POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE–STAR TREK: PICARD

Star Trek:  Picard – The Journey Continues

by Dennis Greene

I became sentient in 1966, a little too late to have it help me as an undergraduate student but just in time to ship out with James T. Kirk, the 35-year-old Captain of the starship Enterprise. I journeyed with Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Scotty, and the rest of the crew for 79 imaginative adventures from 1966 to 1969 when NBC abruptly cancelled the Star Trek series. Just when mankind took its first step into space with Apollo 11, some short-sighted executives at NBC decided to go in the opposite direction. Seven years later, in a memorable 1976 SNL sketch, John Belushi portrayed Captain Kirk eviscerating the NBC top brass for this ill-advised decision to cancel the show. Every time I hear Belushi utter those final words, “We have tried to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before, and except for one television network, we have found intelligence everywhere in the galaxy,” I vividly re-experience that loss.

It was another eleven years until CBS–evidently a more evolved and intelligent network than NBC–decided, in 1987, to continue the journeys of the Enterprise, this time set 78 years after the original series. It was a more lavish production, with advanced special effects, a larger budget, and a more seasoned cast. Patrick Stewart, a celebrated stage actor, was cast as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. But I was still mourning the loss of the original series and refused to accept Star Trek: The Next Generation in its place. Nothing could replace my beloved original version.

Over the next seven seasons, I caught an episode of TNG now and then, and heard nothing but praise for series.  TNG continued for 178 episodes. Several years after it ended, I finally swallowed my pride and binge-watched the entire series. I discovered that TNG had stayed true to the essence of the original series and built upon it to offer an imaginative, well-constructed, and thought-provoking collection of stories which explored all aspects of the human condition. Star Trek: TNG dealt with many of the “big” questions of human existence including politics, race, religion, artificial-intelligence, xenophobia, conflict, nationalism, isolationism, Shakespeare, sex, loyalty, and diversity. You name it, Star Trek TNG examined it.   Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard, with his wit, wisdom, compassion, courage, and unflinching morality, seemed to personify everything a leader should be.  Our world could use someone like him now.

Since TNG ended over 25 years ago, there have been numerous TV series and full-length films expanding the Star Trek universe, and most of them have been very successful. I have watched and enjoyed most of them, as well as two humorous parodies, Tim Allen’s Galaxy Quest and Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville. But nothing in the Star Trek franchise during the past 20 years has gotten me really excited until now. I just watched the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, a new series developed for CBS All Access.

The cold open of Episode 1 shows Captain Picard and Commander Data playing poker in the Ten Forward lounge, a setting familiar to all TNG fans. In the background, Bing Crosby’s version of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” is playing. This is the song Mr. Data sang at the wedding of Commander Riker and Deana Troi, shortly before Data sacrificed his life to save the crew of the Enterprise in the last TNG movie, Star Trek: Nemesis. Both Patrick Stewart and Brent Spinner stepped back into their roles perfectly, as if the eighteen-year hiatus didn’t exist. To old TNG fans, it almost appears that nothing much had changed. Data still displays his intelligence, humanity, and naivete, and Picard is still the witty, wise, and thoughtful Captain we remember. But this is a dream sequence to snare past viewers, and, of course, things have changed.

We learn that Picard has been retired from Star Fleet for more than a decade and is living at Chateau Picard, his large and thriving vineyard in France. He is  now over 90 and is assisted by his loyal house staff, a Romulan man and woman. This immediately caught my attention, since when we last saw Picard in Nemesis, there was only a tentative truce between the Federation and its long time enemy, the Romulan Empire.  There is much to catch up on.

The new series represents a major commitment by CBS All Access to establish a strong foothold in the Star Trek universe. It is the creation of Kristen Beyer, Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, and Alex Kurtzman. Patrick Stewart, Goldsman, Kurtzman, and Chabon are among the show’s strong executive production team, which also includes Rod Roddenberry, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.  Michael Chabon,  a bestselling novelist, science fiction writer,  and screenwriter–and an admitted Star Trek fan–is the series “show -runner.”  This means he has overall creative authority and management responsibility for the series. The first two episodes are directed by Hanelle Culpepper, an energetic and unflappable filmmaker with broad experience in television. She is the first woman to direct an initial Star Trek episode and, along with Chabon, may bring a younger perspective to the 55 year old Star Trek saga. Episode 1 seems to suggest that Chabon and his team intend to return to the thoughtful, big issue approach of the TNG series, rather than continue the predictable “space opera” adventure trend of the Star Trek motion pictures. But the first episode did include enough stunning visual effects, action, mayhem, and death to keep our attention.

Sopan Deb, in a New York Times review of the new series, noted that:

There are just enough nods to “Next Generation” lore to signal for die-hard fans that this is a show that understands why Picard’s return is so important to them. But it doesn’t lean so heavily into nostalgia to overwhelm a great story. And it is a great story.

The tone and feel of the first episode is intimate and earthbound, as Picard broods about the loss of his friend Data and several other epic events which are quickly revealed. Picard’s interactions with his Romulan house staff, and with Number 1, his companion pit bull, portray Picard as more vulnerable and approachable than he seemed as the imperious Captain of the Enterprise.

In the initial dream sequence poker game, Data makes a large bet which forces Picard to risk all he has left to “call.”  When Picard pushes all his chips into the pot, Data’s reaction convinces Picard that Data has the winning hand. Picard begins refreshing his Earl Grey tea and otherwise stalling to avoid laying down his losing hand. When Data asks why he is stalling, Picard, with a show of wrenching emotion, answers Because I don’t want the game to end. He then wakes up. This may be the key to understanding the series.

Through well-paced action and dialogue, we are quickly brought up to date about intervening events and are then promptly immersed in a mystery concerning Data’s legacy, artificial intelligence issues, the cessation of the Federation’s manufacture of synthetic androids, and the appearance of a strange young girl with unique powers who is somehow intimately involved with Picard. The episode is punctuated by scenes incorporating advanced weapons, acrobatic martial arts, mysterious assailants, and lots of dead bodies. All this stimulates Picard to abandon his sedentary vineyard life and get back in the game.

Trailers indicate that Picard is about to surreptitiously acquire a starship, assemble a crew, and launch into the unknown to find answers to these vexing new questions. My reaction to this planned undertaking by Captain Picard is in sharp contrast to how I reacted to that first mission with Captain Kirk 54 years ago. When I was 22, the thought of a 35-year-old hero embarking on an epic adventure was expected and not especially noteworthy. But now that I’m 76, the thought of a man at least 15 years older than I am, who has trouble climbing stairs, undertaking such a mission draws both my admiration and my concern. I will be rooting for Picard to prevail, but I hope he can find time to nap and then stretch a little. I will worry about him because, after a certain age, most folks don’t handle stress well, especially when moving at warp speed.

Critics who have seen the first three episodes report that these initial episodes are mostly “set up” so that both veteran Star Trek fans, and new viewers who have not seen the prior 55 years of Star Trek, are all able to get up to speed. Then, when this much more mature Captain Picard gives his new crew the order to “Engage,” we can all enjoy the adventure together.

CBS All Access has already committed to Season 2, so I am looking forward to “going where no person has gone before” each Thursday night for the foreseeable future.

Live Long and Prosper!

BOLLI member and frequent contributor to BOLLI Matters, Dennis Greene

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.

A HOLIDAY MIRACLE? By Phil Radoff

A HOLIDAY MIRACLE?

by Phil Radoff

On Christmas evening, as my brother and sister-in-law were driving off, I waved goodbye and threw the switch to turn on the outside lights to illuminate their path down the driveway. After they left, my wife walked to the mailbox at the end of the driveway to retrieve yesterday’s mail, which we hadn’t bothered to collect on Christmas Eve. We don’t normally rush to collect the mail, which is likely to be 90% junk anyway, a combination of solicitations from worthy charities to which we have already contributed–or decided not to–and offers for goods and services in which we have no interest.

When my wife returned with a meager collection of envelopes, she reported that all of the lights along the driveway were illuminated.

“How can that be?” I asked, incredulous. The street level light hadn’t come on in more than a year. Indeed, its failure to turn on was a continuing source of annoyance and exasperation in view of its previous history. Two winters ago, our former snow removal service had clumsily managed to sever the final segment of electrical wire running from the middle lamp to the street level lamp. Despite numerous emails and phone calls, the snow removers had failed to take any steps to repair the break or even to respond to our communications, and we parted ways with them after more than 20 years of increasingly spotty service.

During the last winter a severe storm had broken many tree limbs across the front lawn, and some of them had damaged three of the four outside lamps. Remarkably, the street level lamp was untouched. We were able to replace or repair the three damaged lamps, while we tried to decide whether to hire an electrician to restore the connection to the fourth or undertake on our own to join the ends of the previously severed wires, now separated by a gap of about six inches.

Ultimately, the desire to do it ourselves won out, and, after a few false starts, I consulted a helpful Home Depot employee and purchased: some wire connectors, a length of three-wire underground cabling, and a roll of tape, all guaranteed to be water-proof and suitable for connections destined to remain underground, and I set to work. Stripping the wires and making the splice at each end of the break wasn’t as easy in the event as it seems in the retelling, but at last the repair was completed and the segment of spliced wire was wrapped in a plastic bag and tied at each end. My wife (the gardener) dug a short trench about four inches deep and we buried the newly spliced cable to the level of the connecting segments. With some trepidation, we threw the switch and were rewarded with four brightly shining lamps. Success!

As it happens, we rarely use the outside lights, so it was months before we felt the need to turn them on again. Imagine our chagrin when the street-level lamp refused to come on. Must be a blown light bulb, right? So I duly removed the top of the fixture, reached in and unscrewed the light bulb. I had brought along a Simpson meter to check for continuity, and found that the bulb was fine. Just in case, I replaced it with a new bulb and again threw the switch. The lamp remained dark. So all that effort to make the splice waterproof had been in vain. Ground water must have found its way into the joint and created an open circuit. To make matters worse, I hadn’t thought to mark or take note of the spot where we had spliced the severed wires, so we would have to dig around quite a bit to relocate it. Ugh. Not worth the effort. We would live with three lamps and give up on the fourth, at least for now.

So…when on Christmas evening my wife walked down to collect the mail, she was surprised–amazed, really–to see that all of the lamps were on.

I was equally amazed. As a former physicist, I felt sure there must be a scientific explanation, but perhaps there was another, more intriguing answer. Perhaps it was our own version of the miracle of the Hanukkah lights, where one night’s oil miraculously lasted for eight nights. After all, Christmas night was also the third night of the eight-night Hanukkah festival. Or perhaps it was the distant jingle of sleigh bells that my wife thought she had heard, but had initially discounted as the product of an overactive imagination. Indeed, as she opened the door to the house I too could have sworn I heard a faint but distinct “ho-ho-ho” off in the distance.

Not quite believing in the miracle of the lamp, whatever the explanation, I again threw the switch on the day after Christmas. Again, all four lamps were illuminated. In the spirit of true scientific inquiry, I determined to run this test each night until the day after Hanukkah. I told myself that if the lamp was lit on each day of the festival and again on day 9, there must indeed be a scientific explanation; but if the lamp was lit only on the eight days of the festival and returned to darkness on day 9 and thereafter, the miracle would be confirmed.

I felt duty bound to write to my brother to tell him about the mystery of the last driveway lamp and the alternate explanations I was considering. On day 8 of the Hanukkah festival he wrote back to say that, as he and his wife were driving off, he had noticed that the street-level lamp was dark, so he stopped the car, got out, and kicked the lamp post, whereupon the light came on.

I didn’t bother to run any further tests.

BOLLI member and SGL Phil Radoff

Phil Radoff is an ex-physicist, retired lawyer, and longtime BOLLI member and SGL. For many years, he has led opera courses and has been a frequent lunchtime speaker on the operas of Mozart, Verdi, and others. Phil has also written several one-act comedies and published a short-story collection (Butterflies…and other stories).  His stories have appeared in the BOLLI Journal and in other periodicals.

 

 

 

THE CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOAN THORMANN: PLUM CAKE

PLUM CAKE (Zwetschgen Kuchen)

 from Joan Thormann

This is a special kuchen since it can only be made in late summer and autumn when Italian or prune plums are available.  It is also a beautiful cake, which always brings “ooohs” and “ahhhs” when served to someone who hasn’t seen it before or even those who had it the previous year.

When I  visited the Boston area German refugees  in the plum season, I  would be greeted with coffee and some variety of plum kuchen. This is the variety  that my mother made, and I think her recipe  is the best.

Murbe Teig Pie Crust for 2 round pies (8 or 9″ round)  or one 9″ x 13″ rectangle

4 oz butter (one stick)

4 oz sugar (½ cup)   ½

8 oz flour (1 ½ cup)

1 egg

12 to 14 medium sized prune plums for each pie dish

1 to 1½ tsp tapioca

Mix the crust ingredients together to form a ball, and put it in the refrigerator while preparing the plums.  This makes two pie crusts or one large pyrex dish of cookie sheet crust.

Cut one side of each plum along the seam line and remove the pit, keeping the two halves together.  Make two slices in each half of the plum, from the top to about half way down.

When finished slicing the plums, take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut it in half.  Butter the pie plate or spring form very well.  Flatten the dough out and then place in the pie plate.  With the heel of your hand and fingers spread the dough into the pie plate.  Poke dough with fork a few times.  Bake the dough for about 10-12 minutes at 350°.

Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with minute tapioca (about 1- to 1½  tsp), to absorb the plum juices.  Place the plums skin side down in the crust starting at the outer edges and filling the crust in circles.  Bake for about 15 minutes at 400° and then another 30 to 45 minutes at 350°.  The pie is done when the plum juices flow. It sometimes takes over an hour.

When you take the cake out of the oven, you may want to sprinkle it with sugar if the plums are not very sweet.  My mother always did, regardless of sweetness.  I like the tartness of the plums, so I never sprinkle it with sugar.  Try it both ways.

BOLLI member Joan Thormann
During her last five years teaching at Lesley before retiring, Joan ended up teaching teachers to teach online–by teaching them online.  If you know people who need help in this area, she shamelessly asks you to let them know they can find her book on Amazon. 
When Joan isn’t occupied with life maintenance, she paints watercolors, makes quilt tops, and listens to audiobooks. Two years ago, she started taking classes at BOLLI and enjoys learning from the SGLs and classmates.

PANDEMIC PROSE: HOME ON THE STRANGE

HOME ON THE STRANGE

by Barbara L. Jordan © 2020

Home is the yellow and turquoise 13-foot paddleboard that takes you gliding some summer mornings  in coastal Maine. Over fish, maybe even sharks, around Sow and Pigs Island, past the neighbors waving lazily from their deck chairs.

Right palm on the paddle’s handle, pushing downward as it moves you forward in upright bent-kneed posture, you are a black nylon wetsuit-clad figure below a wide-brimmed white hat protecting you from the cancer ray sun.

You are not at the gym in a mask.

Socially distanced from all sentient beings, it is not possible in this hour to spread or absorb one deadly viral particle unless there’s something you don’t yet understand about this disease.

And then Summer turns to Fall.

Your house is sort of a home, until you let in the servicemen whose face masks slip below noses or you deposit mail on the foyer bench to disinfect.

What used to be a casual run to the market for dinner ingredients is now a carefully planned “trick or treat” with personal protective gear and a “who’s behind that face costume?” guessing game.  Maybe you’ll recognize the hair, the eyeglasses, or bag and then struggle to communicate without sounding desperate and as tired as you are of all this.

Out out, damned virus. Go back home. Just don’t take up residence in my home, the body I felt at home in once, in late February but not so much in March and beyond.

In this land of the free, you on the Other Side are free to bare your face and spit at me, and do so every day, fearlessly, while I plan my exit strategy should the end come in November. Home of the brave no more, home to ever more raging cowards.

God Bless the few remaining spaces on water and land that aren’t yet destroyed by fire, rain, wind, and the demon leader with homely hair and the wife flaunting that she “really doesn’t care.”

There are no monsters, this is not yet Halloween. But there are more than 200,000 dead here in God Bless America, our home sweet home.

But we can’t kid ourselves.  Home is not safe anymore.

BOLLI member and writer Barbara (“Babs”) Jordan

Barbara is the founder of “Heavy Hitters Music,” an Emmy Award-winning publishing company which provides independent songwriting talent to the film, television and advertising industries. She is the author of “Songwriters Playground: Innovative Exercises in Creative Songwriting” and has taught songwriting and lyric writing at the Berklee College of Music and in workshops across the country. Her songs have graced the soundtracks of hundreds of television shows and feature films, including such productions as “The Sopranos,” “N.C.I.S.,” “Analyze This,” and “Being John Malkovich.”

HELPFUL HINTS FROM JOHN RUDY: Prescriptions

Prescriptions at a Good Price and with Added Safety

from John Rudy

About 2 years ago, I learned of a company called GoodRx.  It had been recommended to me by a Raytheon HR Director, so I assumed it was legitimate–and it is! Through GoodRx (and a prescription from my doctor), I was able to order medication bypassing my insurance company.  For one of my meds, Crestor, the price was about half of what CVS charged even with my insurance plan.  So far, I’ve saved over $200.

Recently, I heard about another company that does a similar thing: you put in your medication, your location, quantity, and dosage into their web page, and it tells you the least expensive places to buy it.  I was able to better my GoodRx price by about 30% and improve two other medications (where GoodRx wasn’t helpful) by about 30% below the insurance cost.

See https://www.americaspharmacy.com/medication

Through this site, you can print out a DISCOUNT DRUG COUPON which you take to the pharmacy.  For my three medications, the lowest cost in my area, tied with a few other places, was at my local Stop and Shop.  Given the high cost of many medications, it seems smart to look around for multiple options.

I recently received an email from Bruce Nogueira.  Many of you will remember him as an MSD HR manager and also as an ARR Board member.  One of the things he mentioned was that, occasionally, a pharmacy gives you the incorrect dosage of the med.  This can be due to either a doctor or a pharmacy error.  In either case, the wrong dosage could, of course, cause major problems.  I maintain a spread sheet with the correct values, and I always check when I receive a refill.  The worst case, and the one Bruce pointed out, was where the shape/size of the pill in the bottle was unfamiliar to him; luckily,  he  checked it out.  It was 10 times the correct dosage though the bottle was marked with the correct value!  Bruce then told us of a site to identify pills.

It is called https://www.drugs.com/imprints.php   Here is what the home page looks like:

The site offers additional services as well.

Be healthy and safe!

BOLLI Matters columnist and contributor John Rudy

In addition to his regular “BOLLI Matters” recipe offerings, John provides tech help and shares his findings when it comes to medical equipment and prescriptions.  Thanks, John!

STORIES FROM STEVE: ECLIPSE

 ECLIPSE

 

by Steve Goldfinger

 Pull your covers up, Esme, and I’ll tell you a special story. Yes, just like that. Snuggle in tight.

Do you know what an eclipse is?  It’s when the earth gets in the way of the sun when it tries to shine on the moon. The moon gets very dark So how do you think the moon feels when this happens? Well, here’s my story.

“I don’t want it to happen again,” said Moon to no one in particular, particularly because no one was there. “I know it is only three days away …. or should I say three nights?  And I dread it.”

“Being eclipsed is no fun. I hate it when it gets so dark that I cannot see anything happening. If a cow jumps over me I want to be able to spot it so I can wave to it and even shout out Moo. I did that once, you know. And the cow laughed and asked me if I liked milk. Not especially I said, but do you like green cheese because if you do I can easily get some for you. The cow made a bad face. I laughed. This could never happen when I get eclipsed.

“And how would my first visitor, a man called Neil Armstrong, ever find me in the dark?

“There is a song that says I belong to everyone, but how would they feel if they can’t see me?

“There is something else of course. It has to do with how I feel about myself.

“I am very lonely up here. In fact, I am only happy when I can shine down on others and they can look up and admire me. I know I have inspired (that’s a new word, Esme, it means excited) people who paint pictures, others who write poems, ones who make up songs and even those whose only talent is to fall in love. That can’t happen when I can’t shine.

“So what have I learned from eclipse after eclipse?

“Well, I guess it is that, even in the darkest hours when I am most miserable, the time will come when I will be happy again and be able to make other people happy. And be able to see any cow that comes my way and have fun with her and be able to call her my friend.

“Being in the dark isn’t really so bad when you know you will shine again.”

BOLLI Matters contributor Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI a few years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group and more.  

MEET OUR MEMBERS: RICHARD AVERBUCH — MAKING DRAMATIC CHANGES

RICHARD AVERBUCH–MAKING DRAMATIC CHANGES

When Richard Averbuch arrived at BOLLI a year ago, shortly after his retirement, he joined CAST (Creative Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) and quickly became a mainstay in this very special Special Interest Group.  With his background in theatre–and improvisation, in particular—he was soon leading exercises and workshops, eventually becoming, along with Sandy Clifford, the group’s co-leader.  This term, he and Becky Meyers (long time Scene-iors leader) have joined forces to lead BOLLI actors in an online production of A.R. Gurney’s “The Dining Room.”

BOLLI actors have certainly enjoyed getting to know Richard (pictured above in a recent BOLLI Play Reading group sbot) and so, it seems a fitting time to introduce him to our community as a whole. 

So, Richard, how did you get involved in theater?

 When I was in middle school, sometime in the late 1960s, our English teacher took us to see a series of three plays at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.  To his credit, he wanted to challenge us, so he selected Death of a Salesman, Under Milkwood, and Six Characters in Search of an Author.  I didn’t fully grasp either “Milkwood” or “Six Characters,” but I was totally mesmerized by the environment created by the actors, the language, and the production values of each.  And I was transported by “Salesman.”

When I was in high school, our drama teacher encouraged us to explore alternative theater.  He had a highly skilled mime performer come in to give workshops, culminating in the creation of a mime troupe at the school.  By way of audition, we were asked to perform an original mime, something I had never done before!  Mine was a sketch about a fisherman who baits a hook and casts it into the water. After a few minutes, he notices a tasty looking sandwich that has been left on the beach.  Curious, he decides to take a little bite and—you guessed it—he gets a hook in his mouth and is pulled into the sea by a very different “fisherman” from a watery world.  Much to my surprise, the audience laughed, and I was selected to be in the troupe.

That same drama teacher also brought a member of The Committee, a pioneering improvisation company in San Francisco known for their cutting-edge political satire (anti-war and social justice themes, in particular).  But most important, all the members had strong theater backgrounds—mostly trained in Viola Spolin’s improvisation techniques.  I absolutely loved the approach, and my mime experience fit very comfortably.  I took a variety of workshops with The Committee, which had a theater in North Beach, San Francisco.  One of the members of the company was an acting student at the College of Marin—Robin Williams.  It was clear, from the start, that he was gifted.  Soon, he was off to Julliard and beyond.  I ended up creating an directing an improvisation company at my high school, and we performed at various venues in San Francisco.  Our performance specialty was a long-form “Herald,” an extended piece for the entire ensemble.  After graduation, I ended up being a performer and education director at the Roundhouse Theater, still a very successful theater outside Washington D.C. in Bethesda, Maryland.

Richard in a group improvisation at Aretha Spolin’s 2019 workshop in Watertown.

                       What led you to make what seems like a.                            dramatic career change from theater to health care?

After 6-7 years in the professional theatre, I wanted a new intellectual challenge, so I enrolled in the Master of Public Administration program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  After graduation, I ended up working on health policy—and eventually, I leveraged my knowledge of communications into marketing/communications positions at Beth Israel Deaconess and Mass General.  And my health care career came to a close working for the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care—i.e., working on improving care for those with serious illness also facing end-of-life.  Very inspiring!

And BOLLI?

 I became interested in BOLLI as a way to reconnect with my background in the humanities, literature, visual and performing arts.  Especially exciting for me has been connecting with other BOLLI members interested in the theater.  As part of the CAST special interest group, I’ve taught improvisation workshops, and we’re currently planning to perform The Dining Room as our major activity this term.

Richard and his Spolin workshop partner engage in a mirror exercise as fellow BOLLI member Sandy Clifford takes a observational pose.

But, in addition, it’s been great to see the broad selection of courses offered in my areas of interest as the study groups feed the intellectual life of the entire BOLLI community.

I’ve found BOLLI to be a welcoming community of continued learning.  Of course, we all look forward to the day when we can return to in-person classes; they enhance and enliven the experience, for sure!

BOLLI “Matters”  Sue Wurster

It’s been a while since posting a BOLLI member profile!  During this time, in particular, it is harder for us to get to know each other, so it seems fitting that we bring back this part of our blog activities.  Have someone you’d like to either profile yourself or have us profile?  Please send ideas!  (susanlwurster@gmail.com) 

POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: AN ADULT FANTASY TO COMBAT MALAISE

AN ADULT FANTASY TO COMBAT MALAISE by Dennis Greene

            I am a semi-grownup who admittedly escapes to imaginary worlds when confronted with the unpleasantries of life. When faced with Joe McCarthy and his “Red Scare,” the 1950’s polio epidemic, the fear of nuclear war, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, and finally the military draft and the devastating years of the Vietnam conflict, I sought refuge in Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Herbert’s Arrakis,  the futuristic universes of Asimov, Bradbury, Bester, Niven, et al,  and the hopeful visions of TV’s Tom Corbet Space Cadets and Star Trek. All these fantasies helped me handle the passing of the 50’s during which I was fortunate to witness the birth of Rock and Roll, the transformative effect of television, the explosion of this country as a world leader in everything, and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.   I felt, back then, that I shared  an unshakable optimism about my country with all my fellow Americans.  I now know that my view of the 50’s was not shared by many women, blacks, ethnic minorities, gay men and lesbian women, and others who are still victims of poverty, discrimination, and indifference. But I was a lucky (and “privileged”) 16-year old white boy in New Bedford.  What did I know?

Lately, the problems of America, and the world, seem so insurmountable that fleeing to my imaginary worlds no longer affords relief. Not that I don’t spend lots of time there anyway. Recently, I have been escaping the insipid and never-ending stream of depressing news by binge watching the many popular TV series that I had somehow missed. These included Star Trek Enterprise, Good Omens, Stranger Things, Endeavour, Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, West World, Witcher, Schittz Creek, Northern Exposure, Bosch, The Umbrella Academy, Altered Carbon, and even Tiger Joe. But none of them cut through my present case of the blues. Then one of my daughters mentioned West Wing. I had somehow missed all seven seasons from 1999 through 2006. It was a political drama which, at the time didn’t especially tickle my fancy. But, desperate for any distraction, I watched the first few episodes. Wow! I was hooked. I am now just beginning the sixth year of the seven-year run, and it keeps getting better.

When it originally aired, this idealized White House—populated with brilliant, dedicated, compassionate and quirky people working for the benefit of the country—was juxtaposed against the Bush administration and offered some fine theatre. But the contrast between the West Wing and the circus of moronic sycophants and their reigning imbecile who now occupy the White house is so vivid as to be almost blinding. If Sorkin had had the current administration as his starting point, who can imagine what he would have created?  As is, West Wing is a wonderful fantasy in which to seek refuge.

There remains a little voice in my head which whispers, “Why can’t we actually find some people like President Bartlett, C. J. Cregg, and the rest to save the admirable but imperfect union that our founding fathers created?”

I am now going to watch Season 6, Episode 3.

Frequent BOLLI Matters contributor Dennis Greene.

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.  

STORIES FROM STEVE: IN SEARCH OF THE JABBERWOCK

IN SEARCH OF THE JABBERWOCK

By Steve Goldfinger

April 10

Natives paddle us up this barely charted river in New Guinea. Commissioned by the Lewis Carroll Foundation, this is the strangest expedition I have ever led. It is the first step toward reincarnating the horrendous Jabberwock, to restoring those jaws that bite, the claws that catch.

The clue that set things off was the report that there is a wabe up the river where slithy toves could be seen gyring and gimbling alongside a forest of borogroves. It was there that the frumious Bandersnatch slaughtered the Jabberwock by plunging his vorpal blade snicker-snack through the beast and then galumphed away with its head.

Our mission is to find that vorpal blade. If scientists back home can scrape off some Jabberwock DANN, they will have the starter code to create a live Jabberwock that can be caged and shown around the world.

We were told to look for a particular tumtum tree where the Bandersnatch had rested just before the kill. That spot may be dozens of miles upriver, but our paddlers are strong and committed.

April 15

Hark! That must be jubjub birdsong coming from a tumtum tree just ahead. I am guessing jubjub because the song is raucous–downright ugly, in fact. Could one expect anything else from a bird that must be shunned?

My team gathers its shovels and picks.  The members include:

–   Martha Addington, archaeologist

–   Emil Gottschalk, eminent naturalist.

–  Mike Sullivan, river guide and provision supplier.

Emil is eight feet away from me when I hear him shouting. He is digging furiously into the shallow pit he has created. And then he raises it—a mud-caked sword with thin roots hanging from it.  He scrapes the mud away, and there it is—the vorpal blade!

April 18

Our victorious party is being paddled back down river. The sword is in full display, its blade still sharp, still menacing. I watch the trees slip by.  Martha is smoking, as usual, and, as always, snacking.  It’s a lazy journey back—until we suddenly freeze at the loud shrieking of what must be a dozen jubjub birds overhead. The paddlers lose control. The bow of our longboat snags against a fallen log at the shore. And there, glaring down on us, is an enormous figure—half naked, horny skinned, fanged, and reeking.  The odor is absolutely vile. It is, unmistakably, the Bandersnatch itself. He looks into the boat and sees what he wants. It is Martha! With one leap and snatch, he lands her and scurries into the forest, pushing pie crumbs and a cigarette away from her mouth.

We find them within two minutes. He is pressing against poor Martha. He thrusts her into a bush.  Her screams drown out the jubjub birds. Mike Sullivan approaches. He wields the vorpal-bladed sword. One stroke, and snicker-snack, the horny monster is headless.

April 21

 Martha chews some gum as we float up to the dock. Now it is in the hands of the scientists to separate Jabberwock DNA from Bandersnatch DNA.

writers

After a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. At BOLLI, he has taken writing courses, been active in the Writers Guild, and even tried CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) where his imagination made him a singular player!

 

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE WITH LARRY: CHECK, PLEASE

In response to the Writers Guild prompt, “Check, Please,” Larry took what we have come to think of as a Schwirian Turn.

Check, Please

  by Larry Schwirian

Three young eastern European men, educated in England, decided to take a holiday together in Germany before returning to their respective home countries. None of the three spoke the native language of the others; nor did they speak German; but they all spoke English. They wanted to see the Black Forest in southwest Germany, Neuschwanstein Castle (also known as Mad Ludwig’s Castle) in Hohenschwangau, the well preserved medieval old town of Rothenberg, the Rathaus-Glockenspeil in Munich, and they wanted to experience the dynamic economy of Germany to see how it compared to those of England and their home countries. They also hoped  to meet and party with some local Fraüleins before returning home.

All three of the young men could be considered attractive in that they were all physically fit and well-groomed, but there were distinct differences in their mannerisms and personalities. Andrei, from Russia, was taller and more muscular than the others and had a more outgoing personality. Mudrac, from Serbia, was somewhat smaller and thinner but was a keen observer and appeared to be the most introspective and learned of the three. Oldrich, from Prague, was the handsomest, was perfectly proportioned, carried himself like an aristocrat, and appeared to be from a family of some wealth.

One day, in Munich, the young men decided to stop in a restaurant for lunch. As it was the middle of the afternoon, there were not many patrons present, so there were plenty of open tables and an abundance of wait staff.  Three young waitresses—Uda, Hilda, and Darissa—saw the young men come in and began to discuss which of them would wait on them. As all three wanted the opportunity to serve these young “hunks,” a somewhat heated discussion followed. Finally, they decided that, since there were three of them and there were three young men, each of them would serve one of the young patrons. They drew straws to see who would have the first pick.  Uda, whose name means “prosperous or rich,” drew the long straw.  She calmly looked at the other two, smiled, and exclaimed, “I’ll take the Czech, please.”

Frequent “BOLLI Matters” contributor and co-leader of the Writers Guild Larry Schwirian

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.  

ANOTHER SIG UPDATE: BOLLI PHOTOGRAPHY GROUP

On Friday, November 15th,  the BOLLI Photography Group had our final meeting of the term.  We viewed and discussed the photographs members had submitted for review on a large screen in the Green Room.   Some of the submissions were from our fall field trip to Mt. Auburn Cemetery led by Helen Abrams while others were of sporting events, autumn scenes, travel shots, and family events.

On December 13, the group went on another field trip, this time to the MFA where Joanne Fortunato says “we had the privilege of having Karen Haas, a curator at the museum who is responsible for researching and putting exhibits together.  She gave us a tour of the Howard Greenberg Collection of photography.  It was a wonderful exhibit, and Karen was fabulous!”

According to the museum’s website, the Howard Greenberg Collection of 447 photographs by 191 artists “includes iconic European masterpieces from the 1920s and 1930s as well as a wide range of socially conscious works—powerful visual testimonies of Depression-era America, politically engaged street photography, exceptional examples of wartime photojournalism, and poignant depictions of African American life from the 1930s through the Civil Rights movement. Integrating these photographs into the MFA’s collection allows the Museum to explore fresh narratives, bring new insights and perspectives to current issues, and celebrate photography as an art form as well as a social, cultural and political force.”

Organizers: Helen Abrams, Karen Haas, Joanne Fortunato and Jennifer Coplon.

The group’s meetings are a fun way for members to gather and demonstrate their skills as well as subjects they enjoy photographing.  And, of course, the field trips are always memorable!

The BPG is opened to all who enjoy photography.  Our next meeting is scheduled for Friday, January 17th, 12:30 – 2 pm in the Green Room.

 

A SENIOR MOMENT FROM DONNA: GIVE US A BREAK

GIVE US A BREAK

by Donna Johns

Stuck in the house waiting for a repair, I sat down with a cup of coffee to watch Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress.  He was, as I expected, clear and to the point and very “lawyer-y.”  He kept flipping through that 400 page report to verify his answers.  And he looked a tiny bit annoyed. I’m sure he would have preferred to be fishing, or reading, or just about anything that did not involve being thanked for his service and attacked for his findings. They mercifully gave him (and me) a break after 90 minutes.

Returning to the television, the talking heads were analyzing his performance:

“He seems confused.”

“He keeps shuffling papers.”

“Is he ill?”

As I am wont to do when confronted with idiot talking heads, I began to yell at them. “Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he’s hard of hearing! He’s not sick. He’s just 75. Give him a break!” I watched the second morning session, paying closer attention to the man. Sure enough, when asked a question, Mueller tilted his head to hear better. He probably has one good ear and one that is trashed. We see it at BOLLI all the time.

Shuffling papers?  He was very precise when he found the relevant portions of his report.  He just took his sweet time finding them. At his age, many of us can’t find our keys, eyeglasses, or the shopping list we wrote last night. I thought it was admirable that he actually found anything in those two massive binders.

That got me thinking of all the criticisms we face as we age. Our children are chronic offenders but it comes from just about everyone. Rather than shrugging off our little idiosyncrasies, there is a tendency to try to fix us, as if we were broken.  Nope, not broken…just different. Raise your hand if any of these ring a bell.

  • “I got stuck behind a Q-Tip driving 20 miles per hour. Why are they still on the road?”  Answer: How much damage can I do going 20 miles per hour? Also…need groceries.  Also, what’s your hurry?
  • ” Can’t you hear me? Why don’t you pay attention?” Answer: You mumble. And frankly, if you can’t speak up, why do I have to pay             attention?
  • ”Why are you taking so long to (fill in the blank)?” Answer:  After a lifetime of hurrying, I’m enjoying a more leisurely pace. Also, how            important is (fill in the blank) anyway?

Aging is a daily challenge, and most of us do it with dignity. Perhaps the young-uns need to appreciate our uniqueness and quit diagnosing our “shortcomings.” Move on…nothing to fix here!

BOLLI Matters feature writer Donna Johns

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.

MEMOIR FROM DENNIS: TWO SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS

Two Special Friendships

 by Dennis Greene

My life is richer because of two women whose paths I was lucky enough to have crossed. They are both smart, strong and beautiful, and, like a lot of us, are currently dealing with the undeserved curveballs life throws our way.

Recently,  my friend Hunter lost the sight in one eye due to a sudden arterial occlusion or “eye stroke.”  She notified her legions of friends of the loss, informed us that the doctors said the damage was probably total and irreversible, and reminded us gamely that she still had one eye that was working fine.  Hunter is tough, well-grounded,  indominable.  Though we have never met and have only spoken on the phone once, I consider her one of my best friends.  I met Hunter through Judy.

Judy was my first girlfriend.  She was tall, pretty, smart, and a very nice person.  I met her in high school in 1960 when she was scooping ice cream at Gulf Hill Dairy.  We dated pretty regularly during my senior year,  but I am not sure how to characterize the relationship. At the time, I had nothing to compare it with, but it probably fell into the “semi-serious” category.  I do know that, when I went away to college, I expected to see her at Thanksgiving, but, shortly before the holiday, I received a “Dear John” letter.  Judy told me she had started dating Dave and we wouldn’t be seeing one another anymore.

Dave was one of the most popular guys in my class, one of the best all-around athletes in the school, my teammate on the basketball team, and a good guy. He was also tall, movie star handsome, and destined to become a Marine officer.  I was glad for Judy but a little sad for me. But, because of her, I had much more experience with the opposite sex than I had had a year earlier. And I was strangely proud to have received my first “Dear John” letter. It proved I was in the game.

Judy and Dave have been married more than half a century.

Twenty years later, my wife and I attended my 20th high school reunion.  As we stood in line to get our name tags, Judy and Dave walked in.  Eileen had heard me tell high school stories and was interested in meeting them.  As I made the introductions,  I realized, from Judy’s expression, that she had no idea who I was.  It was an awkward moment that Eileen seems to take some joy in mentioning, while noting that most women remember their prom dates.

Over the years following that reunion, I kept in touch with Dave and Judy, and when we discovered Facebook, Judy and I began playing Lexulous (a scrabble type game) on line.  At some point, she suggested that I might also like to play with her friend Hunter, a woman she had met through their mutual love of rescued Border collies. For a number of years, the three of us played lots of games.

Then, sadly, Dave began suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, and Judy stopped playing, devoting all of her time to caring for him.  She was a talented artist, but she gave up all her woodcarving and most of her photography activities. It made me think about how much caregivers have to forgo in order to care for a loved one. Such caregivers deserve much more appreciation than they often receive.

Hunter and I have continued to play online games for over eight years now.  According to the Lexulous site, we have played over 3,000 games. The site makes it easy for players to chat, and ,through that online interaction,  I have come to know quite a bit about Hunter.  She loves dogs and horses and always has several.  She has told me stories about her parents and her children, and she is outspoken about her political beliefs. In fact, she is outspoken and effusive about most everything.

Hunter was not as open and forthcoming at first, but, at some point, she expressed a very liberal opinion and mentioned that I probably would disagree with her.  As an educated, Jewish Democrat with atheist leanings, born in Newark, N. J.,  I wasn’t used to having anyone assume I was politically conservative. When I asked her why she thought I would disagree, she told me that she just assumed I was a conservative, religious Republican who belonged to a yacht club because I had been friends with Judy and Dave.  I told her she had me pegged wrong, and, since then, Hunter has been much more free-wheeling when it comes to expressing her opinions. Her recent Trump posts have been especially entertaining.  I never noted that these two friends were at such different ends of the political spectrum.

Hunter called me once for legal advice when a used truck she had purchased in Texas broke down about 150 miles from the dealer, but all of our other contact has been through Facebook. Recently, I told her that I had added her to my bucket list and planned to visit her in Florida. I am going to do that sometime soon.

When we look back on our lives, the things that shine are the friendships we have been lucky enough to share.  For me, Hunter and Judy are two that shine the brightest.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

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.  He has engaged in memoir writing since joining BOLLI.

The Chef’s Corner: SOUP

Both Brenda Gleckman and Joan Thormann came up with soup recipes for us for the new year… Sweet and Sour Cabbage soup and Mushroom soup.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup from Brenda Gleckman

Filling, warming, richly flavorful, almost a meal by itself is this old school Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup.This recipe is healthy, low fat, and perfect for a cold winter day.

For those of us lucky enough to remember our Eastern European mothers’ and grandmothers’ delicious Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage, that recipe, in soup form, will elicit a flood of wonderful food memories. It may permanently erase from your minds those dull, tasteless diet cabbage soup recipes that circulated among diet conscious friends decades ago before the internet.

Ingredients

1 pound lean or extra lean ground beef

2 TBS olive oil

6 cups of water

4 cups reduced sodium beef stock or broth

2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained

1 medium head cabbage sliced in one inch slices

2 cups onion, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 cup carrots, chopped

3/4 cup ketchup

1/2 cup brown sugar or 12 packets sugar substitute

1/3 cup cider vinegar

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions
  1. Brown beef in a very large soup pot in 2TBS of olive oil.Add all the ingredients.
  2. Bring to a boil.
  3. Cover and turn heat down to simmer for 30 minutes or until cabbage has softened but is not mushy.

Makes about 22 cups of soup

Mushroom Soup from Joan Thormann

Cold weather is here, so it’s time for comforting soup. I found this delicious easy made-from-scratch recipe in a low-fat recipe book.  I modified the recipe, and whoever I serve it to loves it.

One fall day, our Brookline condo association had a get together.  People brought soup, bread, or dessert. I brought my mushroom soup.  Present at our potluck were a number of residents who had emigrated from Russia, including Yuriv, the building manager.  He took one cup of mushroom soup and then finished a second one.  After he had enough soup for the time being, he circulated around the room asking who made the mushroom soup.  Yuriv finally found me and said, “I must to have this recipe.”  I don’t know if he or his wife ever made the soup but I did give him the recipe.

Ingredients

10 oz. sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup chopped onion or chopped scallions

2 Tablespoons butter or margarine

3 Tablespoons flour

2 1/2 to 3 cups 1% or 2% milk

2 chicken bouillon cubes or 2 porcini mushroom boullion cubes

1/2 cup light sour cream or nonfat yogurt

5 Tablespoons sherry

Directions 
  1. Heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a frying pan.  Stir the onions or scallions in the pan, cook until they wilt about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and stir.  Cook until the mushrooms are brown and about half their original size. Add 2 tablespoons sherry if mushrooms stick. Set aside when done.
  2. Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Stir in the flour quickly to make a roux.
  3. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring as you  pour it in, to get rid of lumps of flour.
  4. Add the bouillon cubes and continue to stir the milk mixture until it thickens to your taste.  Sprinkle in more flour or add more milk as necessary.
  5. Stir the onion mushroom mixture into the saucepan.
  6. Remove sauce pan from the stove and stir in the sour cream or yogurt.
  7. Stir in sherry to taste, and serve.

Makes four or five servings.

Note: For those who are not concerned about calories, you can use full fat milk, sour cream, or yogurt.  You may also enjoy using cream for some of the milk.

 

Brenda Gleckman

Retired psychotherapist and medical school educator, Brenda has been a BOLLI member since 2004 and a “foodie” all her adult life. She made her first attempt at cooking in August 1960 when she was a  new mother living in a third floor walk-up in Washington DC without air conditioning. She was determined to make a pot roast for her husband, a sleep deprived intern at Walter Reed.  When the roast she was searing slipped off the fork into the pot and the hot oil jumped onto her nearly bare chest, she ended up in the ER. But that did not deter her,  an early and avid follower of Julia Child, and she collected and cooked recipes from every ethnicity. Her recipe for guacamole has gone “viral” and has bestowed upon  her the title of “Guacamole Queen.”  She cringes when occasionally someone asks if she gives out her recipes.  “Why wouldn’t I?” she answers. “It gives me great pleasure to share recipes for good food.”

Joan Thormann
During her last five years before retiring from Lesley, Joan ended up teaching teachers to teach online–by actually teaching them online.  If you know people who need help in this area, she shamelessly asks you to let them know they can find her book on Amazon. 
When Joan isn’t occupied with life maintenance, she paints watercolors, makes quilt tops, and listens to audiobooks. Two years ago, she started taking classes at BOLLI and enjoys learning from the SGLs and classmates.

 

 

QUARANTINE TALES: CORONA POEM

CORONA POEM

Author’s note: I began to collect the opening lines from all the emails I have been receiving from companies during the pandemic. I thought it would be fun to put them together like a poem. So, here it is…

 For the one who does it all, handles it all, and helps you out, too.

 Compiled by Donna Johns

Hey, smarty-pants,

We’re Grateful For You.

You make us … us!

And we’re here for you.

 

Say goodbye to boredom.

Party at home with playlists.

This One Yoga Pose Could Calm Your Nerves.

To-do list: Organize.

Make a great meal.

Relax and sleep well.

 

Every day feels like Saturday now.

Go ahead… stay in your jammies!

Make yourself at home.

 

Is Your Diet Weakening Your Immune System?

Head to the pantry.

Espresso yourself!

Cinnamon-Date Sticky Buns!!

$16.99 SPANX power panties!!!

 

Now HERE’S something to look forward to…

Say goodbye to boredom.

Let’s Stay Connected: Stronger Together

 

Ready, Set…Zoom 

BOLLI MATTERS “After Dark” feature writer, Writers Guild and Scene-iors Member

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.

 

LINES FROM LYDIA: SEPTEMBER POEM

SEPTEMBER POEM

By Lydia Bogar

My leafy fences will soon be gone

To join summer’s pink sunsets.

Sweatshirts will emerge,

And acorns will appear underfoot.

 

September brings my birthday,

Takes me back to school,

Gives me apples, more apples, so many apples.

And lets me sleep with the windows wide open.

 

September sends geese into their southern flights,

Honking without breaking form.

Lawnmowers don’t dare to breach the peace.

As oak leaves cluster and fall.

 

Shrubs and small trees shed their greenery,

Revealing my dining room table to passing cars.

Campers and canoes come home from the beach.

And school buses slide by.

 

Joanne was born on September 11.

She died before the assassins came with their hate.

September is hard for a mother

Whose fences are coming down.

 

BOLLI feature writer and Writers Guild co-chair Lydia Bogar

Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service.  She says she “hails from Woostah—educated at BOLLI.”

 

 

 

 

 

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