Prompt: What kind of problems would Superman have in old age?
When I was a young kid growing-up, I had fantasies of being a super hero; Superman seemed to me to have all the physical qualities that I aspired to have as an adult. But I never thought about some of the problems he might encounter as time passed and he aged, especially what his life might be like as an octogenarian or nonagenarian. In particular, I never thought about what would happen if his secret identity was ever discovered.
One of the things that Clark Kent had to do in order to keep his secret identity was to allow himself to age like a normal human. This was not really much of a problem when he was in his 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, but by the time he reached retirement age, his physical appearance was anything but super. He was practically bald, had sagging chins, was developing age spots, and was more than a little overweight. He was so overweight, in fact, that he had to use his X-ray vision to be able to see his feet. Also, since he was never able to go to an earthly dentist, many of his teeth were rotted or missing.
Metropolis had grown substantially over the years since it was considered one of the safest cities in the world, and Clark Kent was getting tired of being constantly called upon by the mayor to solve the city’s problems. He badly needed some rest, so he grabbed Lois, left his home town, and flew south to Miami Beach.
He and Lois Lane had finally become a couple some thirty years earlier when Lois figured out his real identity when she caught him taking off his Clark Kent clothes in a phone booth. She just couldn’t believe that the eternally wimpy Clark could actually be her dream lover. As it turned out he was never able to fulfill her dream anyway since his public moniker “man of steel” turned out to be a double entendre; Lois took one look and nixed the whole idea. They never bothered to marry either, since Clark didn’t have a birth certificate, at least from any Earthly place, and being such a Boy Scout, he refused to forge a fake certificate.
By the time he became an octogenarian, all he wanted to do was sit back and enjoy his retirement. However, Russian agents had hacked into his Facebook and Twitter accounts some years earlier and outed him to the American public. Now everywhere he went, no matter his aged appearance, he was asked to perform tricks like jumping over tall buildings or stopping speeding trains. Occasionally, some jerk even took a pot shot at him to see if he would survive. What a pain in the butt these guys were since he would then have to call the authorities. He really missed his anonymity.
One of the most excruciatingly difficult things about being an aging super-person was the public embarrassment of having to apologize for things he could no longer control. Especially when it came to bodily functions. Every time he farted in a theatre, the place would quickly empty of patrons; the smell was just disgustingly unworldly. When he belched, it could be heard everywhere within a half mile radius and would set off car alarms. When he sneezed, anyone within one-hundred yards would typically be blown away, and trees and bushes would be defoliated. No one except Lois wanted to be around him anymore. He frequently wanted to die but didn’t know how or even if it was even possible for him to do so on planet Earth.
Finally, one fine morning he donned his old ill-fitting Superman outfit, threw on his cape, kissed Lois goodbye and set of for the ninety-three million mile journey to the center of the sun where he hoped to end it all.
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, 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 Writers Guild special interest group was recently given the prompt “How Does Your Garden Grow?” and, as always, about half the group chose to address it. We had such fun seeing how five different writers approached the same topic and thought our BOLLI readers might enjoy seeing their efforts as well.
I) How Does Your Garden Grow? By Katherine Wangh
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells
And pretty maids all in a row.
“Au contraire! Au contraire!”
Picking a spider out of her hair,
“None of my silver bells will grow in a row!
(to say nothing of my cockleshells and pretty maids!)
What do I know from gardens?
A hole is to dig
‘Til you sweat like a pig,
A hose is to water
Like a dutiful daughter,
Mulch is to mix
In the gulch with some sticks,
Fertilizer is to throw
If the plant is to grow,
A plant is to plant
While your back screams, ‘I can’t!’
Feet get all muddy,
Face gets all ruddy,
Brain gets all dizzy
Till you need something fizzy…
How does my garden grow?
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 nearly 50 years! Now enjoying grandchildren, singing in the Concord Women’s Chorus, curating my father’s artistic legacy, writing, and even–gardening!
II) Contrary Mary by Steve Goldfinger
Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow?
Silver bells, damn, why did I ever plant them? I know, it was a song my mother sang:
White coral bells upon a slender stalk,
Lilies of the valley line my garden walk.
Planted just a few of them to line the walk. But the damn things just kept spreading and spreading. Overgrew everything. My petunia bed. My stand of Viagras. And, worst of all, my fentanyl patch. Shit, that’s where the money was.
And cockleshells. Do you know how hard it is to get cockleshells? Czechoslovakia was my main supplier, but then those bastards jacked up the price. Can you imagine? $7.80 for a single cockleshell! Oh, you could get a cockle for $3.00 and then buy a shell for $2.50. But how to put them together? And the $2.50 shell is plastic, not the real thing. So now I have to search the web for cheap cockleshells. Like there’s not enough to do.
And the pretty maids all in a row? Pretty maids indeed. Gotta tell you, it was one helluva row. Never saw such fighting. Thought I was doing a nice thing by opening my garden for the annual outing of the wenches from the village brothel. Before I knew it, they were tearing up the petunias and stuffing them into each others bosoms. Stomping on my lilies of the valley. Throwing cockleshells all over the place. Mud everywhere. One cockle separated from its shell and hit me in the eye.
Since joining BOLLI two years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring new ventures. He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre).
III) Gardening in Maine by Maxine Weintraub
During those wonderful years we lived in Maine, we would move upstairs to the front guest bedroom during the month of April. The peepers’ nightly concert was not to be missed. The slow rolling sound of the ocean would come in from the half-open windows, and they would sing their song from the small pond at the side of the house. The full moon would light the ocean like the sun shining on a vast meadow. And that was the good news. The moles declared war on the back lawn. The chipmunks were everywhere, with an underground network of tunnels that would make the New York City subway system pale. And I would spend hours weeding and turning over the flower beds. My back was killing me! But, it was the start of the long awaited gardening season.
The first year in Maine was a vicious black fly spring, and I gardened down by the road, resplendent in haute couture protective gear. Yellow sweat pants and an orange sweatshirt. My socks were pulled up over the sweat pant bottoms, and I wore a purple, green, and pink designer scarf a la Jackie Onassis wrapped over my head and around my neck. Topped it off with a straw hat and wrapped the entire package in mosquito netting. Voila! Who cared? It was early in the day, and we didn’t know anyone in town. Later that spring, I spoke on the phone with a local merchant, giving him my address for a delivery. He burst out laughing. “My God, don’t tell me–you’re that lady in The Outfit!”
So that is how our first summer in Maine started as I returned to the land! On a grand scale. Bigger is better, so a landscaping friend arrived with fairly heavy equipment and turned over a plot–a large living room sized plot–at the bottom of the driveway. Full sun.
The knees could bend back then, and after days of putting down cow manure mixed with peat and pulling left over weeds, I still had enough energy left to shop for a king’s ransom worth of seedlings. Peppers, herb, tomatoes, cukes, summer squash. And marigolds to keep out the varmints. So naive. I didn’t pay much attention to the large hole that bordered one corner of the garden. Construction detritus perhaps. I was in my element and filthy, exhausted, and mosquito bite covered, I survived a day well spent and trudged back to the house for a long hot shower and a cold gin and tonic, collapsing on the porch swing.
Early the next morning I walked—stiffly–down the driveway to view the results of my labor. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. Hubris. Gone Gone! Every last seedling was gone. One word. Woodchuck. Living, obviously, in that big hold adjacent to the garden. Duh. Well, what do you do about those miserable buggers? That is easy, I was told. Buy a .22–only thing that will work. Right. A .22 going off across the street from the Bush summer home. I didn’t think so.
I let the garden go. Put cukes in pots on the porch. They got mildew. Planted day lilies at the bottom of the driveway.
Round One: Woodchuck
Maxine has been taking writing classes with both Betsy Campbell and Marjorie Roemer since joining BOLLI three years ago and was a founding co-chair of our current Writers Guild group. She also served as the editor of the current BOLLI Journal. In her spare time, she mines her closet for unique outfits.
IV) How Does My Garden Grow? by Margie Arons-Barron
How does my garden grow? Better you should ask Peter Rabbit. Or Brer Rabbit, Roger Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, or Predator Bunny. They devour my garden. Indiscriminately. They relish young shoots, but the foundation for their food pyramid comprises hostas, lilies, and azaleas of any age. Whatever the varmints can’t reach on the azaleas, the deer will top off. Most exasperating is the bunnies’ predilection for roses.
You’d think the thorns would deter them. But they don’t. Hybrid teas. David Austins. Floribundas. Doesn’t matter. And they amplify damage they inflict chomping on leaves by bracing themselves on lower branches, breaking them and leaving them, slain victims on the battlefield.
And war it is. We’ve tried predator pee, which has the side effect of attracting coyotes. Enviro-friendly Repels-All, made of dried blood, egg solids and garlic oil. Liquid Fence, and granular Rabbit Scram, bought in 25-pound drums. The white-tails hesitated, then signaled, “Bring it on.” Our most recent effort is Nature’s Mace. Encouraged by the name, we’re into our second drum, the company’s liquid concentrate our back-up weapon.
We’ve tried solar-powered motion detectors, which emit blue light and sounds to scare off the long-eared beasts. Neighborhood dogs hold back, but not Thumper. This year we’ve planted a Maginot line of perennial geraniums, whose odor repels rabbits. We’re in wait-and-see mode.
We’ve tried garlic, but never found it discouraged garden pests. Take my many attempts to grow tomatoes in pots on our deck. The squirrels and chipmunks would take a bite from each of several tomatoes and leave the others with gaping wounds. A friend suggested garlic cloves in the sprinkling can would help. After evening watering, garlic cloves would cover the soil. By morning, the pieces would be flung across the deck, and the tomatoes would be chewed. Next strategy? Garlic powder. No more luck. The back of the house smelled like marinara sauce all summer. By autumn, the cost of the yield averaged $17 per tomato.
For years, the rabbits’ evening itinerary had them checking in around five o’clock for hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. I’d be standing at my kitchen window aggravated by their audacity. By end of summer, some are large enough to put saddles on. Sometimes I grab a spray bottle of repellent, run out to my deck and chase after them. “Take that, you little bastards,” I scream. They disappear into the neighbor’s yard but return within minutes. I’m mortified to think the neighbors overhear me haranguing the herd.
I gaze at my garden and admire what’s left of it, the begonias, rhododendron, peonies and daisies. But, wait, who’s that rustling the leaves of young lilies? Not again. I look to the right. I look to the left. Which weapon to choose?
This time I head for my office, looking in the closet for my old Rolodex. Goldman. Governor. Greater Boston Legal Services. Ah, there it is. Gun Owners Action League. 508-393-5333. Maybe this will be the ultimate solution.
After her long career as an editorial and political news director, Margie shifted her focus to writing memoir and even fiction when arriving at BOLLI two years ago. She has taken Marjorie Roemer’s memoir classes, Betsy Campbell’s fiction courses, and Sue Wurster’s nonfiction course as well. She is also a member of the BOLLI Journal staff and still keeps her hand in politics and issues of the day on her blog which you can reach by clicking here: marjoriearonsbarron.com
V) The Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden by Lydia Bogar
I could talk about the Shasta daisies and blue elephant Hosta from my mother’s garden or the invading poison ivy army that is marching up the ban and into my yard, threatening my health and sanity. But instead, I will seek the serenity found at the magnificent wonder of a garden that will last forever: The Doctor Seuss Sculpture Garden in Springfield honoring Ted Geisel formerly of Sumner Street, Springfield.
The Garden is tucked amidst three deckers, pavement, and a dozen examples of American architecture–a free attraction with free parking–surrounded by the library, two churches, and four museums.
The concept of the Garden was hatched over thirty years ago as cautiously as Horton’s egg. With blessings and money from her mother, Audrey Geisel, California sculptor Lark Gray Dimond-Cates dedicated six years of her life to creating the garden’s amazing bronze characters which honor her stepfather.
When entering the garden, The Good Doctor can be found sitting at an old school desk, with his famous Cat standing beside him, looking at an oversized edition of Oh, The Places You’ll Go! The Grinch peers around the corner as Gertrude McFuzz looks on from above. For the Good Doctor’s hands on this statue, Lark used a cast of Ted Geisel’s hands that had been made several years before his death in 1991. A work of love and great respect. A chair–accessible to children of all ages–stands in front of the book.
A stack of ten turtles, Yertel and his friends, bask in a side garden. And in the center of the Memorial is Thidwick, Thing One, Thing Two, Sam I Am, Sally and the kids from Whoville. A ramp in the middle of this cluster of characters makes it possible for handicapped children to touch Horton’s curly tail.
When leaving the garden, the Lorax–perched on a bronze stump– reaches out his arm to say goodbye to a child his own size.
On a rainy Sunday, the boys and I added another happy memory to our dozens of visits to the land of Seuss. Brady is 14 and Henry is 9. We’ve been coming here for over ten years, in sunshine and snow, to seek the smiles and share the wisdom of Ted Geisel.
My grandsons seem to have grown out of this wondrous place, for now, but I never will.
Since her arrival upon the BOLLI scene two years ago, Lydia has been a regular contributor to our BOLLI Matters blog for which she now serves as co-editor. She has also taken Marjorie Roemer’s memoir and Sue Wurster’s nonfiction writing courses.
Over the summer, the Writers Guild meets on Thursdays. On June 7 and June 14, we will meet at 12:30 to accommodate BOLLI’s upcoming seminars. After that, we’ll meet at 10:30. The group is always open to new participants, and we are always happy to see “drop ins” who come to try us out. We are a low-key and supportive bunch, so check out our prompts on the weekly Bulletin, try your hand at a brief piece of writing, and come share the results with us!
At our most recent Writers Guild session, we shared our work with a “conspiracy theory” prompt in which we challenged ourselves to stretch our imaginations into the “fantastic” and write with authority. As autumn creeps upon us, this piece of fiction by Quinn Rosefsky took many of us right back to summer camp… We thoroughly enjoyed it and are sure you will too.
Quinn says that: “Walkabout” started as a chapter in a book I call: Camp Arawakee .The manuscript was on a shelf in my closet for over twenty-five years. At one time, the book had enough strength to entice an agent to take interest. However, no publishers ever bothered to take a nibble. That was disheartening. More recently, I summoned the courage to take a fresh look. After all, in the past several years, I have somehow managed to write and re-write many times, what on paper looks like a mere 200,000 words. That changes a person. Let me tell you! So, what we now have in “Walkabout” is the fresh, 2017 version of the sentiments which first came to life so long ago. I’d be interested to know if anyone can come up with an ending to the “story within a story.” Having said that, you should probably read the story before reading this brief essay
By Quinn Rosefsky
Where was Louis? The boys in Turtle Cabin waited in the fading light for their counselor to return from chatting with the pretty dark-haired nurse in the infirmary. Charlie, Teddy and Sean made up a contest. Who could jump the farthest from the edge of the lean-to onto the ground? A few feet away, Pete and Michael began arguing about whose turn it was to sweep the floor the next morning. As the first stars began to appear, Louis strode into view.
“Story!” the boys said, one after another.
The boys and Louis, dangling their legs, huddled on the edge of the lean-to.
“It was as hot as an oven the day I saw my first opal,” Louis said, dumping a bag of strange pebbles into his palm. “I’d been behind the wheel of my truck for hours and the flies were driving me crazy. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. That’s when I drove the truck off the road into a ditch. There was no way I could get the wheels free. I sat down under the only gum tree around to rest.
“Just as I closed my eyes, something flashed at my feet. I bent over. There it was lying on top of the ground, the most fiery opal I’d ever seen.”
Louis paused to adjust the bush hat he always wore, even in the shower.
“What’s an opal?” Charlie said.
“It’s a jewel almost as precious as a diamond but still worth a lot of money.”
“Let him get on with the story,” Pete said, elbowing Charlie.
“Anyhow, just then, an Aborigine, his eyes so bright they looked like they were on fire, walked out of the bush and came straight towards me. He was wearing dusty blue jeans and no shirt.”
“What’s an Aborigine?” Ronnie said.
“They’re our native Australians, the ones who were there when Europeans first began to settle the continent. Same as your American Indians were here first.”
“Are there a lot of them?” Sean asked.
“Not any more. They’ve had a rough time.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Not at all. They never were and never will be. They’re the ones who protect life in all its forms. That’s why the bush has been unspoiled for thousands of years.
“This particular Aborigine, who said his name was Jack, was on what’s called a walkabout. He’d been living alone in the bush for over a year, learning what he was to do with his life.
“As soon as Jack came to within a few yards, he stood still. He didn’t move for five minutes, not a muscle. It was as if he’d turned into a statue.
“Then Jack moved. First he pointed to my opal and then he took it from my hand and turned it over and over. Then he said: ‘Follow me.’
“We walked along an invisible track in the bush for about an hour. Finally, Jack stopped and pointed to the ground. I was completely mystified. Opals, dozens of them, were everywhere. I ran about like a man possessed. I was rich!
“Then I remembered my car was still stuck in the ditch an hour away from where I was. But what good would it do me to have all those opals if I never got out of the bush? I looked around to thank Jack, but he was gone. I was alone with no truck, no water and the hot sun beating down on me.”
“What happened next?” Charlie asked.
“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” Louis said.
“It’s not fair,” Pete said stomping his feet.
“That’s enough, Pete,” Louis said, wagging his finger. “I’ll give you guys fifteen minutes to get ready for bed and then it’s lights out.”
“How can I fall asleep not knowing if you survived?” Sean asked.
Quinn is a familiar face at BOLLI where he takes courses, teaches courses, serves on the Study Group Support Committee, participates in the New Yorker Fiction Group, the Writers Guild, and more!
MEET MEMBER STEVE GOLDFINGER: BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Steve Goldfinger enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a doctor and professor of medicine at MGH and Harvard Medical School. His wife, a modern dancer and educational administrator, died ten years ago. His four sons inherited both of their parents’ genes and have varied careers–Hollywood script writer, radiologist, psychotherapist, and business executive–coupled with creative musical talents they display in their respective bands and bluegrass group. He has nine grandchildren. In addition to writing, Steve’s interests include classical music and theatre. He was also an ardent golfer “before skill deserted me.”
Steve joined BOLLI in 2016 and says that he has found it to be “a huge resource in my retirement which has fulfilled my desire to return to the humanities in my later years.” The fine and varied program has also brought new friends.
As a member of the Writers Guild, Steve has treated the group to everything from poetry to memoir, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. This piece, an example of the latter, was written in response to the prompt: “Best Friends Forever.”
BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE
by Steve Goldfinger
He was born in China in 1898, the son of Presbyterian missionary parents. He died 69 years later, leaving behind an estate worth a hundred million dollars. Along the way, he was voted the most brilliant member of his Yale graduating class. An ardent anti-communist, he urged Kennedy to attack Cuba, even saying to him, “If you don’t, I’ll be like Hearst,” meaning he’d use his magazines to push him to it. He was a strong proponent (and rare user) of LSD. His physical awkwardness, lack of humor, and discomfort with any conversation that was not strictly factual was starkly at odds with his glamorous wife’s social poise, wit, and fertile imagination.
Henry Luce embarked on a career in journalism, and before he bought Life magazine in 1936, he and a partner had already taken on both Time and Fortune. His yen to own Life was based purely on its name and how well it would couple with that of Time. His wife Clare saw a grand opportunity to found an entirely new media genre: photojournalism. Before they purchased it, Life magazine had been a declining vehicle for the kid of light-hearted, sophisticated, clean humor that it’s readers had outgrown. Under the Luces, its new mission statement opened with “To see life, to see the world…” How it succeeded!
Within four months, Life’s circulation rose from 380,000 to over a million, and it eventually exceeded eight million. It became the most popular magazine of its time. Renowned photographers captured riveting images for the eyes of the nation: the D-Day landings, aerial views of the remains of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, faces of the Nazis at the Nuremberg tribunal, and, most famous of all, the iconic kiss the sailor planted on that nurse in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II. And as more print invaded the magazine in the form of essays and memoirs, viewers became readers. Life’s continued popularity brought great acclaim and great profits for more than three decades before it began its gradual fade in the 1970s. Issues became less frequent and staggered to total cessation in 2000. Rising costs were one reason. Television was undoubtedly another.
In contrast to Henry’s somewhat colorless persona, Clare Boothe Luce led a stunning public life. She was an early feminist, an actress, a successful playwright, and then a war reporter, journalist, politician, congresswoman, and ambassador. Attending opening night of one of her plays were Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. Among the quips attributed to her are, “No good deed goes unpunished” and “Widowhood is a fringe benefit of marriage.” While ambassador to Italy, she was poisoned with arsenic. Initially suspected to be Russian espionage retaliation for her outspoken anti-communism, the cause was eventually found to be arsenate in the paint flaking off her bedroom ceiling. “Broadway’s New Faces, 1952” famously portrayed her illness at Toothloose in Rome. Clare Boothe Luce died in 1987. By the end of her life, she had become a fervent supporter of Barry Goldwater and a Nixon appointee to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Arguably the most influential and envied power couple of their time, Henry and Clare Boothe Luce made numerous friends for life. They were also the best friends for ,
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