Tag Archives: writers

MEET MEMBER JUDY BLATT: ALWAYS A TWIST

BOLLI Member Judy Blatt has a natural flair for the dramatic. (Here she performs with the Scene-iors Acting Troupe.)
BOLLI Member Judy Blatt has a natural flair for the dramatic. (Here she performs with the Scene-iors Acting Troupe.)

I was an elementary school teacher for over thirty years, Judy Blatt says, first in New York City and then in Sudbury.  I retired in the year 2000. I always liked to write.  While I was teaching, I wrote plays for the children in my classes. When I retired, I joined BOLLI and began to write both memoir and fiction. I swim laps early in the morning four days a week.  There are no distractions in the pool, so it’s a perfect place to think and come up with ideas for stories.  

Judy has been a “regular” participant in Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing classes, and her work is always applauded by her classmates and SGL.   She is currently taking Betsy’s “Five Stories in Five Weeks” course, and the pieces she wrote for two of Betsy’s assignments are included here. For the first, “Waiting,” the task was to write a short piece about three people who are all waiting in line at the same place. And for the second, “How to Be the Life of the Party,” the challenge was to do an instructional piece using the second person point of view.   As you will see, Judy’s point of view tends to take unexpected turns.

WAITING

 The line moved slowly past the open casket. The widow, hysterical just a few hours earlier, remained upright and subdued thanks to the family doctor’s injection and pills. As each mourner stopped to pay respects and murmur, “Sorry for your loss,” the grieving widow quietly thanked them. But as soon as they walked away, she turned to her daughter and whispered, “What will I do without him?” or “He was the perfect husband,” or “he was such a good man.”

 Before long, every eye in the funeral home was on Lani–model, actress, drama queen and long-time mistress of the deceased. Dressed in a long black raincoat, sunglasses, and an ill-fitting black wig, she stood, sobbing loudly, in front of the open casket. Lani had announced beforehand that she would slip into the wake quietly and mingle with the crowd in order to go unnoticed by the widow. It was often said by those who knew Lani that she was dumb as a doorknob, but was she?

Benny Scorboni bent over the coffin and scrutinized the corpse carefully to make sure it was actually Gabe Hammer and that this wasn’t another one of his tricks. Satisfied that it was the man who owed him fifty thousand dollars, Benny longed to reach in, grab the dead guy, and kill him all over again. Now he would never get his money back. “I’m the only one here with a real reason to cry,” he thought.

 

HOW TO BE THE LIFE OF THE PARTY

Dear Problem Solver,

My husband works with a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. He won’t listen when I tell him that I’d rather put my head in a plastic bag than be forced to spend another evening with his boring colleagues and their wives. What should I do?

Miserable and Depressed

*

Dear Miserable and Depressed,

If you want to enjoy yourself at the party, then you will have to be the one to provide the fun. But first, you must be prepared. This is a list of what you will need:

A harmonica

A bright red dress with a low bodice and a matching jacket

A pair of long gloves (elbow length)

A deck of cards

A pair of flat shoes

You will also need to learn to play a few danceable ditties on the harmonica and study a movie starring Marilyn Monroe

It is common knowledge that nothing brings a party to life more than music. It’s difficult to carry a piano or a harp, but a harmonica will slip easily into your purse.   As soon as the men head toward the library and the women begin chatting about their grandchildren, whip out your harmonica and begin playing one of the tunes you practiced. The beauty of the harmonica is that you will be able to play and dance at the same time. As soon as the others hear the catchy rhythm and see you dancing, they will join in.

But if that doesn’t work:

The purpose of the jacket worn over your dress was to keep your spouse from having a fit before you left the house. He will be too embarrassed to say a word in front of other people, so you can now remove it and reveal whatever you have to reveal. When all eyes are on you, that’s the time to think like Marilyn Monroe. What would she do in this situation? Sit on the boss’ lap? Sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”? You’ll think of something. Flirting definitely livens things up and gives everyone something to talk about, not only for the evening but for the following days or weeks.

But if that doesn’t work:

Pull out the cards, suggest a game of poker, and start slowly peeling off those long gloves. When your husband stands up and looks as if he is about to murder you, it will be time to run. You’ll be so glad you wore those flat shoes.

Now your problem is solved because you can be sure he’ll never want to take you to one of those boring parties again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEET MEMBER DAVID CHAPIN: “FOREVER IN CONTROL”

David
BOLLI Writer, David Chapin

During my 40 year career as an academic gynecologist, the only writing I did was technical, for journals, teaching, or medical-legal opinions. I expressed my creativity in the operating room, performing innovative and original reconstructive procedures. I have been a closeted humanities lover all along, however, taking courses in Shakespeare and classical music while majoring in Physics in college. Now that I’ve retired and discovered BOLLI, writing memoir and short stories has come to the fore.

FOREVER IN CONTROL

by David Chapin

The organist played Gershwin tunes as the mourners filed in. Almost everyone chatted with his or her neighbors. Self-appointed “ushers” moved up and down the aisles attempting to keep the seating orderly. A mood of almost inappropriate levity prevailed. The synagogue, the largest in town, filled to capacity a full half-hour before the scheduled start and then overflowed into the foyer and the community hall on the other side. Family, former co-workers, mentees, and friends. Brilliant rays of sun sliced through the panes of the floor-to-ceiling window, illuminating the bimah from behind.

A brilliant attorney, a celebrated raconteur, and an inveterate jokester, Eli had dominated virtually every personal encounter he had ever faced. His bright blue eyes sparkled when he smiled, and he captivated every audience, the life of every party. Those eyes could cut right through you like a spear when he was angry. Fun-loving on one hand, a rigid disciplinarian on the other, you either hated him or loved him. Especially if you were one of his children. I was glad I wasn’t. He wanted nothing but the best for them, but he rode them relentlessly to do well in school, to perform their household chores, to take responsibility for their actions. If you lost your gloves, “you could ski barehanded,” he said. At his law firm, he was known for firing incompetent associates on the spot and riding and disciplining the good ones as if they were his children. You either hated him or loved him.

Eulogizers, one after another, told Eli’s favorite jokes or recounted hilarious, intense, or scary incidents. No one except his wife and children had seen Eli for at least five years, as he had descended the downward spiral of Alzheimer’s. The piercing blue eyes had turned blank; the smile had become a droopy frown; the jokes and stories had faded away. The firm managed to carry on without him. Nonetheless, his everlasting humor, his no-nonsense approach to business, and his overpowering personality persisted in everyone’s memory. So they came.

Eli’s friend Billy spoke from the pulpit. “A recent arrival at a Florida retirement community meets a more seasoned resident at breakfast,” he begins. “I am unhappy, the man says to his new friend. There is nothing for me to do here. How come you are always happy and smiling? The other man says, ‘it is easy to be happy here; you just need a hobby.’ You got a hobby? ‘Yeah, I got a hobby. I catch bees.’ How do you do that? asks the unhappy fellow. ‘I go out with a jar and a net. I catch the bees in the net, and then I dump them in the jar and close the top.’ You got holes drilled in the top, right? ‘No. I just screw it on tight.’ But don’t they die? ‘Sure. So what? It’s only a hobby.’”

Everyone knew Eli’s favorite joke, but it was still funny. After the laughter died down, Billy descended from the pulpit and shook hands all the way up the aisle as if he had just read from the Torah on Shabbat. Eli’s former junior law partner Lenny then ascended to the lectern.

“In my first year with the firm, we were handling the bankruptcy of a dairy farm. Eli sent me to the farm to inventory the cows. I arrived to find three men loading the cows into a truck. I went to the payphone on the corner and called Eli. ‘Under no circumstances are you to allow them to take the cows away,’ he bellowed into the phone, ‘keep them there; I am calling the police.’ I went back to the farm. The men had just finished loading the last cow into the truck. Faced with the prospect of having to return to the office and tell Eli that the cows had been carried away, I laid down in the driveway in front of the truck until the police arrived.”

Again uproarious laughter and nodding of heads as most of us recognized this oft-told tale. Eli’s body may have been in the coffin, but he was still controlling the room. He would have loved the laughter.

As I savored my memories of Eli and enjoyed the jokes and stories, my mind wandered to the time of my father’s funeral several years earlier.

My father, a businessman, came home from work at 6:30. Dinner would be on the table. Meat and potatoes. His sense of humor was subtler than Eli’s. You had to know him to know when he was joking. With his children, he relied more on setting high expectations and showing quiet disapproval when they went unmet. At his office, younger executives learned by following his example, not by reprimand. He quietly maintained control with his calm demeanor and deep understanding of the business. When angry, he said a menacing, “Now look!” accompanied by a glare that made you snap to.

My father played golf with Mort Etkin almost every Saturday and Sunday throughout the short Buffalo summers. Neither one of them ever broke 100. Mort, appropriately named, was the undertaker; also appropriately, had no sense of humor. Knowing Mort so well socially, my father had worked with him on all the funeral details of various uncles, aunts, grandparents, and even some friends. He knew which coffin to order, which vault was best, and all the Talmudic rules of the Shiva observance.

Dad died after a four-year battle with cancer. Stoicism, grit, and determination had exuded from him as he went through chemo, radiation, and still more chemo. With great effort, he dragged himself to work every day until two weeks before he died. Immediately upon returning to the house from the hospital where he died, my mother brought out a piece of paper in his oh-so recognizable scrawly handwriting, with a list of answers to Mort’s expected questions. “Call Etkin,” she said.

“Dad died.”

“I was expecting that,” Mort replied. “Will you come down to pick out the coffin?”

“American Casket Company catalog number 1050B.” I read answer number one from the list.

“And a vault.”

“Vault number 8350.” Number two on the list.

“How about flowers for the casket?”

“No flowers.” Third item on the list

“Folding chairs for the Shiva house?”

“No folding chairs.” Right in order.

“Coat rack for the Shiva house?”

“No coat rack.” Just as I expected, right on cue.

A smile came across my mother’s face. She recognized the order. I looked quizzically at her hoping for an explanation.

“Your father felt that if there were extra chairs and a place to hang their coats, Shiva visitors would not know when to leave and would end up staying too long. However, if all the chairs were full, the people who had been there the longest would get up to leave as newcomers arrived. That is what he wanted,” she said. “As for flowers, he thought they were a waste of money.” His body may have been lying in Mort’s mortuary, but he was still telling Mort what to do. Controlling the event.

As Eli’s funeral service continued, he and my father were watching from above. “How come you let them put flowers on your casket?” my father asked. “It’s so unnecessary.”

“So what?” answered Eli. “It’s only a hobby.”

 

MEET MEMBER MAXINE WEINTRAUB: Technology Gotcha?

Maxine Weintraub reading
BOLLI Member Maxine Weintraub

 

“Ever since I first fell for books,” Maxine says, “I have been a lover of short stories.  My father had a huge collection, and I was tortured with nightmares from reading “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell Tale Heart” while still in grammar school.  My older brother was a terror, so I understood “The Ransom of Red Chief” well.  And I read the complete works of W. Somerset Maugham in a small, third floor walk-up apartment in the early ‘60s when I was home alone with a newborn baby as Nikita Khrushchev was placing missiles in Cuba and aiming them at the United States.  I devoured short stories for years and then started writing my own some forty years ago.”

Stories by Maxine appear in the 2013, 2014, and 2015 editions of Maine’s Goose River Anthology available on Amazon.  She wrote “Technology Gotcha?” for an assignment in Betsy Campbell’s Fiction Writing course during BOLLI’s 2015 fall term.

TECHNOLOGY GOTCHA?

By Maxine Weintraub

Due to severe thunderstorms in the area, the flight from Phoenix to Dallas had been diverted to an Air Force base in Texas.  Tons of huge, commercial airliners were lined up on the runways, like elephants standing in a row before entering the circus ring.  Finally, the log jam opened, and they were airborne, Dallas bound.  Bumpy, but who cared? Life was going to begin for her now. She knew it.

Barbara rushed off the plane in Dallas, hurried to the nearest airport store, and purchased a throw-away cell phone.  Then, she went directly to the American Airlines waiting area until it was time for her Boston flight. The waiting area was fairly empty—two young couples sitting quite far away and one pleasant looking, middle-aged man sitting across from her on the usual uncomfortable plastic seat. He nodded and looked like he might strike up a conversation in order to pass the time.  She was not interested.  First of all, she had a most important call to make.  She had waited months for this.  And secondly, he was too young.  Probably mid-fifties.  Way too young.

She fiddled with the unfamiliar, cheap phone and dialed the number she had memorized two weeks earlier.  The time was now.

“Hello? Hello?”  The gruff voice asked for her identifying name.

“Charlotte,” Barbara told him.

“Okay. The job is done,” he growled,  “and you owe me the balance. Cash. Now.”

“Currently,” she said,  “I am stuck in the Dallas airport.  Bad weather. I have the cash with me and will give it to you when I get to Boston. Or I can drop the envelop in a mailbox.  What do you want?”

“Listen, lady. Your old man is dead.  He’s in the alley behind Beacon Street, between Clarendon and Dartmouth,  just like you ordered. Near his car.  Looks like robbery.  You owe me, and I want it now.”

“Okay, okay.”   She was shaking.  The miserable son of a bitch was dead.  No more skirt chasing for him.  No more humiliating nights for her.  And she had his money.  The hell with the prestige of being wife of the Chief of Surgery at Boston General Hospital.  She had the bucks now, and her new life could officially begin. “Okay. I’ll be in Boston in a few hours and will follow through as arranged.”

“You better, lady, or you’ll be lyin’ in the morgue next to your old man.”  He hung up.

Barbara was still shaking, both from terror and relief.  It was done. Over.  She had dealt with the under-scum of Boston to find a hit man—my God, had she really done that?—and had pulled it off.

She looked up, in a daze, at the man across the aisle.  He had been on his cell too.  Suddenly, two armed Dallas policemen were walking swiftly toward her.  “Madam, please come with us.”

“What?  What is happening?”

“Lady,” said the man from across the aisle.  “You had that phone on speaker.”

*

In her capacity as BOLLI Matters’ literary editor, Maxine is in regular touch with the SGLs who offer BOLLI writing courses, with the Writers’ Guild Special Interest Group, and with the editor of “The Journal” to solicit material to feature in our BOLLI WRITERS column.   Fiction and/or nonfiction in any genre is accepted.

 

 

 

 

THE BARD OF BOLLI: Poet & SGL Jan Schreiber

THE BARD OF BOLLI:  POET & SGL JAN SCHREIBER

by Sue Wurster

“I woke up one morning with the phrase ‘the shortcomings hotel’ in my head,” poet Jan Schreiber told the audience at Brookline Public Library.  He went on to introduce his wry “story poem” about a man with his own inadequacies in a hotel where “the drinks are cheap and plentiful, though watered down and weak.”  Jan, a popular BOLLI Study Group Leader, says that he draws inspiration for his poetry from a wide variety of sources—sometimes just a concept or image like that now unforgettable hotel.

SCHREIBER Reading
Brookline Poet Laureate, Jan Schreiber, reads at BPL

At Brookline Public Library’s June 24 “Changing of the Bard” event, the city’s outgoing Poet Laureate Judith Steinbergh was joined by her successor Jan Schreiber and past National Poetry Slam winner Regi Gibson of Lexington for an evening of reading in rhythm, rhyme, and even a little “rap-sody.”

Gibson, Steinbergh, and Schreiber comment on their approaches to the creative process during their post-reading dialog with their BPL audience.
Gibson, Steinbergh, and Schreiber comment on their approaches to the creative process during their post-reading dialog with their BPL audience.

Schreiber’s career has been a long, varied, and distinguished one.  As a respected social scientist, his book on terrorism, The Ultimate Weapon, is still cited by scholars, but in recent years, Jan has devoted the bulk of his energy to poetry and criticism.  He is the author of four collections of poems, two books of verse translation, and one volume of literary criticism.  He serves as co-host of the Symposium of Poetry Criticism at Western State Colorado University; co-founded the journal, Canto: Review of the Arts; and, as literary editor, launched the poetry chapbook series at Godine Press.  He has also been honored with the Carey Thomas Award for creative publishing.

Works he shared with the audience on June 24th ranged from his piece about that limited man in a limited inn to his “Inventory” of love in dotage to his fictional Wisconsin “Reverend Charles Colby” and even a translation of ancient Chinese.  All demonstrated his acute eye, exacting wit, and deep sensitivity—qualities long heralded in poet laureates.

Brookline established its poet laureate program in 2012 as another way to promote the city’s arts. By reaching out to community centers, libraries and schools, the hope is that authors honored with this distinction will engage the public in poetry. “I think any time you can get young people interested in the tradition of poetry, it’s a good thing,” Schreiber said after his appointment in March.

Schreiber began writing when he was “a kid in Wisconsin.”  He says that, at that point, his work was “verse (not really poetry)” and that  “it wasn’t till I was about 19 that I started putting down ideas—still in prose—that might somehow turn into poems.  When you’re that age, you’re overwhelmed with feelings and perceptions about the world, and, for a while, each observation you make seems unlike anything that’s been seen or thought before.  Once you start seriously reading earlier poets, you discover otherwise.”

While working to spark interest in poetry among young people, Schreiber has also provided BOLLI students with opportunities to dig deeply into the tradition.  Having earned his Ph.D. at Brandeis, he says, “I’m not rich enough to add a farthing to the University’s endowment, but I can perhaps contribute to the intellectual tradition through teaching.”  Jan points to his encounters with class members who are “eager to delve into the complexities of poetry” as being especially rewarding although “doing justice to dense material with limited time” is always challenging.   Participants in his courses have not only praised his work as a study group leader but also formed an affinity group, BOLLI’s Poetry Circle devoted to digging into the work of both established and lesser known poets.

You can learn about upcoming Poetry Circle meetings on the BOLLI Events Calendar.

Jan describes himself as a “formalist” poet. “I write mainly in meter and often with some sort of rhyme.”  He places more emphasis on challenging ideas or observations, he adds, than on “raw feeling or self-involvement.”  During his recent spring term BOLLI course on 20th Century women poets, Jan talked about the clash, over the last few decades, between poetry rooted in traditional forms and free verse.  He notes, though, that “a particular juxtaposition of ideas can be very moving in itself, if offered in spare and precise language.  I think you see that if you look over the most distinguished poems written in the twentieth century.”

In his BOLLI courses, Jan has focused on a host of well-known poets who have made outstanding contributions to the literary tradition.  But he has provided class participants with the work of contemporary poets who are doing so in the twenty-first century as well.  This spring, for example, those enrolled in his seminar, Imaginary Gardens: Women Poets of the 20th Century, were introduced not only to the work of award-winning bilingual poet Rhina Espaillat but to the poet herself when she actually joined the group for one session.  Not only a stirring poet but an inspirational teacher, Schreiber’s long time colleague and friend told the group that “Everyone has a poet inside.  That’s where the poem comes from, the inside.  Once it appears, the editor takes over and finds the form the poem needs in order to be heard.”

Schreiber joins Massachusetts poets from a wide range of communities—from Northampton, North Andover, New Bedford, West Tisbury, Cambridge, and Somerville to Boston—as a city-wide poet laureate.  Joe McGonegal, chairman of Brookline’s selection committee, said Schreiber was chosen for his “commitment to the community and his poetic strengths.  His devotion to the town, his enthusiasm for embracing the role, and his career in verse made him an ideal choice.”

The poet laureate tradition, traced to ancient Greece where a laurel wreath was used to crown poets and heroes, was revived in 1341 with the crowning of Petrarch on the Campidoglio.  In England, Geoffrey Chaucer was called Poet Laureate in 1389 and given an annual allowance of wine as his award.

When the new Brookline poet laureate was asked if there was anything else he would like to share with BOLLI Matters readers, Jan said, “I could write a book… In fact, I have.  You can engage with a lot of ideas about contemporary poetry by reading it, Sparring with the Sun, which focuses on six twentieth-century poets but also discusses several others and questions the ways we determine what poems are worth keeping and teaching to the next generation.”

We point with great pride to our “BOLLI Bard” and, in true Chaucerian tradition, raise a glass of wine to celebrate Jan Schreiber’s appointment to his two-year tenure as a poet laureate.

 

Click here to see Jan read one of his poems, “Naked on the Island.” Video by Ignacio Laguarda for Wicked Local Brookline.

Click here for more information on upcoming BOLLI Study Groups, such as the ones mentioned in this article.