“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.
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.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter: Serious Literature or Adolescent “Slop”
By Dennis Greene
“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at age fifty.” –C. S. Lewis
Unless you have been living under a stone for the past twenty years, you have certainly heard of British author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Ms. Rowling has sold over 500 million copies of this seven-volume “young adult” series published from 1997 through 2007. The series has spawned ten extremely successful films and is frequently credited with encouraging the millennial generation to enjoy reading thick, complex books. This literary phenomenon has made the author a billionaire, and the Harry Potter franchise is now valued at over $25 billion dollars.
The Potter fan base is not limited to young adults. Millions of mature readers have come to know and love the Potter books by sharing them with their children or grandchildren. Others have sampled The Sorcerer’s Stone to see what the fuss was about and discovered, in one reviewer’s words, “the liveliest, funniest, scariest, and most moving children’s stories ever written. The praise from many well-respected reviewers has been effusive. A. N. Wilson in The (London) Times referred to Rowling’s narrative skills as Dickensian while Stephen King predicted that Harry Potter deserved his place on the shelf with Alice, Huck, Frodo and Dorothy. The Mail on Sunday rated The Philosopher’s Stone as “the most imaginative debut since Roald Dahl,” and the Guardian called it “a richly textured novel given lift-off by an inventive wit.”
The skyrocketing commercial success of the Potter books, along with the literary awards and critical acclaim they have received, eventually attracted the attention of the elite literary establishment. Leading the attack on the popular books was Yale Professor and well-known ;iterary critic Harold Bloom. In a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Can 35 Million Book Buyers be Wrong? Yes.” Professor Bloom observed that Rowling’s writing was “dreadful” and the book was “terrible” (note Professor Bloom’s magnificent use of richly descriptive adjectives) and then went on to disparage her readers.
“Why read it?” Bloom said. ” Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book. And yet, I feel discontent with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery or nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages.”
The disparaging comments of this prominent critic, cloaked in the prestige of both Yale University and the Wall Street Journal, was an unwarranted attack on a young novelist whose first published work had achieved startling commercial success. In Rowling’s wizarding world, Professor Bloom would be easily recognized for what he is—a highbrow snob and a bully. If Professor Bloom were rewriting his article today, it would have to be titled “Can 500 Million Buyers Be Wrong? Maybe not.” I have no idea if it was a conscious decision, but in a later Harry Potter book, Ms. Rowling introduces Professor Slughorn, a mercurial, pompous, social-climbing Hogwart’s teacher who hosts dinner parties for “pureblood” students from famous wizarding families while excluding Hermione, the smartest student at Hogwart’s, because she is a “mudblood.” Professor Slughorn might easily have been patterned after a certain Yale literary critic.
Once Professor Bloom opened the floodgates, the deluge from other critics began. One of the first to pile on was Dame A.S. Byatt, an English author with an honorary title and an aristocratic aura, who opined that the Potter books were “written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, reality TV, and celebrity gossip.” Another British newspaper critic predicted that “in years to come, people will make a link between our plump, comfortable, infantilizing society and the popularity of Potter.” Other more measured critics did fairly identify a number of flaws in the Potter books, including tired writing, overuse of clichés, and being too complex for children and young adults to sort out. I don’t know exactly where Harry Potter should rate on the spectrum of young adult books of “literary merit,” but I believe it would be much closer to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Grahame’s Wind in the Willows than to Twilight or The Hunger Games.
After 20 years, the commercial success of the Potter series has assured Rowling and Harry Potter an honored place in popular culture. Whether the Harry Potter books are to stand as one of the great classics of English literature or are ultimately judged to be unremarkable adolescent “slop” as Professor Bloom contends, only time will tell.
I enjoyed spending time in Ms. Rowling’s imaginary wizarding world and coming to know all her unique and definitively drawn characters. But what made these books special tp me was Ms. Rowling’s extraordinary ability to make me care about each character and emotionally participate in their interactions. The seven-year transformation of each of these characters about whom I cared deeply was a poignant coming of age story. Ms. Rowling really “gets” the adolescent experience and makes the reader see it. I still have an emotional reaction when I think of Dobby’s death or Dolorous Umbridge’s tyranny. Along the way there are also trolls to kill, mysteries to solve, backstories to discover, unspeakable evil to oppose, and a series of wonderful friendships to admire. In addition, the books incorporate many of the traditional elements of classical English literature.
The most comprehensive discourse on the literary merits of the Potter books is John Granger’s Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. He describes the way the author meticulously planned and structured the entire narrative before completing the first book. Ms. Rowling was familiar with many of the fundamental patterns of great English literary tradition and seamlessly wove them into her tale. Among the patterns evident in the narrative are:
The traditional Hero’s Journey.
The patterns of Literary Alchemy, a tradition dating back to the middle ages and evident in works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson, Blake, and Joyce. The mythical philosopher’s stone, which is the title of the first Potter book published in England, was the key to medieval alchemy.
Well devised narrative misdirection drives the reader to keep active and on edge through the 4100+ page journey and allows numerous plot twists and surprises.
All the trappings of the English schoolboy novel as established by Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays published in 1857.
Incorporation of numerous postmodern issues and concerns, including class prejudice, slavery, friendship, race, xenophobia, intermarriage, loyalty, family, bureaucratic ineptitude, credibility of the press, gender, individual transformation, tyranny, and, of course, love and death.
If you are a sophisticated reader who enjoys exploring the text to discover literary antecedents and subtext, as some scholars do with Tolkien’s works, there is much in Rowling’s Harry Potter books to examine.
There are many adult readers who haven’t read a Harry Potter book, either because they instinctively dismiss books designated “young adult” or because Professor Bloom and his ilk have driven them away. William Safire, in a New York Times article, argued that “children’s books like Harry Potter are responsible for the infantilization of adult culture,” and Ruth Graham in Slate argued that “adults should be embarrassed to read literature aimed at teenagers.” Faced with such highbrow snobbery, some potential readers may give in to the shaming. But those who do succumb will be doomed to reading only books like Portrait of a Lady,Anna Karenina, and “The Sun Also Rises” and existing in a continual state of depression. Instead, I suggest you look to the wisdom of C. S. Lewis who observed that “on becoming a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
If you are willing to risk being thought childish by literary highbrows, try reading Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone. You may enjoy it and discover for yourself the literary merit encased in Ms. Rowling’s magnum opus.
While Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer, he’s been a pop culture geek and junkiey for sixt. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
Mavis and Marvin were a couple of happy-go-lucky boll weevils living in the deep South in the early 20th Century. At this time, boll weevils were decimating the cotton fields of practically every state in the south. Marvin, being male, thought of himself as superior and the more destructive of the two as he had a heartier appetite, but Mavis, seemingly the lesser of the two weevils, was more discerning. She also had a secret.
Either she happened to read the work of Swedish evolutionary biologists who discovered that female weevils live longer when mated with males bred to reproduce later in life—or she simply noticed that, the more she mated with other weevils, the more energized she felt. And as weevils are not monogamous, she mated a lot. Soon, Mavis started cluing-in her less observant sisters to these dynamics and became the leader of the weevil feminist movement. She set a new longevity record by living to the ripe old age of twenty-one days, outliving Marvin by more than sixty hours.
Mavis’ dedication and lust showed the citizens of Enterprise and surrounding Coffee County that they needed to diversify their crops. It wasn’t long before they became the country’s largest producer of peanuts and, later, peanut oil. In 1919, as a tribute to her leadership and appetite, the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama erected a statue in Mavis’ honor in the middle of town.
Note:There really is a town in southern Alabama called Enterprise, and it does have a monument to the boll weevil. Also, Swedish evolutionary biologists really did discover that female weevils live longer when mated with males bred to reproduce later in life.
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 Committee.
Her name was Audrey, and she was the new girl in school in the fall of 1952. She had long, black, wavy hair, big brown eyes, and blemish-free olive skin. Wearing a sleeveless, bright colored dress, she wasn’t built like Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobridida, but, then, she was only eight years old. I was instantly smitten, and she hadn’t yet spoken a word or looked my way.
Audrey was anxious to make new friends, and I was anxious to be the first in line. Soon after, she invited me to have dinner with her and her parents at her home. One of the most unforgettable experiences of my youth was playing spin-the-bottle with her in her living room while her mother prepared an exotic Italian meal. I used the word “exotic” because my familiarity with Italian food was limited to spaghetti. I had no idea what her mother was cooking, but it smelled great, and I wasn’t really there for the dinner anyway, even though I did enjoy the food. Altogether, it was a very memorable afternoon. I got my first kiss from Audrey and will never forget the aromas emanating from that kitchen.
My budding romance with Audrey came to an abrupt halt only a few weeks later when my teacher caught in the coat room hiding a love note in Audrey’s coat pocket. Miss Weigle (which was, of course, pronounced “wiggle” by most) made me stand in front of the class and read the note out loud. Needless to say, it was an earth-shattering experience for me, and I am sure Audrey was equally embarrassed. It didn’t kill my ardor for her, but it definitely put a damper on our evolving relationship. It would be another five years before I had the courage to admit to others that I had romantic feelings for a member of the opposite sex. In our senior year of high school, she was selected by her peers to be homecoming queen and the most popular female in our class.
I have since learned never to write anything down that I would be embarrassed to have read out loud in front of other people.
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.
Donna offers something different this month –to which we can all, unfortunately, relate all too well!
AFFIRMATIONS FOR LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA
by Donna Johns
My current theater crush, Lin-Manuel Miranda, wrote a book of affirmations called G’Morning, G’Night. These were based on his twice daily tweets. I decided to have some fun with his work by writing my versions of his tweets, adding a dose of reality.
The wind blows cold today
So grab your hat and mittens, then
Go outside and PLAY.
It’s so cold my nose started to run and I didn’t have a tissue so I had to use my mitten and now it’s gross and tossed in dirty laundry so I have one cold hand for the next dog walk. Oh, and the dogs love this weather and stop every three steps to sniff the frozen plants and my toes are going numb waiting for them to produce something so I don’t need to mop the floor again. Does this constitute PLAY?
Perhaps PLAY was hauling all my accumulated trash bags down to the dumpster and how the heck does one person accumulate this much trash in two days although one bag contains most of the icky rotten stuff I found in the back of the refrigerator so that’s my bad. I should stop buying the healthy food. I never have to throw out English muffins, cake, cookies or candy. Just brussel sprouts. And kale.
The Weight Watcher lady told me to take a brisk walk every day so I decided to walk to the convenience store to buy milk and I stuck my one mitten-less hand in my pocket and I remembered to bring tissues and I walked as briskly as my bionic knees would allow.
I met a cheerful man with no hat or mittens driving an ancient Lincoln town car, and his co-pilot was a handsome grey pit bull who appeared friendly, but I’ve read those stories in the Enquirer so I merely waved and did not approach. Milk procured, I discovered that the wind was blowing against me so the tissues were used up, and, yep, I had to use my one good mitten.
Still, Lin, I will call that excursion PLAY because there is no way I’m venturing out of the house again.
How lucky are you?
A fireplace, a blanket,
Fluffy socks. Dream warm.
I don’t have a fireplace and the wind is whistling through my un-weatherproofed windows so I turned on the electric heater which looks like a fireplace but the dogs discovered a heat source and laid down in front of it so now they’re toasty and I’m freezing.
I grabbed a blanket but it smelled funky and I’m not sure whether the dogs did something or I spilled milk on it or whatever so I put it in the washer with my dirty mittens and I’m too lazy to go upstairs to look for another blanket so I guess I’ll just be chilly. My socks are not fluffy and they’re upstairs too so I think I’ll pass on that.
I will try to dream warm (whatever that means) and I can’t wait to see tomorrow’s affirmation.
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.
THE 2020 BOLLI JOURNAL IS NOW ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS!
Yes, the next volume featuring the creative work of our BOLLI membership is underway, and we’re looking forward to seeing your work!
BOLLI members may submit up to four pieces of writing and/or visual art/craft work (total) for consideration. (Nor more than three per member will be published.)
Writing: Any BOLLI member may submit original unpublished fiction, creative nonfiction (including memoir, topical essay, nature, travel, sports, food writing, etc.) poetry, or playwriting. Please double space and number each page of your work, but do not write your name on your manuscript/s. Include a word count below the title of each piece being submitted. (Items not to exceed 1000 words.)
Visual Art/Craft: Any BOLLI member may submit original, unpublished high resolution photographs. High resolution images of original drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, woodworking, etc. may also be submitted.
Sending Materials: Work should be submitted via email although hard copy may be left with Lily Gardner for scanning and sending via email. (No particular computer program is preferred for submission, but all photography should be sent in high resolution.) Indicate “Journal Submission” in the subject line of your email. Material should be provided as attachments. Send to the editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your submission will be acknowledged within a week of its receipt. If you do not receive such acknowledgment, contact editor Sue Wurster at: email@example.com
Editorial Review: All material will be reviewed (as “blind” submissions on a “rolling” basis) by The Journal committee: Managing/Production Editor Sue Wurster and Art Editor Joanne Fortunato; Helen Abrams, Margie Arons-Barron, Lydia Bogar, Betsy Campbell, Miriam Goldman, Dennis Greene, Donna Johns, Marjorie Roemer, Caroline Schwirian, and Larry Schwirian, Genre editors will review, make suggestions for improvement, and present items to the full committee for consideration.
The editor will respond to members with suggestions from the committee for improving submitted work. While we will be reviewing work on a rolling basis, final decisions regarding items to be included in this volume will be made after the September 30 submission deadline when all items will be considered for the volume as a whole.
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?
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.
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.
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.
It took me over a year to discover Amazon Prime’s charming TV series The Magnificent Mrs. Maisel but only two weeks to binge-watch the first two seasons. If you have not done so already, I’d recommend that you add this to your watchlist and catch up before the third season airs in 2019. Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of The Gilmore Girls, is adept at showcasing strong female characters. This time, she switches from Rory and Lorelai’s contemporary life in the storybook Connecticut town of Stars Hollow to focus on the tumultuous lives of a well-to-do Jewish family living on New York City’s upper West Side in the late 1950’s. Rachel Brosnahan, as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, the protagonist and eponymous character, is brilliant as she transitions from a married, seven sisters educated housewife with two kids to a struggling, foul-mouthed stand-up comic whose marriage has ended. Alex Bornstein is a scene stealer as her unlikely manager, and the rest of the large supporting cast–including Marin Hinkle ( Alan’s ex-wife on Two-and-a-Half Men) and Tony Shalhoub (the star of Monk)–are superbly skilled and energetic. The sharp contrast between the Weissmans, Midge’s sophisticated, highly educated and emotionally repressed parents and the Maisels, Midge’s volatile and demonstrative garment industry in-laws, provides an ongoing source of humor and tension. The story is fast paced and the 50’s background music and dress sets the scene perfectly. The emotional twists and turns, punctuated by crisp, humorous dialogue and Midge’s biting stand-up routines make each hour fly by. But these are not the only reasons that 16 episodes left me wanting more.
While anyone may enjoy this series, Jews of “a certain age” with New York City roots may find that the world of Midge Maisel particularly resonates. I left Queens in 1952, when I was seven, and yet, many aspects of Midge’s world evoked strong responses in me. Midge’s parents and her in-laws remind me of people I have known. And we have all seen the conflicts that arise when offspring deviate from their controlling parents’ expected paths. Plus, the scenic background of the show reflects an era I remember fondly. When Midge’s four-year old son was sitting in front of a small black and white TV in his grandparents’ apartment, I caught a glimpse of Froggy the Gremlin, and then Howdy Doody on the screen which transported me back 60 years.
The most poignant images for me, though, were those during Midge and her family’s summer vacation at Steiner’s Mountain Resort, and that surprised me. I had never visited the Catskills with my family. My few visits to the Borscht Belt were after college and had been to chase girls. And yet, I knew just what it would feel like to be a guest at a place like Steiner’s. This could be the result of watching Dirty Dancing too many times, but I believe I have a more real connection. The Weissmans’ stay at Steiner’s made me recall my own family vacations at Camp Winadu when I was a kid.
The name “Winadu” sounds more Native American than Borscht Belt because of a compromise. This boy’s camp in the Berkshires could have been named “Camp Winnick, Nadleson and Dube,” but the three founding friends from Brooklyn shortened that by using the first two letters of each of their surnames. They established a kosher Jewish boy’s camp near Pittsfield, Mass. around 1918. During the 1920s, my rich grandparents sent my Dad from Brooklyn to Camp Winadu to rough it for the summer in cloth tents with rustic “outhouses.” By 1950, the rustic camp had grown to include a comfortable mountain resort with 32 guest rooms and separate guest quarters with a pool and tennis court. There was also a guest dining hall with excellent cuisine.
Following World War II, Winadu alumni like my Dad began getting together at Winadu with their families the week after camp ended. My recollections of those family vacations in the Berkshires don’t seem any different from the Weissman’s annual vacations at Steiner’s.
My more direct experience with the Borscht Belt involved several stays at the famous Concord Hotel. Ken Winnarick, a close college friend, was the grandson of the owner of the Concord, and he occasionally invited a few of us up for a free weekend. Ken’s grandfather Arthur Winnarick, along with many other Borscht Belt resort owners, gave hundreds of aspiring performers their start in show business. I recall once getting stoned in the Concord penthouse and then going down to the bar to see Woody Allen, a new stand-up comedian getting his start. He was pretty good. I think we spoke to him after the show, but I doubt he remembers me.
You don’t need first-hand experience with either the Borscht Belt or stand-up comedy to appreciate Midge’s travails. Almost anyone who has had some exposure to the extended New York Jewish Community will find things which stimulate memories or just make you smile.
If a displaced and out of touch Jew like me, who hasn’t lived in The City for 67 years and never knew a word of Yiddish, can get so immersed in Midge Maisel’s world, I’m sure many of you–especially “real” New Yorkers who remember the golden age of Broadway, waiters at the Carnegie Deli who actually knew what a knish was, or ever purchased lipstick at the cosmetic counter at B. Altman–will enjoy reliving those days with Midge Maisel and her lunatic friends and family. I can’t wait for Season 3 to begin.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since. Most recently, he has led BOLLI study groups in science fiction reading.
My first adult job was at the Library of Congress. The grand old lady with the verdigris dome looks out on the Capitol of the United States. To her right sits the Supreme Court. Spread out around her like a hug are the Senate and House office buildings. The Library exists to serve the needs of Congress and the nation.
Back in the 1970s, Washington D.C. was an open and surprisingly casual city. It was not unusual to spy Ted Kennedy or Edward Brooke strolling from their offices across the big lawn to a roll call vote. Tourists and federal worker bees intermingled with the mighty around the city. The Tune In, a greasy spoon on Pennsylvania Avenue, drew clerks, congressmen, and the occasional movie star. They all hunkered in to vinyl-covered booth seats to grab beer, burgers, and a dose of insults from Ginny, the waitress.
I started out as “Letter N” in the Serial Records Office. That meant that any magazine purchased by or donated to the Libary whose title began with the letter N needed to be recorded by me in our paper files. Some were fun to leaf through at coffee breaks. The New Yorker, New England Journal of Medicine, The Numismatist. Others were deadly dull–all the state publications of Nebraska, North Dakota, Nevada.
Once a week, I went to the “sorting room” in the back where enormous laundry tubs full of N magazines were waiting for me to put into manageable piles. It was in the sorting room that I learned about life in Washington. My tutors were Sam and Ben, two massive, friendly men with voices like Barry White who took a liking to the little white girl from Boston.
They told me were the best crab shacks were, what neighborhoods to avoid, which congressmen liked to pinch bottoms. They spun tales about their salad days and teased me about my accent. They taught me how to drawl and brought me a bowl of chitterlings just to watch me gag.
One day, while I was sorting, I needed to go to the bathroom. I headed for the closest ladies room, one I had not previously used. When I stepped in, two of my co-workers turned from the sinks and looked at me with something that looked like astonishment. I shrugged and ducked into a stall. I could hear them muttering outside, and it didn’t sound pleasant.
When I got back to the sorting room, I cornered Sam. “So what is LaTonya and Ellen’s problem ? When I was in the ladies room, I thought they were going to have a stroke.”
He busted out laughing, took me by the arm, and led me back to the Ladies Room where he pointed to the door. There, I could just make out the faint adhesive remains of the word “Colored” which had been scraped off.
“But that’s illegal,” I sputtered.
Sam nodded in agreement. “But old habits, they die hard. Those girls weren’t made at you. I’m guessing they were shocked. Doubt if any white lady has used a toilet in their EVER.”
I continued to use that restroom, even if it was out of the way from my letter N work station. LaTonya and Ellen got used to it. But the rest of the white ladies? They continued to use the “right” ladies room.
Old habits die hard indeed.
Teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member, Donna has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.
Rather than providing yet another recipe I thought that, this month, I would provide some kitchen thoughts. If you like this occasional side journey, please let me know.
What temperature is my oven?
The recipe calls for you to bake a cake at 375° for 30 minutes, and it doesn’t come out right. Why might that be? First, your oven’s temperature reading might be wrong. It is common for it to be off by as much as 10 degrees. If you have a decent oven thermometer, try this: put the thermometer on the middle rack, midway between the sides; set the temperature to 350 and wait until the thermometer stabilizes. See what it says. Maybe it says 310°. Then try setting it for 350° and see what it says then. If need be, then go to 400° and so on. This will tell you how to adjust your recipe’s instructions to meet your oven’s actual temperature.
Is the temperature the same at different places in my oven?
The configuration of your heating element and how the walls operate might be affecting your oven’s temperature. So, move the sensor to different points in your oven and check it out.
What else is in your oven?
Have you tried to bake three pans of a layer cake, with two on one rack and the third on a lower rack? If so, they won’t bake at the same speed. So when you have to decide when to take each out you’ll have to check the pans separately.
How long does it take for an oven to cool off?
I have a cheesecake recipe that calls for baking, then turning the oven off, and leaving the cake in the oven for an additional period of time. My old oven would cool off quickly. My new oven seems to take forever to cool off, so I have to crack the door.
How to use a meat thermometer
Most of us have meat thermometers that we use to determine whether the turkey or chicken or pork chop is ready. (Cutting into them is not really a good idea as the juices escape.) Additionally, every time you open the oven door to take a reading, the oven temperature might drop 20 degrees. There is a nice solution, and that is a thermometer with a long cord so that it can go into the turkey (or whatever), through the oven door, and to the readout on your counter. I bought a Taylor Model 1470N for about $15.
The thermometer works nicely. I’m told it can also be used for cakes, but I haven’t tried it this way.
John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age. (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)
A blog devoted to the interests of BOLLI members and potential members