firstname.lastname@example.org for meeting link & pdf copy of script (which will also be attached to the April 3 edition of the Bulletin)
There’s something about reading a play out loud together…it just kind of enriches the soul.
So, when I arrived at BOLLI five years ago and saw a Bulletin notice about a Friday afternoon play reading group, I was quick to join, But, alas, Friday afternoons, as we know, are not ideal for BOLLI gatherings. In the winter, as the days grow shorter, we itch to get home before dark, and traffic gets heavy. In the spring, as the days grow longer, we itch to get to the Cape, the Berkshires, or Maine, and traffic gets heavy. The group dwindled in number and eventually petered out altogether…
At this point, though, we could all use some soul enrichment, so it seems to be an ideal time to revive that tradition of gathering to read plays aloud together.
SO–I hit the internet and gathered quite a collection of “old nuggets” (and others) in free pdf form that we might enjoy bringing to life in a “remote” way.
Up for trying this out? I thought it might be fun to start with a beloved comedy, SO–join us next Friday at 2:30 to read Joseph Kesselring’s wonderfully wacky ARSENIC AND OLD LACE aloud together!
Known in some circles as “Wurster the Wily Word Woman,” Sue has acted in, costumed, propped, stage managed, and/or directed countless plays over the course of the past six decades…more recently, she’s even started writing some as well.
I realized that I was stalling. I really didn’t want to go to Morocco. OPEC, Pan-Arabism, and harrowing stories from other tourists all convinced me that this was a trip I could skip. Still, sitting in a camp in Algeciras, Spain, an hour’s boat ride way from Tangiers, I waffled.
Finally, the weather made the decision for me. After five days of rain, cold, and the same conversations with our friends, my wife and I decided to cast fears aside and go to sunny Tangiers. So, off we went with another couple, promising our friends at the camp that we would return that evening in time for a combination birthday/going away party for Fay, John, and the kids.
We were armed with the usual tourist weapons–information and misinformation. We knew that we should not change too much Spanish money into Moroccan dirham since the rate of exchange was only 50%. We knew not to hire an official guide but, instead, wait for the many kids who would approach us and select one we liked. We knew to bargain in the shops. So we were prepared for a grand adventure.
In Tangiers, the women were searched upon entry, but we men coasted through customs. In six hours, the ship would return to Spain, so we headed into the city. As we had been forewarned, a guide with an official badge offered to show us around the town and get us back for either the 2 o’clock or the 6 o’clock ship. When we turned him down, we were suddenly surrounded by kids of all ages who hollered at us in English, French, German, and Swedish about their talents as guides. We answered with international shrugs until one kid who looked like Jerry Lewis impressed us with his hustle, convincing us that he was to be our guide and protector.
Off we went on our thrilling visit. We toured, gaped at the veiled women, ate couscous, and finally, prepared to shop. Steering clear of officially recommended shops, we went to those where our guide knew the owners and would get us good prices. We wandered around one until we found a lovely wall hanging. After the mandatory greetings, mint tea, and haggling over the price, we bought the hanging and tipped the salesman with a ballpoint pen with “U.S. Government” printed on it.
We had missed the 2 o’clock sailing, so we decided to pay our guide and take a leisurely walk to the dock. At five, we arrived at the office outside the port gates to buy tickets for the 6 o’clock sailing. There we were told that the ship had already left. We quoted the official guide who had told us that it did not leave until 6 o’clock and were reminded that 6 o’clock in Spanish time was 5 o’clock in Morocco.
“I knew I shouldn’t have come here,” I thought as panic and fear set in.
But, we decided to see for ourselves. Breaking international records for the 2,000-yard dash over hurdles including the port guard, numerous workers, and two fences, we made it to the dock where the ship was still waiting.
We rushed to the office to buy tickets, only to find it locked. So, we turned to a line of Moroccan officials for help. We told them our problem, and, in soothing tones, they made it worse.
“It is 5:15, and we stop our work at 5:00,” they said.
“But the ship is still here. Just let us buy tickets,” we said.
“You cannot get on the ship without having your visas stamped. The tickets would do you no good without visas,” they said.
“So stamp the visas,” we said.
“We cannot. It is 5:15, and we stop our work at 5:00,” they said.
“But the ship…!” we said.
“Do not worry, the women can come with us for a very pleasant stay in Tangiers,” they said.
“No, thank you,” we said, visions of harems and court eunuchs filling our heads.
Soon, it was quiet. No ship. No officials. Just four stranded tourists with no Moroccan money, no warm clothes for the night, and no place to stay. We were scared.
Suddenly, a young man walked by and said something to us in Arabic, then French, and, after receiving no response, in Spanish. We told him our story, and he asked if we would be interested in staying here. Here? There was nothing here but an empty dock and the port authority building. He motioned for us to follow him into the port authority, where he led us to the upstairs waiting room and introduced us to his boss, the head night watchman.
The boss welcomed us with offers of tea, hashish, and stories about other tourists who had had similar experiences. He showed us pictures of other strand-ees who had spent the night there. One group of travelers had ended up spending every night of their week-long vacation at the building and, when their mother came to visit Tangiers the following year, she immediately checked into the “hotel” where she was welcomed like one of the family. We spent the evening playing cards, swapping stories, talking about life, and being chided for not having any children while our senior host had nine, the last born when he was 67.
Promptly at 10:00, the couches in the lounge were placed together to make four beds, and we were assigned sleeping places. We two men slept on the outside beds while the women slept together on the double bed between us. No other arrangement was acceptable to our host. At six in the morning, we were woken up after a restful sleep even though the women were a little tired from whispering and laughing until the wee hours.
We were so happy with the hospitality and so grateful that the women’s honor and our men’s parts were intact that we offered some small gifts and money. But they refused everything, telling us that all they wished from us was a letter when we returned home. This we did, and we continued corresponding with our junior host, trying to help get him into an American university.
Our port authority hotel will never be written up in a Michelin Guide, but for us, it was the best night we ever spent with friends.
Sandy Sherizen has been a member of BOLLI for about 10 years. He has taught classes on privacy, the invisible forms of manipulation, sociology of deviant behaviors, Jews secretly surviving forced conversion during the Inquisition and, currently, crime and criminal justice. He was a sociologist, criminologist and cybersecurity consultant.
I have a superhero in my life who wears superhero shirts, reads superhero books, loves superhero stories, draws superhero figures, and talks about all things superhero things.
I don’t know how it happened exactly that my adorable four-year old grandson has turned into a superhero in the last few months, but he has. Whenever we go to the library now, he knows just where to find the superhero books in the superhero section. It seems like picture books won’t do anymore, until he scares himself with all the superhero pictures and decides to curl up in my lap with a picture book we can enjoy together. Today, he told me he likes robots. I said I prefer people because they have feelings and are not machines. Then he wanted to know “Why do machines break down?” and I got to explain about mechanical parts wearing out and hoped he wouldn’t draw any connections to old knees and old hips wearing out too. As my dentist said last week, when he fixed a tooth I’d chipped crunching on an almond, “The whole business is wearing out, not just your teeth!”
In any case, my grandson is full of questions and looks to me for answers which I try to supply. Today, he wanted to know what came before houses? I said people began by living in caves. “You mean like the ones with bats in them?” (We had just seen a nature film with a huge cave filled with thousands of bats!) I assured him that not all caves have bats in them, and if they do, they do not have that many. I detected a sense of relief. I told him, too, that some people also lived in tents, especially in warm weather. And, I added, some people made houses out of mud and sticks or out of wood. As for bricks, they were made of baked clay stacked on top of each other. He was quiet, absorbing all of this. When we got home, I took out a book on the Lascaux caves that I haven’t looked at in over 50 years, and he got to see some of the cave drawings, immediately recognizing the bulls, deer, and horses!
Later on, he did some drawings of his own. He drew some of the letters of the alphabet which he transformed into people. We stapled these pages together and made a book he could take home with him. No superheroes on these pages, just big smiling faces with blob bodies and stick arms and legs–my grandson’s early drawings of recognizable humans, not machines or robots.
When I took him home, he handed me a gift and said, “It’s Batman!” In my hand, I found a tangerine peel in the shape of the Batman sign with the word “Batman” written inside in magic marker! I smiled and thanked my superhero for this special gift.
My interests? Music. Art, language, psychology, nature, science, travel. My professions? Teaching preschool and working with children/young adults as a psycho-analytically trained therapist. Married to scientist Larry for over 50 years and now enjoying grandchildren, curating my father’s artistic legacy, writing, and gardening!
From Lydia Bogar: Books–Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Greff, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. TV–NCIS, M*A*S*H* Series (Netflix, Amazon)–Grace & Frankie. Movies–Same Time Next Year, Out of Africa, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.
From Bonnie Seider: Books–Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens; The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides; Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriority. TV–This is Us; A Million Little Stars; Dancing with the Stars. Series (Netflix, Amazon)–Modern Love; The Kominsky Method; Poldark; Dead Again. Movies–After the Wedding; The Good Liar
From Sandy Miller-Jacobs: Books—When by Daniel Pink; A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari; Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. TV—This is Us; The Good Doctor; HGTV – Property Brothers; 60 Minutes; Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates. Series (e.g., Netflix, Amaon)–The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; The Baker & The Beast (in Hebrew with English subtitles); The Kominsky Method; Grace & Frankie; The Crown. Movies—My Cousin Vinny; Judy; Annie Hall; Gigi.
From Kathy Wangh: Books—The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal; The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason.
From Helen Abrams: Books—Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout.Series (e.g., Netflix, Amazon): A French Village.
From Sophie Freud: Books—Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari; 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari; The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission that Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Calhalan. Series (e.g., Netflix, Amazon)–The Crown.
From GuestBill Gates: Books— An American Marriage by Tayari Jones; These Truths by Jill Lepore; Growth by Vaclav Smil; Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker; Prepared by Diane Tavenner.
Sandy created and has been leading BOLLI’s “Aging with Resilience” SIG for over a year now. She–and the group as a whole–welcome all interested BOLLI members to join. Remote access to the group’s discussions and activities will soon be provided.
For the next couple of months, we will all be spending a lot more time at home which gives us an opportunity to do things you might have thought about but not tried. This post is certainly not complete, but it provides some thoughts.
Courses: About 10 years ago, I heard that there was going to be an online course on artificial intelligence taught by two Stanford Professors. Course “chapters” would come out weekly, and the entire course would stay up for some number of months. It was free, and you could watch at any time or even multiple times. There were quizzes (computer graded) and, as I recall, a test at the end. My memory is foggy, but something like 100,000 people signed up to take the course. It was very difficult and heavily mathematical and wasn’t really what I wanted, so I skimmed the last half. About 5000 people finished. Some viewed that as a failure; I thought that 5000 finishing a course was fantastic.
In the last few years, some MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have a charging option where a professor grades papers, and some places (I think Carnegie Mellon is one) even use them within a degree program.
I have taken maybe 20 MOOC courses. Among them, I’ve taken The Science of Cooking from Harvard; Basic Genetics from MIT; Michael Sandel’s Harvard course on Justice; three courses on the Civil War. One nice feature is that you can take just as much as you want. If you know nothing about a subject, you might do the first half a dozen lectures and decide that the itch has been scratched.
TED Talks. www.Ted.com I have listened to dozens of TED talks. They are generally about 15 minutes long and you can easily look for those in a specific category, those put up most recently, or those that are the most popular. The most popular ones have had millions of views. I won’t list my favorites.
Books. There are lots of ways to get books as all of you know, and virtually everything is available through Kindle or a similar system. There are many books that are available free, particularly those who have outlived the copyright. That, of course, includes the “classics”. My friend Steve Isenberg has compiled a rather long list of sites through which one can obtain free on-line books. He has agreed to let me share it: https://wiki.toku.us/doku.php?id=free_ebooks
Let’s keep each other posted on good online activities for us to consider during these days at home.
A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this BOLLI Matters feature. In the comment box below, provide him with questions, comments, or suggestions about future tech items to cover.
I can’t even imagine how we would have managed to keep ourselves sane during this kind of situation in the days before the internet and social media–all of that technology is certainly proving to be invaluable at the moment!
So, what can we share about how we’re spending our time these days? Here are some thoughts and suggestions from some BOLLI members–and we’d all appreciate more!
First, for those of us who love theatre, I did a little “arts and entertainment” culling of The New York Times and found a couple of gems. I have two young high school friends who, last week, were bemoaning the fact that Newton Northhad just completed their tech/dress rehearsal, opening and closing of Hello, Dolly!–all in one night. They had some good pictures to share, which certainly showed off their tech work, but, of course, the pictures couldn’t really provide the essence of the musical–the music! NYT’s theatre editor Scott Heller says that many are taking kids like Jayce and Dylan to heart and are finding ways to share their work. (Click on this link for an uplifting article: NYT article about school musicals)
And here’s a piece about other ways to view theatre these days: (Click here for another NYT article: other ways to see theatre)
A variety of Writers Guild, Photo Group, and other BOLLI members share their recommendations:
Lois Sockol says that, “Now that I have some at-home time on my hands, here’s a couple of rewarding things I’ve done. I made the decision (for the 100th time) to sort through and organize a collection of family pictures. After an hour or so, nothing was organized, but I had such a happy time rummaging through years of delightful memories! I have also discovered that some museums have virtual tours, and although the experience doesn’t provide quite the same thrill as my original visits, what a delight to roam the corridors of the Louvre and the British Museum! There are other virtual tour museums as well. I just haven’t as yet made the journey, but I will.
“Part of me says get into bed,” Maxine Weintraub recommends, “turn on old movies, and eat coffee ice cream.” She adds that she’s taken to dancing to country music on channel 534. (“Or maybe it is 538.”) in her nightgown for fifteen to thirty minutes every morning. She promises to leave her building once a day to either take a walk or a drive–windows open, good music playing loudly on the car radio. She says she’s been doing some harder stuff–“working on the collection of short stories I have been fiddling with for years.” Staying in touch with good friends who are also incarcerated is key– as is trying not to get annoyed at being labeled “the elderly.”
Max seems to have inspired Larry Schwirian who has taken to long walks with others (but finds it hard to communicate with fellow walkers when trying to maintain 6 foot distances between them) and suggests that “We could have a pajama fashion show.”
Lydia Bogar, too, echoes Max’s promise to get out of the house. “The sun is shining. Take a walk,” she says. “Walk a long loop around your neighborhood and then drive it to measure the distance. Tomorrow, walk a longer loop and measure that. By the time you are ready to walk the Turnpike in the breakdown lane, the panic will have passed.
For those who need new viewing options, Kathy Wangh shares a link to free streaming sources. Click here ,
Of course, we’re all reading. BOLLI Matters technology writer and resident chef John Rudy offers a link about free e-books.
Mel Markowitz suggests trying ham radio! “I’ve been a ham since 1958 and just spoke with Damian, 3000 feet above sea level on the side of a volcano, in the Canary Islands 🇮🇨!”
Donna Johns, who says her tub has never been so clean, is a fan of the online MasterClass program.
(I am a Khan Academy fan.)
Edie Aldort is also a walker–she’s appreciating the fact that the drone of traffic has lessened a bit, but she’s wondering if her dog needs to maintain a 6 foot social distance from other canines…
“This morning I am feeling grateful to be retired, in a warm, cozy house, with plenty of food and entertainment opportunities,” says Linda Braun. She adds that her book group met online via Zoom. “We all saw and heard one another very well; I hope some of our classes will resume using that resource.” (Stay tuned, Linda!)
My 9 month-old grandbaby provides lots of ideas: play with the wastebaskets, dump all the bins of videos on the floor and then try to get out of the pile, pull the whole basket of old Plays magazines off the shelf and watch them slide everwhere–then try eating the covers; empty the family room toy bin, rolling everything that is round or has wheels. If it doesn’t roll, just try to eat it instead. The 19 and 21 year-olds provide their share as well: raid the fridge, cupboards, and pantry–leave empty bags, boxes, and bottles on the kitchen counters…or the floor. Cook stuff, using as many pots and pans as possible–leave them on the stove or, occasionally, in the sink but certainly don’t rinse them. Or just order in and charge it to Mum…
The hoarding of toilet paper, paper towels, wipes, and, worst of all, the baby formula my grandboy needs is so demoralizing…
BUT yesterday, on our neighborhood online message board, people were posting things like, “Am going to CVS at about 3:15—need anything?” and “My 8th grade son is volunteering to take out your trash, rake your yard, clean out your garage, or whatever.” Seeing the neighborhood functioning like a true neighborhood is a pretty uplifting thing.
As is Gene Kupferschmid‘s view of “Two mourning doves making love on my little balcony. A glimpse of Spring.”
Don’t lose heart–our BOLLI courses will start going online in the coming week!
“This is a time to appreciate and share gratitude for all the positive things we have in our lives. Family, friends, neighborhood, access to food. We have each other for support. I am sending an email embrace to all of you. No risk of infection! Hugs and Health,” Marty Kafka
So, in the comment box below, tell us what you’re doing to keep alert and busy! Share books, movies, and tv shows of interest. Send other ideas to BOLLI Matters’s blogmaster: email@example.com.
Prompt: “Chopped” Writing – as in the Food Channel show of the same name; writers use a set of unusual ingredients to create a piece of writing.
In this case, the ingredients were:
3 Objects: a bugle, a pair of scissors, a dying plant 2 People: a police officer and a fairly deaf patron 1 Place: the library
Alice Whitehead was a librarian for over 50 years. She started when still in high school, then went to college to earn a degree in Library Science, and was anointed chief librarian after graduation. Married to her high school sweetheart Rolf, a police officer, she raised three sons…all of whom spent time with her in the library after school. By the time they graduated, each had read practically every book the library had to offer.
She loved her books and her work, and she always looked forward to meeting and helping new families in the community. Over the years, she helped to teach many young lads and lassies how to do research and find references. Teaching youngsters how to read between the lines was one of her specialties. Alice was one of the most widely read and respected people in the county when it came to understanding and promoting Shakespeare and other classic literature.
Now in her mid-70s, Alice knew that her time at the library was nearing an end, and she wanted to show her appreciation to the community by planning a celebration. As a very humble person, she didn’t want to make the party about herself or her retirement. There was one living thing in the library that was even older than Alice and clearly was now slowly dying. Mama Jade, a potted plant, deserved to be celebrated. This icon of resilience had occupied the same spot in the reading room since before anyone could remember. Alice had watered and diligently nurtured Mama Jade since she was a teenager, and both grew up and aged together gracefully.
Over the decades, hundreds of clippings had been entrusted to families throughout the county, and Alice, being a librarian, kept copious records of every family or individual recipient. She contacted those who had received original clippings and asked these people to contact others who had received second, third, or fourth generation clippings to become part of the celebration.
On the appointed day, close to two hundred people, including the chief of police, showed up to celebrate both Mama Jade and Alice. There was food and drink for everyone, but the highlight of the celebration was Alice, with her sparkly silver scissors, standing next to Mama Jade. It was Alice’s intent to help give Mama Jade a glorious ending by systematically clipping her remaining appendages and ceremoniously offering them to onlookers. To add to the solemnity of the final act, Alice’s grandson, a twelve-year-old Boy Scout, raised his bugle and began playing Taps. Nearly everyone in the audience was deeply moved, and 98-year-old Matilda Higgins, a near deaf library patron, was in tears even though she could hardly hear the bugle.
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and have led BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.
The saucepan I hurled across the slight expanse of my efficiency apartment clattered against the radiator and rolled up against the bathroom door. The mouse didn’t even blink. I swear it just shrugged its shoulders and yawned. Totally blasé. “Geez!” I thought. “Even the mice in New York are tough.”
Keeping my eye on the creature, I managed to back across the room to the safety of the sofa where I tucked my feet up under the pillows, pulled out my phone, and dialed. Oh, pick up, Deb. Pleeeeease, pick up, I breathed as the phone rang across the hall.
“Oh, thank God you’re home!” I shouted as my neighbor and best friend answered.
“If you’re going to shout, why bother with the phone? It’s not like this is long distance–”
“Deb, listen! This is important. I need to borrow Cleo. There’s a mouse in here!”
Within minutes, Deb—with Cleo in hand—cautiously opened my door. “Is it still here?” she asked, hoping, of course, that the rodent had left the premises.
I nodded toward the radiator where he was maintaining his totally unconcerned cool. If he had been wearing a t-shirt, a pack of Camels would have rested under one sleeve.
“Oh, my God—it’s a mouse all right.”
Deb set her large black and white lap cat down on the braided rug, directly in its adversary’s line of sight, and hopped onto the couch with me to witness what was sure to be a dramatic stand-off.
Cleo pawed the rug, stretched, circled, and laid down for a nap.
“Kill!” Deb urged, extending her long right leg and nudging her recalcitrant feline with her size 11 foot.
The mouse sauntered back to his hole under the radiator pipes.
“What’s with your cat? Hasn’t she ever seen a mouse before?”
“Quite possibly not,” Deb mused. “But, anyway, he’s gone—probably scared off by the threat of Cleo’s mere presence.”
“Oh, right,” I responded snidely. “Did you see the look on his face? He smirked at us.”
“I think he rolled his eyes first,” Deb added.
“What if he comes back? Like, when I’m trying to sleep? What if he–”
“Want Cleo to sleep over?” Deb offered.
“Will you stay too?”
Five hours later, I hissed at my friend who was asleep on the couch. “Deb! He’s on the dresser!”
The clear sound of tiny feet scrabbling across the wood surface was followed by a deep and resonant Clunk!
“What was that?” Deb whispered.
“The wastebasket!” I realized. “He must have gone over the edge and landed in the bin! Quick! Get that cookie sheet from the counter.”
“Uh, this is hardly the time to be thinking about cookies–”
“To put on top of the basket, dimwit!”
“Oh, yeah—that makes sense.” Deb hopped to the kitchenette while I grabbed the basket and braved a glance inside. The mouse was there all right. And at this point, he was not rolling his eyes or smirking at us, but he was also clearly not in the least bit pleased.
“Now what?” Deb asked.
“Malcolm will know what to do.”
In the lobby, Malcolm—our totally intimidating, brawny, former Green Bay Packer doorman and the toughest guy in all of New York’s five boroughs—quivered. He actually trembled when we proffered the basket.
“A mouse?” he shuddered. “…in there?” After we nodded, Malcolm the Giant took an extremely deep breath and, still clearly unnerved, reached gingerly for the bin. Holding it stiffly, arms fully extended, he carried it, like an unexploded bomb, across the lobby to the rear hallway. “Come on,” he directed. We followed.
“Okay. It’s gonna go like this,” he said in the back hall as the theme from Mission Impossible pulsed in my head. “We’re gonna use the alley door–and we’ve gotta be quick.”
When our little parade reached the huge and heavy service entrance door, Malcolm handed me the bin and turned the huge crank to unbolt the old metal portal. “You don’t care about the wastebasket do you?” he asked cautiously.
“Hardly!” I blurted. “And it’s not like I’ll ever use the cookie sheet again either.”
“Okay,” Malcolm breathed. And then, like a massive Scotsman winding up for the hammer throw of a lifetime, he reared back, lunged forward, and let the bin rip into the back alley. By the echoing sounds of metal whacking against cement block and brick, it must have landed nearly a block away. Nonetheless, Malcolm instantly pulled the ponderous door shut, threw the bolt back in place, and crumpled against the jamb, panting like he had just escaped a bloodthirsty, invading Mongol horde pounding down the alley with battering rams.
Once his breathing slowed to almost normal, Malcolm mustered an awkward, even apologetic grin. “Um…” he finally managed, “can we, like, just keep this just between the three of us? I mean, it’s kind of…”
“Don’t say another word,” Deb soothed.
“It’s our secret,” I assured him, crossing my heart.
We beamed in admiration as we led our hesitant hero back to the safety of his front lobby desk.
Marty Kafka’s obsessive deep concern over his apparent muricidal nature brought to mind my own memorable moment with a mouse. Recently, I had to have my house de-squirrel-ized with a trap door under the eaves similar to what Marty describes. That night, I dreamed that, in the morning, I found hundreds of indignant squirrels standing on my back porch, their arms crossed in defiance, staring murderously at me…
Big Brother Bob Emery opened his television show with a ukulele rendition of “The Grass is Always Greener in the Other Feller’s Yard.” Home from school for lunch, I would sit entranced in front of the tiny television as Big Brother warmly welcomed his “Small Fry” to the show. I was a card-carrying member of the Small Fry Club, as were all my friends.
Big Brother led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a Hail to the Chief toast to the portrait of Dwight Eisenhower. Of course, we all toasted with milk. Then, he would show a Popeye cartoon, have a little puppet show, and teach us about manners like saying “please” and “thank you.” He signed off with another ukulele song: “So Long, Small Fry. It’s Time to Say Goodbye.”
I envied the children spread out on the carpet around Big Brother. I wanted nothing more than to meet him and hear his kindly voice praise me for one thing or another. Then, he began collecting money for good causes in the community, starting with relief money for the Worcester Tornado victims.
When I was a Brownie, I suggested that we help raise money for the Jimmy Fund and take it to Big Brother. Everyone was excited, and we begged for money from every relative. With a tidy sum collected, we got our invitation to attend the show. I was in heaven.
We arrived at the studio, and one of Big Brother’s “helpers” whipped us into shape. We were on the right side of his chair. Cub Scouts sat to his left. We waited for Big Brother to arrive. And waited. And waited some more. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity and my hero walked right past us, said not a word, sat down with a sigh, and began strumming. We were on television.
The man never acknowledged us. No compliment for our much practices, crisp salute to the flag. No pat on the head. He never even took our envelope of money. He thanks the Cub Scouts instead. When the show was finished, he walked briskly out of the studio.
I went home and threw my Small Fry Club membership card away. I never watched Big Brother again.
MORAL: It’s fine to have heroes. Just don’t meet them.
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 recent winter weather was particularly harsh when Adam heard them scamper behind the walls of his bedroom. He reported the noises as a matter of fact the next morning while we savored Scottish lox and fresh bagels, a brunch indulgence that commemorates his visits from the West Coast.
This was not the first time we had been afflicted by mice, but it had been many years since their last visitation. I quietly ventured up into our attic, the repository of our family papers, tax returns, old furniture, and pictures. If we couldn’t part with a belonging, it resided in our attic. With lots of open space and a slanting low ceiling, we rarely visited this no-man’s land of exiled possessions.
I could have let the matter drop, but about a decade ago, we found a dead mouse on our upstairs steps–inside our living space. I’m an upper-middle class liberal by nature, but my big tent doesn’t include house mice. Something had to be done.
From our last encounter with these shy rodents, I had purchased two mouse traps. Not the kind that loudly cracks the neck of the victim when they are inexorably drawn by winter’s cold and hunger to the irresistible bait. Rather, I had two mouse traps that were advertised as “humane–no chemicals, no glue, no electricity, no poison.” Stick the bait in the back of the five-inch long, hollow cylindrical trap, and when the mouse visits at night, a one-way trap door closes behind them. There are a few breathing holes so that, while contained, in theory, the mouse is supposed to remain alive, but it literally can’t move. It can’t turn around–it is immobilized. Carefully, I cut out home-made cardboard feeding squares, smeared Whole Foods organic peanut butter on the squares, placed them at the back of the traps, and waited patiently.
For a couple of days, there was no action at the traps so I stopped my daily checking. After a few more days passed, however, Karen reminded me to check the traps—so, on the next morning, I did. Two immobilized mice–both dead, were just starting to decay. I carefully carried the traps and their prey outside with gloved hands, spilled their contents in a remote section of our back yard, cleaned the traps scrupulously in our basement utility sink, and let the seasoned mousetraps rest.
Like the nocturnal activity of the meek mice, it was during my bedtime hour that insidious thoughts of my callous disregard of innocent life came back to taunt me, reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s TheTell-Tale Heart. I was a cold-blooded muricidal killer. I was merciless. I let those helpless rodents suffer. Did they die from brute starvation, from asphyxiation, from hypothermia?
I had dehumanized these innocent creatures. I trapped them effectively, but now I was also trapped–by the obsession of my own remorse. Maybe I should have just let the mice set up a home base in our attic? Live and let live! But what if they mated in the coming spring? Would we have a rodent family surviving by nibbling away at our old tax returns? Or worse, a family of varmints crawling down to our family living space again, this time spreading some vicious infectious disease, like vampire mice seeking bloody vengeance?
Fortunately, as time has passed, I have been able to dismiss these lurid guilty thoughts, but is that really a good thing for my mental health? Has my conscience become irrevocably hardened as an unintended consequence of capturing and killing undocumented immigrant mice seeking any available shelter? Am I a cold-blooded muricidal maniac?
In penance, I vow to purchase new, larger traps so mice can be apprehended but not immobilized. I sincerely hope that I have murdered my last mouse–may those I did dispatch rest in peace in a fabled, far-away land of plenty.
Marty Kafka is a retired psychiatrist whose passions include his wife Karen and their family, international travel, and jazz piano.
In addition, Marty has found a retirement career taking BOLLI classes, writing memoir, and being active in the Photography special interest group.
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