Category Archives: What’s Your Story?

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? THE RED BELT by Charlie Raskin

THE RED BELT

An Experience in the Life of a Salesman

By Charlie Raskin

“The rain in Spain, mainly from the plain” couldn’t even touch it.  The fury of that downpour drenched every inch of me.  Right down to the bone.  No wonder my wife Kathy looked worried as I entered my home in Wayland, back in April 1970.  The loving emotion on her face was comforting.  But I never got the hug and kisses I so needed at that moment.  All of her worry and love was washed away five seconds later when she told me that the Boston Police Department was very much in need of my presence.

“My name is Detective Murphy,” the officer said.  “I’m heading a murder investigation here in the city of Boston.  We found a red belt, manufactured by a firm called ‘Paris’ and was informed by Filene’s Department Store that you were the salesman for this company.  We’d appreciate some information concerning this piece of evidence.”

At this point, I excused myself and reached for the telephone to call my wife.  Detective Murphy immediately obstructed my motion and informed me that a call to the suburbs cost money.  I used my A.T.&T. credit card to let Kathy know that all was well.

The credit card led to another call—this time, to my Chicago office.  The belt was small (30-32”), and it was red.   A cotton fabric comprised the body of the belt, and it was attached at each end with very soft, supple leather.  One part of the leather was attached to a buckle with a hook that slipped easily into any one of the three holes in the leather on the other end.  The soft leather showed a deep crease behind the first hole and a very slight crease in the third.  The middle hole showed no wear.  The few numbers stamped on the belt showed that it had been delivered to a military PX in Hawaii.

I asked the detective if they had made any assumptions about whether either the victim or the assailant was gay.  A crescendo of voices in the room responded with the same question:  “How did you know?”

In the 70s, as a salesman, I had come to recognize that a number of gay men who were out of the closet wore clothing in the high color range.  And, in my estimation, a good many of them knew how to coordinate colors.

It turned out that the victim was a well-known gay man in the antique business.  He had been left, nude, on the floor of his apartment.  The only item that didn’t belong in the apartment was the red belt found near him.  It was much too small for the victim.

I was asked for more impressions.

Well, I told them, the well-worn creases in the leather showed that the owner had lost a great deal of weight.  That and the evidence that it had been purchased at a PX led to my thinking that the owner had been in the U.S. Navy.

The detective told me that the department had a huge supply of other clothing stored in a cell in the basement of the building and asked me to look it over to see if I could make suggestions about their original wearers.  I came back the next day and took a look, offering a comment here and there, but nothing that I thought provided the detective bureau with any inspiration.

About a month later, I was called by the department to thank me for the investigative road I had suggested to them.  It led to the conviction of three young servicemen stationed in East Boston.  And my comments about the other clothing actually produced detective action on other cases.

It occurred to me that, in addition to holding up the weight of the world, the belts and suspenders and ties that I sold added a lot of high color to our daily lives.

BOLLI Member Charlie Raskin

Since this is the first piece I’ve ever written for any publication, it might be my last.  Inspiration to write came from Liz David, who happens to have an inside track to aging.  Also, thought it might be another road to “Conviviality.”

Hope others will take a stab at writing too!

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? JACKETS

JACKETS

by Steve Goldfinger

Kafka might have put it this way:  One day, in his thirteenth year, Stephen Goldfinger looked into the mirror and saw he was a scorpion.

I was a Scorpion all right, with an upper case “S,” a member of our Brooklyn softball team. The incredible jacket reflected in my mirror was made of dark purple felt, and the word SCORPION was emblazoned in white on the back.  It had a six-inch image of a white scorpion with Steve written below it on the front.  And when it was turned inside out–mirabile dictu! Behold the purple lettering and SCORPION image now on white satin!

I never did know where the name came from.  The only other scorpions in Brooklyn were in the insectarium at the zoo.  My remembrance is that Brooklyn’s indigenous wild life consisted primarily of sparrows, squirrels, cockroaches, and ants.  It wasn’t until later that I learned that the image on the jacket wasn’t really a scorpion at all.  The guy we bought them from couldn’t find a suitable picture of a scorpion and went with a cut-out of a crab instead.

We had after-school matches with such teams as the Navajos, the Stallions, the Dukes, the Knights, and a few others.  Most were played on the cement softball field of the Avenue X park.  Routinely assigned to right field and ninth in the batting order, I was not a very good player.

But I loved my Scorpion jacket.  I wore it in all kinds of weather and to all occasions.  Told it would not look that great against the backdrop of Princeton’s ivy-covered towers, I finally left it at home when I went to college.  Mostly  because it was looking fairly smudged and seedy.

I couldn’t find it when I returned home that winter.  My mother had given it to our weekly house cleaner.  His name was Marion though she sometimes referred to him, not without affection, as the schvartza.

Now hanging in my closet is a jacket of a different sort–a Princeton reunion jacket.  Each class has its own distinctive one to put on while carrying on at reunion time.  Designed by a class member and purchased the year  after graduation, there only commonality is their garish displays of orange and black, often out-screaming circus frippery.  I remember being told, in 1956, that my $45 purchase would be different–a sedate evening jacket, silk-lined and suitable for fine dining, theater, ocean cruises, and the like.

When it arrived, I was aghast.  Before me was a beautifully cut dinner jacket, its soft white exterior studded with vertical lines of tiny running orange tigers alternating with lines of ’56es.

It still hangs in my closet. Someday, my kids will have to get rid of it. Just how, I don’t know. They may burn it or bury it or frame it. But give it away?  Who would ever wear it?

Frequent BOLLI Matters 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.  

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? THE BODY SHOP

THE BODY SHOP

by Maxine Weintraub

Not another trip to the body shop.  Well, in my social circle, to call it a body shop is a bit pretentious.  It’s just a local garage, and I seem to be there more and more often.

It all started a few years ago when I began to notice little things I had never seen before–the scratch along the driver’s side door, the small crack in the windshield.  Where did that small dent in the bumper come from, and what was that peculiar lump in the floor carpet?

Last winter, the handle froze after an ice storm, and I couldn’t open the door.  That was frightening.  It seemed to me that it was time to start taking better care,  paying more attention.  I bought one of those coveralls that keeps the sap and the bird poop off and might keep ice from forming inside the door handles.

Now what?  A large stain on the front seat.  Purple.  And a funny rattle somewhere.   Not enough to keep me home but enough to make me very nervous.  Should I be out and about?

A flat tire in the supermarket parking lot.  The garage sent the large tow truck–the one with the flashing lights–so that everyone could see my distress.  Humiliation.  And over nothing!

Okay.  It was time for preventive medicine.  High test instead of regular.  But the cost was high, and, sometimes when I filled the tank, I forgot.

Then, the final straw.  A stain on the driveway.  A leak.  Wasn’t my garage doing its job?  They didn’t see these things when I got my sticker?  Did I need a specialist?

My friends laughed and told me to relax as I rattled down the local streets.  They said that this aging process could not be avoided.  But I raged.  I found a real body shop.  An expensive body shop.  I had a major paint job.  A valve job.  Flushed those pipes and relined whatever could be relined.  Was I losing control?

And at night, as I lay, fearful, in my bed, those old words from childhood rang in my head:  now I lay me down to sleep…

Oh! What if I just didn’t start in the morning?

 

Maxine Weintraub reading
BOLLI Member Maxine Weintraub

Maxine has been taking writing classes with both Betsy Campbell and Marjorie Roemer since joining BOLLI three years ago.  She has been an active participant in the Writers Guild and was the editor of the 2018 BOLLI Journal. As Maxi Blue Cabot, she is the proud author of the recently published “Grammie Lives at the Mall” and “The Round Happy Smiling Lady” now available on Amazon.

 

 

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? DONNA JOHN’S KNEES

                                KNEES

By Donna Johna

The day of my second knee replacement, I arrived promptly at nine, swapped my clothing for a johnnie, and climbed up on the gurney.  I was not particularly nervous because I knew what to expect. The antiseptic smells mingled with the nervous murmurings of patients as the nurse expertly inserted my IV and taped it down. The IV was not bothersome, but I hated having to remove my earrings and hand them over to my daughter. A scant fifteen minutes later, an army of nurses, anesthesiologists, and orderlies wheeled me down the hall to execute the spinal block.

I do not love people poking around my spinal column in an effort to paralyze me from the waist down.  “Now, honey child,” the anesthesiologist crooned to the young woman standing behind me, “remember everything I showed you.”  Oh my god, a trainee is about to paralyze me! Then a rush of cold moved down my legs, and I watched my feet go limp.  Well, so far so good…unless it’s permanent.

The trip into the operating room was a blur as the knock-out drugs began to take hold.  Time for a nap, old girl, and a new knee. Some time later, my eyes fluttered open, and I heard hammering of metal on metal, like a blacksmith making horseshoes.  Holy crap, the doctor’s hammering my prosthetic into place, and I’m awake. My eyes instinctively moved to the end of the table to watch, but a surgical drape blocked my view. In my drug addled state, I decided that the only sensible thing to do was to sing.  I hummed to test the waters, and nobody seemed to mind; the steady hammering continued.

 So I belted out “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Misérables in perfect time with my surgeon’s hammer. It seemed to go over well…nobody complained, and nobody put me under. I sang the rest of the score, and when I ran out of songs, I moved on to Camelot. My surgeon must not have liked Lerner and Lowe because he abruptly left the room, and I got very sleepy again.

I woke as I was wheeled into recovery and transferred into another bed. I poked at a wadded up blanket next to my side until I realized it was my absolutely numb right hip. “OK, hon, can you wiggle your toes?” my nurse asked. Not likely, since an anesthesiologist trainee paralyzed me for life. She and I looked expectantly at my digits, but there was no movement.

“It’s early, yet,” the nurse said. “You can go back to your singing.” I had kind of hoped that my singing was a drug induced dream. Guess not.

“I really was singing? I asked her.

“Like a canary,” she replied.

BOLLI Matters writer Donna John
Donna Johns is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and new BOLLI member. She now has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.  (Watch for Donna’s upcoming BOLLI Matters feature on movies, videos, and more.  Welcome, Donna!)

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? TOMATO PLANTS…by Maxine Weintraub

TOMATO PLANTS

by Maxine Weintraub

 

“Hey, Susan.–’tis I.  The usual used-to-be-grammatically-correct greeting.”

“Oh, Alice–hang on for sec while I check on Charlie.  Charlie?  Charlie?!”

Being put on hold at our age is a scary thing.  What looks like a small blip on the radar screen could end up being a rogue wave of epic proportions–a ship sinker, for god’s sake.

“Susan??  Is everything okay?”

“Oh, sorry.   Everything is fine except that I think Charlie has somehow flipped out.  Do you know what he has been doing in this heat?  Lugging the tomato plants around from shade to sun.  And he’s talking to them.  i really think he is getting dotty.”

Did I dare tell my friend what I had been doing before I called her?

I had been walking my tomato plants around the front courtyard, chatting with them as I moved them from full blistering sun to partial shade.  Chatting with tomato plants like a crazy old lady who lives alone with piles of outdated newspapers.  Well, I am a bit of a crazy old lady, and I live with my crazy old husband, and I am really into nurturing those tomato plants.  Believe me, I understand my friend’s husband Charlie.  Charlie–balding, rotund, and full of life in his eighties–lending a hand to those tomato plants, supplying that life force we once provided the children.

Now, I don’t talk to geraniums or day lilies, although I may whisper to them from time to time about their beauty and steadfastness.  A rose bush can be verbally scorched for a thorn-pricked bleeding finger.  But the tomato plants are different.  And I will give them all the help they need.  The real problem is the weight of the pot.  As the summer progresses, the pots get heavier and heavier.  If I let them stay in one place, i cannot go away for even a day–in that heat, they need water several times a day.  And that much water is not good for them either.  It tends to leach ]calcium from the soil in the pot, causing blossom end rot.  Now did you REALLY want to know all of that about those damned tomato plants?  And if not, think about the  black spots on the bottom of the tomatoes.  You caused that.  Bad nurturing.  Failure.  Wrong.

Tomato plants need to be raised, cared for, talked to, and moved out of harm’s way.  Be it too much sun, too much water, too much shade, tell them not to worry.  And drag them around.  You’ve got their back.

But oh, Charlie, don’t you sometimes get to the end of your rope?  Sometimes the plants can no longer be lugged around.  They are too heavy, or they don’t want to produce, or the blossom rot just breaks your heart.  Can’t you just look at the darned plant and say it’s time to sink or swim,  Early Bird or Big Boy.  You are on your own.  Leave it be.

Let it go.  You don’t have to care anymore.  Stop dragging them around.  It will kill you.  You will have a heart attack.  Too heavy a load.

They will either thrive, or they won’t . . .

Maxine Weintraub reading
BOLLI Member Maxine Weintraub

Maxine has been taking writing classes with both Betsy Campbell and Marjorie Roemer since joining BOLLI three years ago.  She has also been an active participant in the Writers Guild and serves as the editor of the BOLLI Journal.  In her spare time, she talks to tomatoes…

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? GOLF, OF COURSE

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.”

BOLLI Matters contributing writer Steve Goldfinger

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.