fallacious?

It is easy to dismiss Jonah and the whale, but it may not be so easy to dismiss the Hanukah story of an oil lamp of burning for eight days rather than one.  But if archeologists could somehow recover a like oil, give it to scientists who could then identify an ingredient that increased burning longevity, would we still think of it as a miracle?  I don’t know.

Anyway, I began to think about Hume’s argument, asking whether his logic was too dismissive of those who believe in divine intervention, too oblivious of the realm of faith and hope in our lives.This was all occasioned by learning of a recent experience of a close friend.

Late in life, she struggled with advanced renal failure, the possibility of going on hemodialysis hinging on a blood test drawn each week. Then, completely unexpectably, a donor kidney became available, one that was extremely well-matched to her immune system.

Following its engraftment within her body, a couple of remarkable things happened. Her high blood pressure–which had required five drugs, around the clock, to obtain some semblance of control–settled into the normal range without any.  But the second remarkable thing, the one that defied belief, was this: her hair–which had long been colored by a beautician–began to grow out in its natural shade.  Yes, there it was–as auburn as when she was in her twenties!

No one could explain it.  Experts in developmental biology, immunology, dermatology and all other relevant fields were at a loss. Nor, I discovered,  had such a phenomenon ever been observed by others.

So, as banal as her hair story might be when compared to Jonah and the whale, was this a miracle?  Did my eyes deceive me when I sat across from her at dinner? Did she really sneak off to her colorist on the sly after she had her new kidney? Am I, in writing this, giving false testimony?  I know her well and cannot believe she would do such a thing.

When she and her husband describe the blessing that has enfolded for them during the past few months, they are not loathe to speak of a miracle in their lives.  No, not the hair.  The successful transplant, the avoidance of impending dialysis, the cure of her hypertension.

So where does this leave David Hume?

In the 18th century, in musty philosophy books, and in my own ruminations.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI two years ago, 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.