A side-trip to the local mall – where else to buy ammo around here? – evinced an epic struggle for supremacy of the chain stores between the Great Pumpkin and Santa Claus, with both fat-assed icons trying to shove the other out of the primary display sites as if the store aisle were a WWF ring in some grubby forsaken Palookaville far far from the salons of Washington decision-making, which, I guess, this is. This is the kind of place that a Jimmy Stewart character would have called home in 1946; only today it looks like a place taken over by a certain species of space aliens, slovenly in mind as well as body.
Our gods are not happy. Anyway, that third fat-assed icon, the Thanksgiving Turkey, was nowhere in sight, perhaps due to the recognition that there is far more grievance than gratitude ‘out here’ in the fly-over zone.
America still does everything possible except prepare to become a different America, perhaps even a better America than the current release, and this is unfortunate because history is merciless. History doesn’t care if the dog peed on your homework… or you had car trouble this morning… or the tattoo on your neck got infected… or (to take this in another direction), you justified robbing scores of billions of dollars out of the mortgage sector because your too-big-to-fail company came down with the financial equivalent of swine flu and the top executives were hallucinating that they lived in a world with no boundaries of law or common decency.
We’re at another one of those weird inflection points of “current events” — a momentous eddy in the larger stream of history. A good deal of the already-proclaimed return to normality (“normalcy” in WGHarding-speak) depends on something close to a normal holiday shopping season, when so much of the nation’s merchandise inventory moves from WalMart to under the Christmas tree. Of course, even if it were to turn out like a year-2005-type credit card binge, the result would surely be a sort of hemorrhagic fever of buyer’s remorse afterward. An aerial view of the Heartland long about February 1st would show households blowing up like individual kernels of popcorn at an accelerating rate until the terrain itself was obscured by an evil fluff of financial woe suffocating the poor folks trapped under it.
Over the weekend, the The Huffington Post ran a McClatchy news service story about Godman Sachs’s misdeeds around the issuance of mortgage backed securities. The basic idea in it was that GS was aggressively gathering trash mortgages from fly-by-night “originators” all over America to bundle into tradable security paper, which they then pawned off on feckless, inattentive investors (pension funds, foreign banks, etc) seeking miracle returns — at the same time that GS was buying credit default swap “insurance” by the bale, knowing full well that the collateral backing their own issuance of MBS was of a quality somewhere between dead carp and dog poop. In other words, they were shoveling shit investments out of one window, and betting against the value of them from another window. Thus a picture resolves of GS’s “true opinion” of the securities it paddled, and the question arises whether failure to inform the peddled of this opinion constitutes fraud. I certainly think it does.
I’ve been making substantially the same case in this column for two years now, so it is interesting to see the mainstream media awaken to a story-line that an ambitious nine-year-old could have pulled off the Web over recent months. I also continue to assert that a flurry of bonuses paid out this holiday season by Goldman Sachs and its other amigos at the top of the banking food chain will be greeted by violence – which will be the natural outcome of a society whose government fails to even give the appearance of protecting its citizens from organized crime. How did a sock puppet get appointed head of the US Department of Justice, folks will wonder.
How bad is the situation ‘out there’ really? In my view, things are veering toward such extreme desperation that the US government might fall under the sway, by extra-electoral means, of an ambitious military officer, or a group of such, sometime in the near future. I’m not promoting a coup d’etat, you understand, but I am raising it as a realistic possibility as elected officials prove utterly unwilling to cope with a mounting crisis of capital and resources. The ‘corn-pone Hitler’ scenario is still another possibility – Glen Beck and Sarah Palin vying for the hearts and minds of the morons who want ‘to keep gubmint out of Medicare!’ – but I suspect that there is a growing cadre of concerned officers around the Pentagon who will not brook that fucking nonsense for a Crystal City minute and, what’s more, would be very impatient to begin correcting the many fiascos currently blowing the nation apart from within. Remember, today’s US military elite is battle-hardened after eight years of war in Asia. No doubt they love their country, as Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte loved theirs. It may pain them to stand by and watch it dissolve like a castle made of sugar in a winter gale.
I raise this possibility because no one else has, and I think we ought to be aware that all kinds of strange outcomes are possible in a society under severe stress. History is a harsh mistress. For all his ‘star quality’ and likable personality, President Obama is increasingly perceived as impotent where the real ongoing disasters of public life are concerned, and he has made the tragic choice to appear to be hostage to the bankers who are systematically draining the life-blood from the middle class. Whatever we are seeing on the S & P ticker these days does not register the agony of ordinary people losing everything they worked for and even believed in. In a leadership vacuum, centers don’t hold, things come apart, and rough beasts slouch toward Wall Street.
Tags: coup d'etat + economic fiasco + holiday shopping season + Goldman Sachs
Future issues of Quadrangle will be available here.
HOW MARTY GLICKMAN NEARLY BECAME A CINEMA STARby Stan Isaacs
MILITARY QUOTES I'D LIKE TO SHAREby David Levin
WHO AM I ?by Herb Reich
TO MOVE UP, THEY MOVE INby Larry Eisenberg
BEING BACHby Harriet Lesser
Quadrangle Issue 7
HOW MARTY GLICKMAN NEARLY BECAME A CINEMA STAR
By Stan Isaacs
The last movie by Woody Allen that didn't win an Academy Award was Scoop. I liked it. Even better was the previous one, Match Point. I loved that one. Like or love all Woody Allen movies. A not-so-good Allen movie is better than 95 per cent of all movies, it says here.
Match Point is a Hitchcockian mystery built around tennis. Allen, who has long suffered with the New York Knicks, played a sports writer in Mighty Aphrodite. And one of his previous forays into sports involved the takeoff on the old sports announcer, Bill Stern, in Radio Days.
I am reminded that Marty Glickman, the premier radio basketball announcer, upon whose lap Marv Albert learned about sportscasting, had an intimate involvement in the early casting of Radio Days.
Glickman told me that this started when he received a phone call from a casting director. The woman asked if Glickman would be interested in participating in an Allen movie. Glickman had long been a fan. They had come from the same Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn many years apart and he had seen Allen often at Knicks games at Madison Square Garden.
I admired Woodys movies so much, Glickman said, I was flattered to get the call.
He agreed to an audition. He was intrigued because he had heard Allen was secretive about his auditions and scripts, that when he auditioned people he gave them only that portion of the script that applied to them. It was arranged that Glickman would go down to a small theater in Manhattan.
When I got there, Glickman said, this casting director came out and escorted me into a little room where three other people were waiting. One was a very young girl, about 6, with her mother. She was obviously there for an audition. The other was a dwarf. A little girl, a dwarf and me.
In a little while the casting director came out and asked me to come in. I went into another small room and there was Woody Allen. He was so shy and so uncomfortable-looking that when I reached out to shake hands with him, his grip was almost limp. We stood there looking at each other.Allen said, Well, Mr. Glickman, I have heard you broadcast for many years and I just wanted to get a look at you. I wanted to talk to you. Glickman said, We were standing there and he asked me how did I get started or something like that. I said, Could we sit down?
He said, Oh yeah, sure, sure. We sat down on opposite sides of a desk. I was sitting on an antique chair. As I am sitting on it, I can feel it collapsing underneath me. We are talking and I am trying to balance myself on this chair. I said, Woody, theres something wrong with this chair. I think its collapsing. Oh, he says, and he jumps up and pulls over another chair. It was like a scene from a movie, but hes deadly serious. Finally he says, Well, look, Im gonna do a movie and I want you to be the radio announcer in it.They talked for a few minutes about the Knicks, about Glickmans career. Allen was shy, Glickman said, as halting as he often is in the movie. He seemed uncomfortable in my presence. And that was shocking to me. Here was this internationally known movie actor and (film)maker and Im just another sports announcer, and hes uncomfortable with me, yet I am perfectly at home with him. Then he stood up and I stood up, and I said, Well, Woody, do I have the job?
He said, Oh no, I want to talk to some other people, too. Would you come back another time and audition for me, read a part of the script? A few days later he got a phone call to come back for an audition. Allen wasnt there when a casting director handed him a portion of the script to read. Glickman was to be the radio broadcaster in a scene in which the famed escape artist, Harry Houdini, was lowered into the East River chained and bound, trying to get out in a certain amount of time before drowning. He was to describe the scene of about four pages without ad-libbing. He recalled that Woody came in (and) told me to read it the way a sportscaster would read it. When I started, it was at an excited pace and I realized that I was going too fast because I couldnt build to a climax. After about three-quarters of a page I stopped. I asked Woody if he would mind if I started all over again He said, Oh, of course. I read on and on at a rapid fire pace, almost like play-by-play. I described the lowering of the body, the excitement of the crowd, the worried wife, the suspense about whether he would come up. It was quite detailed, a long haul, and I began to get tired because of the pace. Finally, to my relief, he said, Thank you, Marty. I said, Well, do I get the job? He said, Well let you know in a couple of days. I want to hear a couple of other people. A few days later Glickman got a phone call from the casting director. Thanks, but no thanks, she said in effect. Glickman said, The excuse given to me was that they were going with another actor. I was disappointed. I had been thrilled at the prospect of spending some time with Woody Allen. What the hell, I thought. I guess I just didnt read it well. I got tired, which was unusual for me. But it happened. When Radio Days was released, and Glickman went to see it, he saw an old colleague, the voluble Guy LeBow, do the scene that was a takeoff on Bill Stern relating one of the outrageous tall tales of sports stories he used to concoct on his feature radio show. It was about a pitcher with no arms and legs or something. LeBow played it with that big, booming voice, Glickman said. He played it straight LeBow. I started to laugh. I thought, thank God I didnt get the part. Because it was the part of a radio buffoon. It was a takeoff on Bill Stern, but it was more than that. It was all the things that are wrong with announcers. LeBow did it in a pompous way that I detest and most people dislike about the exaggeration of old radio broadcasters. So I was pleased after all that I didnt get the role in a Woody Allen movie. And as Bill Stern would have said to end this, And thats the three-oh (30) mark for tonight.
MILITARY QUOTES I'D LIKE TO SHARE
By David Levin
When in England at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, if our plans for Iraq were just an example of 'empire building' by George Bush. He answered by saying, "Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return."
It became very quiet in the room.
Then there was a conference of international engineers in France. After a break, one of the French engineers came back into the room and said, "Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the Tsunami victims. What does he intend to do---bomb them?"
A Boeing engineer stood up and replied, quietly: "Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear-powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals a day, they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water each day, and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships; how many does France have?"
Once again, dead silence.
A U.S Navy admiral was at a conference that included admirals from the US., England, Canada, Australia and France. At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of officers that included personnel from most of those countries. Everyone was chatting in English as they sipped their drinks--and a French admiral suddenly complained: "Europeans learn many languages, but Americans learn only English......Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?"
Without hesitating, the American admiral replied, "'Maybe it's because the Brits, Canadians, Aussies and Americans arranged it so you wouldn't have to speak German."
You could have heard a pin drop.
WHO AM I ?
By Herb Reich
Browsing through several issues of Quadrangle, I discern the governing theme to be one of self revelation. Which raises the question: Do you really know who you are?
I thought I knew me, and, with an toward contributing to the mass of Quadrangle confessionals, I embarked on an ego trip on the good ship Google to fill in blanks in my background.. I was also interested in updating my CV in case I decided to venture into the job market once again. (In this economy, you never know.) I just popped in my name in its various forms and searched. And I'm glad I did. I learned a lot about me. Among my exploits:
I was a member of the Rotary Club of Hamilton, Bermuda, and the legislature of Rockland County. Also the Belmont Shore Rugby team, the Santa Monica Community College District Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, and Delta Chi fraternity
I was awarded a PhD in Physics from Cornell University in 1928.
Played soccer with 1942 Cal team.
Professor of Electrical Engineering at University of Illinois and Yale, and author the classic text, "The Application of Electron Tubes."
Belonged to the Hospital Engineers of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Was coach of the Dayton Valley Wildcats, a mens hockey team in the North Central Hockey League. Also coached the Ann Arbor Womens Rugby Football Club, for which I was elected to membership in the Elite Coaching Program.
Drove a race car in the ALMS division, frequently entering events in Ohio and Michigan.
Performed in musical comedy, playing Cpl. Steeves in "South Pacific" at the Barn Theater.
Was a public relations maven and media consultant, specializing in radio and the press.
Contributed sketches to the musical revue, "Kaleidoscope," at Provincetown Playhouse in 1957.
Staff cardiac thoracic surgeon at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady.
Received Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Wittemberg University in 1961.
Olympian, XVIII Olympic Games, 1964 Tokyo.
Contrabassoonist with Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Executive at John Wiley publishers, editor of and contributor to Corsinis Encyclopedia of Psychology.
Protestant pastor of Christian Youth Village of Adelheide, Germany.
Contributed to the 1982 Avon paperback, "The Greatest Revue Sketches"
Captained the sailboat Chaton to win the Classics Class Boat Race at the International Dragon 75th Anniversary Regatta at St. Tropez, November 2004.
Developed of a commercial oscilloscope.
Trustee of Deep Springs College, where a science professorship was established in my name.
Author of "Simultaneous over-expression of the Her2/neu and PTK6 tyrosine kinases in archival invasive ductal breast carcinomas," in Journal of Pathology, April 2005.
Co-Author, "Embroidering Electrical Interconnects with Conductive Yarn for the Integration of Flexible Electronic Modules Into Fabric," at ISWC meeting, Osaka, Japan, October 2005.
Manager, Student Examinations, Central Queensland University, Australia.
Member, Rockhampton Model Aero Club and Queensland Model Aircraft Racing Association, Queensland, Australia.
Listed in the Jazz Discography.
Granted, I have reached the age at which my memory is fading, and I must admit to have forgotten some of these. But by any measure, I do seem to have led a full life. I'm just not sure where I was while it was happening.
I do, of course, claim proprietary rights in my name, and I cannot conceive of it having been adopted by anyone else. I guess it is possible that somewhere in the universe I may have a doppelganger, or an avatar, or maybe even an evil twin. But my accomplishments are my own and I will not abide anyone counterfeiting my hard-won bona fides. Quoting the great sage, Popeye, " I yam who I yam."
So if you really want to know who you are, or were, Google yourself. You'll be amazed to rediscover how extensive and varied your experience. What you don't know about yourself could fill a website.
TO MOVE UP, THEY MOVE IN
By Larry Eisenberg
Originally published On Newsdays Op-Ed Page, April 20, 1987
The memos are coming faster now, sliding under my front door with a faintly urgent whoosh. Notes from neighbors--friendly, chatty, folksy. Most are signed with just a first name.
They're written by people I've never met.
My building is going co-op, you see, and I live in a large apartment with a good view. If I choose to buy it, my monthly carrying charge will be more than four times the rent I now pay, but I don't have to buy it to stay here, rent-stabilized, for the rest of my life. For 22 years it's been my home. My wife and I raised two children here and next to each other and them, we love our home more than anything on earth.
But my good neighbors want it. And they think that their need, combined with my greed, would make an excellent marriage. So they're offering me money to sell my insider's rights (which would leave me with no place to live) or to switch apartments with them. After all, who wouldn't want to trade a three-bedroom apartment on a high floor, with a 37-foot terrace facing the Hudson River, for a dark studio facing a high school?
Most of these communiques talk of "a good deal" and "a golden chance . . ."Take this opportunity while you can . . .," they say, and "Do hurry . . ." Their tone is getting more frantic as the deadline approaches, and I expect, in a couple of weeks, they'll begin to sound like the man who does the commercials for Crazy Eddie. But their campaigns have as much credibility as the billboard behind the complex where l live. It reads: "Respect this land. They aren't making any more of it. [signed] Donald Trump." (More's the pity, Donald. If they were, you could throw up--in every sense of the phrase--a few thousand additional buildings to darken the sky.)
"Quality of life" is a phrase many of my yuppier neighbors seem to favor when they talk about the children they want to raise in my apartment. What they don't consider is that (a) quality of life is important to everybody, and (b) not all of us over 40 have Alzheimer's.
"I am a staff announcer at nearby ABC," says one of the letters. Am I supposed to react, "Golly, if I sell you my rights, will you tell me what Regis Philbin is really like?" Another laments, "We want to raise our small daughters in Manhattan, but if it's not economically feasible, we may have to move to one of the other boroughs . . ." I guess they want to relieve my guilt with their gelt. One more human interest story goes, "I am the father of two small children, living in a studio apartment . . ." If you can afford to buy my apartment, how dare you cramp two small children into a studio? And what have you done with their mother?
Just the other day this arrived: "You could be sitting on $50,000 or $60,000. Perhaps even $100,000. And you could have this money in your pocket soon...Let me introduce myself...My name is Carol... You could get tens of housands of dollars to add to your retirement nest egg. Or are you thinking of selling your insider rights and moving to sunny Florida?" In her efforts to put me out to pasture she uses the phrase "nest egg" twice more. To Carol I say: As soon as my nest is filled with eggs I'll be happy to pelt you with them just before I leave for sunny Cap D'Antibes. (It's like Florida).
My neighbors have succeeded in winning my attention, but the one thing Carol and Bruce and Len and Ira and Brian and Ralph will not get is my home. You see, folks, some things are just not for sale.
By Harriet Lesser
Music lovers around the world are getting ready to celebrate the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach who was born on March 21, 1685. Most of us are familiar with his music, but how much do we know about his life? I asked my good friend, Mischa Goss, a part time musicologist, to write a brief biography for us. Here it is:
Johann Sebastian Bach has gone down in history as one of the three Bs, but he wasnt such a bad guy once you got to know him. He was born into a large family of musicians in Eisenach, Germany. His parents had so many children, that when little Johann came along, they called him "The Bach of the Month."
At the tender age of five, he was enrolled in the local music academy where he was an average student -- aka a B minor. On his way to school one day, Johann tripped on a cantata peel and broke his collarbone. While recuperating, the ever-cheerful youngster wrote his first big hit, "The Well-Tempered Clavicle."
Johann graduated from college with a Bach-a-laureate degree and the future looked rosy for a while. Unfortunately, he had a (St. Matthew's) passion for local gaming parlors where he always lost at Parcheesi. His father once asked a neighbor if he had seen Johann and the man said, "Bach gamin." That signaled the birth of a new game, which is still popular today (if youre into turning over checker boards).
To break his habit, Johann ran off to a desert island and spent hours scuba diving among the reefs. That's where he wrote most of his coral music and the lively Italian fisherman's song, "Bach-a-la."
Little known fact: Johann Sebastian Bach originated the singing commercial. Written for a popular fast food chain, it was called "The Branden-burger Concerto." It went to the top of the charts after being recorded by Adelina Patty.
Johann married twice and sired 20 children, earning himself a reputation as the local Bach maker. He supported his family by working for different religious institutions and was once asked to write a piece on the Messiah -- but he couldn't get a Handel on it.
Things went downhill after that. Johann lost his job at the Haydn Planetarium and went to work as a harpsichordist at a burlesque joint. It was there that he wrote his "Air on the G String" for Gypsy Rose Leipzig, the most famous stripper of her day. He followed up with "The Ann Corio Oratorio." He also created the signature song for Frank Sonata, the number one crooner of his day. It's called "I Did It Weimar."
Because he was strapped for cash, people thought Johann was a miser. He wasn't cheap -- he was fugal. When it came to satisfying his suite tooth, he usually went for Baroque.
When Johann died in 1750, friends and relatives gathered at his coffin to raise a few steins. Since it was spring and only the dregs of the kegs were left, they had to scrape the bottom of the barrels. Ah yes, Johann Sebastian Bach has left us a lasting legacy. To this day, people still talk about Bach's bier.
THE IMMORTAL A. J. LIEBLING NEVER GOES OUT OF STYLEby Stan Isaacs
CRITIQUE OF THE FILM "CASABLANCA," 1943...by Betty Maisin Gomory
THINGS I NEVER KNEW (until I made them up)by Jack Leavitt
FANTASTICALLY, MAGNIFICENTLY, INCREDIBLY UNBELIEVABLE — AND, ACTUALLY NOT BADby Larry Eisenberg
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN AND WHY??? by Harriet Posnak Lesser
Quadrangle Issue 6
THE IMMORTAL A. J. LIEBLING NEVER GOES OUT OF STYLE
By Stan Isaacs
I recently read of the publication of another anthology of A. J. Leibling's work. This one, celebrating anew the immortal sui generis journalist, is entitled, "Just Enough Liebling: Classic Work by the Legendary New Yorker Writer."
It reminded me of the eulogy by Joe Mitchell, Liebling's buddy at the New Yorker. Mitchell told of a conversation he had had with a second-hand bookseller. "The moment one of Liebling's books turns up," the man told Mitchell, "it goes out immediately to someone on my waiting list." The man went on to say that he and other veteran second-hand book dealers thought that was a sure and certain sign that a book would endure. "Literary critics don't know which books will last and literary historians don't know. We are the ones who know. We know which books can be read only once, if that, and we know the ones that can be read and reread and reread."
This was said at a time when Liebling's early books were out of print. Since then the publishers have wised up and we frequently get new editions that cull from Liebling's works. i.e. a book entitled "The Neutral Corner" which consists of excerpts from Liebling's boxing classic," The Sweet Science."
Liebling was born in New York City in 1904, grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens, went to and was dropped from Dartmouth for not attending chapel, went to the Columbia School of Journalism, worked on and was fired from the New York Times, and worked for the Providence Journal and the World Telegram before landing and ennobling the pages of The New Yorker from 1935 until he died--much too fat and much too young--in 1963.
Liebling's "The Wayward Pressman," stands as the most significant press criticism of all time. He also wrote perceptively and entertainingly -- he was a dazzler -- about New York, Paris, England, boxing, war, North Africa, military theory, horse racing, labor, medieval history, Broadway lowlife, Stendhal, Albert Camus, Stephen Crane, Louisiana politics, Ibn Khaldun, and, most significantly, wine and food.
"Whatever he wrote," said New Yorker editor William Shawn, "it is safe to say that nobody ever wrote better on the subject." Liebling used to quip, "I can write better than anybody who can write faster than me; and I can write faster than anybody who can write better than me."
I have always believed that in the long run I was more rewarded and had more fun reading Liebling, H.L. Mencken, Heywood Broun, Murray Kempton and Westbrook Pegler than from having waded into the novels of Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe.
So I was delighted when I came across some copies of the quarterly "Sewanee Review" in which Seymour Toll, a lawyer from Philadelphia, made the argument that Liebling's reportage from World War II and about Paris was superior to that of Hemingway. He called Liebling's work a diamond-belt performance, an example of non-fiction besting fiction.
Like the legions of Liebling devotees, I have my own favorites of his passages, though it seems at times that you can dip into almost any page and come up with a gem. His most quoted comment is about publishers. "Freedom of the press," he said, "is guaranteed only to those who own one." And he dedicated "The Wayward Pressman," his book of press criticism, "To the Foundation of a School for Publishers, Failing Which, No School of Journalism Can Have Meaning."
Writing in the 1940s and 1950s, he was both a lover and severe critic of newspapers. To wit:
"Even now I read five or six papers a day and try to figure out from them what's happening in the way a fellow would buy five or six tip sheets at the entrance to a racetrack and try to put them together to get himself a winner. Newspaper readers, like bettors and lovers, are hard to discourage."
Also, "Newspapers can be more fun than a quiet girl."
And "As an observer from outside, I take a dim view of the plight of the press. It is the weak slat under the bed of democracy. It is an anomaly that information, the one thing most necessary to survival as choosers of our own way, should be a commodity subject to the same merchandising rules as chewing gum, while armament, a secondary instrument of liberty, is a government concern. A man is not free if he cannot see where he is going, even if he has a gun to help him get there."
Also, "I wonder how many important stories never get into the newspapers at all. The American press can make me think of a gigantic, supermodern fish cannery, a hundred floors high, capitalized at $11 billion, and with tens of thousands of workers standing ready at the canning machines, but relying for its raw material on an inadequate number of handline fishermen in leaky rowboats."
His "Between Meals" is a multi-course feast worthy of a four-star restaurant, though his obesity most likely shortened his time. Biographer Raymond Sokolov has him speculating that Proust would have written an even better book than "Remembrances of Things Past" if he had had a "heartier appetite" and "had been frequently in the mood for the sort of repast that, by implication, passed down Liebling's epic gullet: 'a dozen Gardiner's Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sautéed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters and a Long Island duck.' "
Liebling was a swashbuckler in print. Some lines:
"A British author snooting American food is like the blind twitting the one-eyed."
"Reading a bad book is like watching a poor fight. Instead of being caught up in it, you try to figure out what is the matter."
"The gesture would be as redundant as twisting a nymphomaniac's arm to get her to bed."
"There is nothing finer to watch than a graceful animal on legs a bit too long for symmetry--a two-year-old thoroughbred, a kudu, or a heron."
"The quantity of brandy in a madeline (Proust's lemon cake) would not furnish a gnat with an alcohol rub."
And, show-off that he could be, he outrageously and unselfconsciously wrote: "Then I came back to the inn and sat around with Van Der Schriek. We talked about the ninth-century Middle Kingdom of Lothaire, which had included the Low Countries, Alsace-Lorraine, and what is new in Switzerland."
A Liebling description of his contemporary, John Lardner, surely could be read as a description of himself: "He made his own way. As a humorist, reporter, sportswriter and critic, he found his style--a mixture, unlike any other, of dignity, gaiety, precision and surprise. He was a funny writer and though he would never have admitted it, an artist."
©2006 by Stan Isaacs. This column first posted Jan. 23, 2006.
CRITIQUE OF THE FILM "CASABLANCA," 1943...
By Betty Maisin Gomory
It's not easy to knock an iconic film like "Casablanca" off its pedestal. But after revisiting the film several times recently on Channel 13, I feel impelled to make a stab at it.
I have no special credentials in film criticism, other than constant weekly attendance at the movies from the age of eight onwards. But I feel that film is an art form and I am interested in analyzing why one film and not another grabs the attention of the public.
As to why the whole country was enamored of "Casablanca" -- it was a love story, an escape from the war in which we were embroiled. It had two popular movie stars portraying the love affair between a beautiful woman and a mysterious man. And it featured a favorite plot line of films circa the 1940's (and beyond), that of the lone man running away from sworn enemies. Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest," Gary Cooper in "High Noon," Priscilla Lane and Robert Cummings in "Saboteur," are outstanding examples of this device.
In "Casablanca," Humphrey Bogart is cast as that lone man but somehow does not create the edge-of-the-seat suspense that is needed.
A love story is only as good as the chemistry projected by the two lovers. For me, "Casablanca" lacked that chemistry. I felt that Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were play-acting at having a passionate love affair.
You're probably thinking: But all such movies are subject to the same criticism. These are actors, after all, paid to create the illusion that they are in love. Yet, I've seen many movies, circa the 1940's, in which the "love" between the leading actors was persuasive enough to make me cry, viz., "Wuthering Heights," "The Best Years of Our Lives," West Side Story" (1960's), among others.
"Casablanca" also had the necessary component of obstacles to the romance, in the form of a husband, Victor, jealously guarding his prior claim to the affections of Ilsa, his wife. Caught between the desire to protect Ilsa and the compulsion to keep his business going, Rick defies the dangers of a city crawling with Nazis.
The conflict between Rick's idealism (he fought for the Loyalists in Spain in '36 and ran guns for Ethiopia in '35) and his materialistic need to survive should provide the interest needed to give the film any semblance of suspense.
Yet for me the movie never comes together and the loose ends are brought together with a pat ending, namely Rick telling Ilsa, "We'll always have Paris," while he sends her off to join her resistance-fighter husband in the fight against the Nazis.
Thus, although they love each other, they let each other go. It is corny -- you can hear the violins.
And so I've made my case for thinking the movie, "Casablanca," does not deserve its pedestal. . . . But with more expert direction, writing and especially, casting, "Casablanca" still could have been a compelling film. As it is, however, I remain unmoved and unconvinced.
THINGS I NEVER KNEW (until I made them up)
By Jack Leavitt
Except for blood, the only food a striped blue spider will eat is an avocado.
In combat with raiding bands of Visigoths, the average speed of a Roman chariot was measured by spilled peppercorns.
The French horn originally was a kitchen implement attached to a cutting board.
Of the thousands of ancient Egyptian tombs which foreigners have pried open, not one inscription predicted that an expedition leader would misplace his fraternal twin grandchildren.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the only American president whose last name consists entirely of consonants.
Artificial coloring makes oranges appear rounder than lemons.
George Washington's wooden teeth were soaked nightly in arsenic to prevent wormholes. (The treatment failed.)
The floating mirage at the El-Din oasis produces industrial grade diamonds which render camels sterile.
Sigma, the statistical plus or minus standard of error, inspires so much veneration among the mountain tribes of Peru that violators of average predictions routinely face capital punishment. (Ever since conversion to the metric system, however, most death sentences have been commuted.)
Forty-two percent of people who dream of avocados have last names which contain no consonants.
In one of the secret military decisions made just before the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States Army Central Command permitted all street signs to remain visible to motorists in Duluth, Minnesota. (Misspelled signs were sent to scrap yards and replaced by temporary plastic markers.)
During the 12th century, the werewolf line of the House of Plantagenet was exiled to Belgium.
Under orthodox Talmudic law, the salt used as an integral part of the meat koshering process must never be thrown into garbage cans which once held cottage cheese.
During winter months, male fish in the Bermuda Triangle swim underwater.
Observations taken through two way mirrors have established that borderline neurotics shake their heads and grimace when faced with lists of obvious truths.
MANDATORY DISCLOSURE: No marmosets were killed or injured in the preparation of this article.
FANTASTICALLY, MAGNIFICENTLY, INCREDIBLY UNBELIEVABLE—AND, ACTUALLY NOT BAD
By Larry Eisenberg
Original Version Appeared in Newlook Magazine
Somewhere, maybe on a parallel plane, is the graveyard of lost adjectives. In this world, where there was once a good, better and best, we have jettisoned the first two and are now living on all-purpose superlatives.
A recent television commercial talked about ''a magnificent, tender rack of lamb." If rack of lamb is magnificent, what is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? If somebody's new haircut is fantastic, what do you call the carnaval parade in Rio? And if a designer running suit is awesome, how do you describe Machu Picchu?
By constantly turning up the volume, that's how. There is no greater physical shock than trauma. On a recent TV news show, a woman talked about being "very traumatized'' (perhaps even approaching extreme coma). You can no longer just love somebody; you must love somebody "very much." Once upon a time, people got upset. Now they're "devastated." Some are "very devastated." God knows what they're saying about orgasms. Well, we recently heard somebody describe a corned beef sandwich at the Carnegie Deli as ''orgasmic.'' So maybe the way to go is to describe your orgasm as "cornedbeefian."
Clearly, the advertising business started this. Years ago they buried what was once called a "small size." Small became medium, medium got large, large was kicked up to giant, giant became jumbo? Colossal? And they were only talking about toothpaste. This influence crept into other important areas. Many decades ago, people in movies--Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, Tyrone Power, Marilyn Monroe--used to be called "stars." That wasn't good enough for Barbra Streisand. She became a "superstar." (Following shortly thereafter, were "supermodels" and I dare you to locate anyone on the planet described merely as "a model" since). In 1970, even Jesus Christ joined the bandwagon. But "super" wasn't enough for Sylvester Stallone, who became a "major superstar" (never mind that he's now a phenomenal has-been).
But, let's deal with our current "major superstars": Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Reese Witherspoon, Whoever Is Big This Month. Are they too limited? Well, they can be promoted to colonel and then general. Eventually each could be a "four-star general superstar" (the use of fabulous, magnificent, awesome and incredible as prefixes would be optional).
Sometimes I get so sick of it all I just want to drop dead. Totally dead, that is.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN — AND WHY???
By Harriet Posnak Lesser
According to a recent poll, most viewers approve of the way cable TV covers the news. Well, count again, fellas. Here's one avid newsnik who thinks they're doing a lousy job.
I'm sick of the endless analyses by so-called experts who don't know what they're talking about. Some of them have been out of the loop so long, they couldn't find it with a map of downtown Chicago.
My main complaint is the video streamer that moves non-stop across the bottom of the screen. I'm getting a stiff neck from staring at the talking head in the main frame and trying to read the fine print at the same time. It's like watching a vertical tennis match. I've also noticed that the really important stuff is in the streamer.
Here's a typical (but mythical) cable news interview between an anchorperson and a military maven, General Beauregard Fuddled (Ret.):
Anchorperson: I know you're a busy man, General, so thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
General B. Fuddled (Ret.): That's okay. It's a cold lunch day at the senior center.
Anchor: In your opinion, General, how safe is the average American from bio-terrorism?
General: Not safe at all. There's black plague, typhoid, scurvy, beri-beri, quinsy, and getting kicked in the face by a buffalo.
And the streamer on the bottom of the screen is reporting that ... "Scottish scientists have captured the Loch Ness monster ... Amelia Earhart has been found alive and well and living in Shangri La with Judge Crater, Jimmy Hoffa and Elvis Presley ... Aliens have landed in a Kansas cornfield ..."
Anchor: Could a diseased terrorist walk into a crowded shopping center or subway and infect thousands of people?
General: Maybe. So when you see someone covered with spots, offer him a bottle of Clearasil. If he turns you down, you know he's a real bio-terrorist and not a teenager with problem skin.
And the streamer on the bottom of the screen is reporting that ... "Howard Stern and Ann Coulter were married in a secret Las Vegas ceremony ... Researchers have invented a pill that cures every major illness known to humankind ... An abominable snowman and his mate were spotted in a Social Security office in Idaho ... Aliens have eaten their way through Kansas and are crossing the border into Missouri ..."
Anchor: As a military man with a long history of service, what steps would you take to keep America safe?
General: Defeat the enemy in the field like we did in the old days. Line 'em up with weapons pointed at each other and let 'em go at it.
Anchor: I'm not sure what you mean.
General: Line 'em up means line 'em up. Blue on one side, gray on the other.
And the streamer on the bottom of the screen is reporting that ... "New DNA evidence suggests that George Washington may have been a woman ... A chocolate bar that keeps people young forever will soon be available in stores ... The aliens who ate Kansas and Missouri have teamed up with the Yeti and his Yente and at last report were heading across country ..."
Anchor: We've run out of time, General, but I hope you'll come back soon.
General: Call on me any day but Wednesday. We play Bingo on Wednesday. Hey, your next guests are here. How could such a hairy couple have all those bald, big-eyed kids?
SO GO KNOWby Harriet Posnak Lesser
PROVERBS ANYONE?by Sid Frigand
KAKISTOCRACY (n.)by Helen Goldberg Isaacson
I TOOK MANHATTAN—SORT OFby Larry Eisenberg
BETTY CO-ED: CIRCA 1945by Sheila Solomon Klass
A LONG WAY FROM HOMEby Nancy Terrizzi Rockwell
THE MIT GRADUATION, 2007by Jewell Elizabeth Golden
THEY PLAY IT AGAIN; THE DODGERS LEAVE BROOKLYNby Stan Isaacs
MY LIFE AS A SOLDIERby Norman Gelb
Quadrangle Issue 5
SO GO KNOW
By Harriet Posnak Lesser
Hey, look at me! I'm being published in Vanguard and it only took me 57 years. Like other serendipitous discoveries -- penicillin, the Salk vaccine and the Mentos/Diet Coke Geyser -- I found the new Vanguard by accident. It happened on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Caught up with work and frustrated with Free Cell, I decided to Google the time away. One Internet search led to another, bringing me to a story by Josh Greenfeld about my journalism teacher at Tilden High School. I logged on to the website and found the article under the Vanguard banner. How old is that ? I wondered. Then I realized it was not a relic, but a resurrection. Vanguard lives!
So, go know, as my mother used to say. I entered BC in February '49. Don't rack your brain. You probably won't remember me. Even I don't remember me. I was a cub reporter on the newspaper during its final year and I was outstandingly unremarkable. I was small with reddish blonde hair and verrrry quiet --because I was scared out of my mind. All of the editors were so suave, self-assured, brilliant and erudite. I could never hope to attain such a state of cool.
I recall Harry Baron (so sorry to read of his death), Al Lasher, Herb Dorfman, Gene Bluestein, Ann Lane, Norman Gelb, Mike Levitas. Bill Taylor (think he's also a Tilden grad), Myron Kandel, Jewel Kurtz and others. To prove that I really was there during the time of troubles, I remember being locked out of the Vanguard office. I was proud to be one of Dr. Gideonse's "Midget Maliks," even though my politics leaned in the other direction. I remember protesting outside the school. I still brag about that to my kids. I was way ahead of my time. Talk about being cool. I also remember my mother's reaction to my letter of probation.
One of my fondest recollections is walking into the Vanguard office and finding all the lights out and candles burning on the table. There against the wall, hanging from a clothes hook, was ??? I think it was either Gene or Norman, with eyes bulging and tongue lolling. It took me a while to realize it was a hoax. I went back a couple of times anyway just to make sure. (I figured that at this point, reporting a suicide was useless. Dead is dead.) My memory may be sharp, but I sure wasn't.
I opted out of extra-curricular activities after Vanguard's demise. My heart was broken. I graduated in the summer of '52 and started teaching. Big mistake for me. I got married, had three kids and returned to writing after 25 years. I'm still at it.
By Sid Frigand (TheColumnists.com)
Hey, I just thought of a new proverb to try around the campfire tonight: LET SLEEPING MAMMOTHS LIE!"
Q. Tom Fullery of Lulu, FL., writes: "Mel Francobollo, our letter carrier in Lulu, is the only Democrat that I'm aware of living in this town of 1,500 and I enjoy debating politics and foreign affairs with him. We were discussing Iraq and he said the Administration should have respected the old proverb 'Look before you leap' prior to invading Iraq. So I dug up another proverb to refute his: 'He who hesitates is lost.' Then, he says, 'Brain is better than brawn' and I countered that 'Might makes right.' "After that exchange, I began to wonder: are proverbs as wise as they pretend to be? Who invented proverbs in the first place? Can Almanac help me?"
A) Where to start? Since recorded timeand long before that--mankind has turned to "wise" men and women to guide their actions, allay their fears and fulfill their desires. Oracles have been hanging out for countless millennia in caves, huts and temples, double-talking their way through history*. The utterances of ancient pundits, once they were recorded by the printed word, evolved into most of today's proverbs. Some of these primeval sayings, passed down since time immemorial were updated over the millennia. No longer does one say: 'Ur wasn't built in a day,' 'Let sleeping Mammoths lie,' 'He who lives by the spear, dies by the spear,' 'A man's cave is his cavern,' or 'A good-tasting man is hard to find.' **
The "invention" of proverbs is controversial. Followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition point to the Biblical "Book of Proverbs" as the proof of the earliest reference to proverbs. But, some Biblical scholars maintain that the book was called "The Sayings of King Solomon" until versions of the New Testament appeared much later in time. Almanac's own researchers maintain that proverbs found their origins in ancient China.
Readers of the Almanac might remember that Ts'ai Lin, a prosperous and influential eunuch in the court of Emperor Wu, is credited with inventing paper in 105 A.D. Shortly after this historic breakthrough, the royal baker, Tsu Zhe Kew, implored Ts'ai to help her. She had been commanded by the Emperor to come up with an innovative and delightful confection for a resplendent banquet honoring some visiting noblemen. If Ts'ai could make small pieces of paper with delightful messages on them, she could insert them in her pastries for the pleasure of the Emperor and his guests. Ts'ai hand-illuminated rudimentary prophesies and adages*** were true forerunners of proverbs as we now know them. The Emperor was so pleased: he called them "fortune cookies****." Thus, written "proverbs' were born and Chinese restaurants to this day, never have to worry about what to serve after a meal."
B) A.According to famed Czech historian Vaclav Smegma, "The art of enigmatic augury was already refined at the dawn of recorded history. Under the threat of disgrace and banishment, the much-revered Delphic Oracles priestesses trained since childhood in the disciplines of obfuscation and double-speak never posed a prognostication that could be disproved, or understood for that matter.. Over time, it became the official lingua franca of diplomacy."
**Dr. Sue Thayer, in her seminal book, "Seers, Sages and Smartasses" (Fulcourt Press, 2005, 998pp) argues that proverbs again need some updating to reflect 21st century mores and circumstances [Nota bene: Some purists question whether any woman is capable of writing a 'seminal' book.] Dr. Thayer cited some examples: "to recipients of Gates Foundation grants'Beware of geeks bearing gifts;' to young men confused about sexuality'A miss is as good as a male;' for Presidential press conferences'Ask me questions and I'll tell you lies;' on marriage'A woman's words are never done;' to neophytes at Starbuck's'Better latte than never;' to aging actresses and socialites'Boys will be toys;' to dieters'Taste makes waist;' and, to people like Michael Jackson'Don't cut off your nose to spite your race'.
[We are pleased that Dr. Thayer has asked The Almanac to be the official conduit for updated proverbs. Got suggestions? Send them to us.]
*** Confucian scholar Sei Wen Hon noted that before Confucianism was established as Imperial dogma, the ancient prophesies and sayings were obtuse and even downright silly. He cited some examples: "He who works hard, works hard: he who does not work hard, hee hoo;" "A stitch in time prevents cut in hours;" "For want of a nail a toe may be lost;" and "Feed a colt and starve the feeder." The venerable Dr. Sei conceded that Confucius, too, needed updating. He cited one of Confucius' early sayings to make his point: "Feel kindly toward everyone, but be intimate only with the virtuous."
**** Dr. Tso Tsu Mie, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Far Eastern Studies at the University of Phoenix explained that "fortune cookies as we know them now were created in San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 20th century. They were copied from Japanese cookies shaped liked the ones that are familiar to us today. "The original 'fortune cookies,' which contained wise sayings by Confucius, were later known in China as 'moon cakes,' made from lotus seed paste enriched with duck eggs. These very rich and dense pastries contained wise sayings and good luck messages. However, they were not necessarily suited to everyone's palate. The Mongols, an enemy of Imperial China for centuries, despised them. This proved to be 'good fortune' for the Chinese who used moon cakes regularly to conceal secret messages."
©2007 by Sid Frigand. This column first posted June 18, 2007.
By Helen Goldberg Isaacson
I learned a new word from a 14-year-old girl named Isabel Jacobson, who came in third in the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee contest held in Washington, D C. at the end of May. During the final day of the event, the media treated the top spellers like celebrity athletes at an NFL playoff or leading jockeys at a triple-crown race, and they offered viewers taped profiles of the young finalists.
When asked to name her favorite difficult word, Isabel took out a small chalkboard and wrote "kakistocracy." When asked the definition, she replied "Government by the worst people possible."
Within a few hours, hundreds of excited bloggers were exchanging reactions. See for yourself by googling "kakistocracy spelling bee."
A typical entry is from Newsvine.com:
"My pick of the night was the lone girl in the top ten, firecracker Isabel Jacobsen of Madison, Wisconsin. She made it into the top three spellers and to boot she is one smart cookie. In her video profile aired during the bee, she mentioned one of her favorite words: Kakistocracy: Rule by the least-able or least-principled of citizens; a form of government in which the people least qualified to control the government are the people who control the government."
My favorite comment is from TurnMaineBlue.com (cross posted on DailyKos)
"Something happened during the recent National Spelling Bee. A word that's lingered in obscurity for a century--a word we all really need today--wiggled back into the public discourse, thanks to Isabel Jacobson, a 14-year-old spelling champion from Madison, Wisconsin. She mentioned that her favorite difficult word was kakistocracy.
"Someone noticed, sent an email that made the rounds, and a friend of mine had an idea. We all agreed: this needs to be a bumper sticker!
"In short order, we took the idea and designed it, ordered it, and put it up on our website and on ActBlue for your ordering convenience.
"We hope, as people start to see it on bumpers, a few will look it up, and heads will start to nod in agreement. It should incite some lively parking lot conversations, too!"
The TurnMaineBlue folks conclude with a multiple-choice quiz: Poll: Bush thinks kakistocracy:
1) is a heckuva job for his buddies
2) is a society ruled by pastry chefs- tasty!
3) is a society ruled by frat boys in tan pants
4) was on his World History final at Yale
I was turned on to the Bee by my son, David. Isabel Jacobson's father once did the music for David's Chicago theater company, Theater Oobleck. One Ooblecker made a tape of Isabel's ABC coverage, so you can watch her (www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCWkeIFhpgY) introducing us to this amazingly, incredibly, very sadly pertinent word.
I'm ordering a bumper sticker.
I TOOK MANHATTAN—SORT OF
By Larry Eisenberg
Wearing my new black leather jacket, I'm strolling down Broadway near 70th Street , when I hear a shout coming from a car, which slows down near me. The driver, one of two 40ish men in grey suits, says, "How ya been? Remember me? I used to work in the restaurant on 69th Street!"
I have no specific memory of him. Still, I feel bound by some rule of civilization: If a person says he knows you, it's rude not to pretend you know him. So I ask the driver, "How are you getting along?"
"I'm working at a restaurant on 63d! Where ya going?"
"For my morning walk," I say.
"Come on, I'll give you a lift and show you the new place!"
"What's its name?" I ask.
He reaches toward his sun visor. "I'll give you a card!" Shaking his head, he says, "Where did I put my cards?"
The man in the passenger seat squeezes toward the driver and nods at me. "Here, I made room for you. Come on in!"
I consider the offer, then say, "Thanks. I feel like walking. What's the name of your new restaurant?"
"The driver shouts, "Delicious!"
"I'll meet you there," I say. They shrug in unison and pull away.
As I stroll downtown, I realize that I've never been to a restaurant on 69th Street. And, when I reach 63d Street, I find, no longer to my surprise, that there is no Delicious there. These dudes, I conclude, were cruising to pick up some gullible person, intending to rob, or maybe, kill him. Annoyed, I wonder: Did I look like such an easy mark? More importantly, how could I, a native New Yorker--who had constantly warned my children: "Never get into a car with a stranger"consider doing the same thing?
This is one of many experiences my friends and I have had on and off the streets of Manhattan, where I, Brooklyn born-and-bred, have lived for nearly two thirds of my life. Here are more, some of which make me think that I never left Flatbush:
On the corner of 72nd Street and Broadway, a man sits on the sidewalk alongside his large dog, who has a patch on his left eye. The man chants, "Please help out a dog who needs an operation!" Occasionally, people drop coins into the dog dish next to him. Two days later, the guy is still there, but now the patch is on the dog's right eye.
Woman on 57th Street bus to two small children: "Oh, look, we saw a store called Strawberry and now they have one called Bur-berry."
A friend strolling out of a Village restaurant, carrying a doggy bag, is approached by a homeless guy, who says, "Can you help me? I haven't eaten since yesterday." My friend offers him the doggy bag and he responds, "Well, I certainly hope it's not fish!"
In Macy's, on a day that the papers have carried ads about bedding sales: a senior couple checking out the merchandise. Shaking his head in annoyance, the man says: "Look, I don't want to argue with you! Duvet-shmuvet!"
On 68th and Broadway, a disheveled man shouts, to nobody in particular, "Just because you wear shabby clothes and don't shave, everybody thinks you're a fuckin' undercover cop!"
A man and woman are waiting on a long, slow-moving line at a popular Chinatown restaurant, featuring a special Sunday dim-sum menu. The man stares toward the front of the line, then at his watch and says to the woman, "Five more minutes and we're going to Yonah Schimmel!
A bummish guy on Amsterdam Avenue shouts, "Would you care to contribute to the Need-a-Pizza Fund?"
Shopping at Fairway, a friend is suddenly bashed on her foot by the wheel of a cart. Turning around to face its owner, she realizes that it's Ed Koch, and says, "And I voted for you!"
An actress-pal from L.A., on a downtown-bound # 7 train, witnesses a guy, holding a cap and begging for money to ease the pains of his cancer, recent family deaths, unavailable employment and a fire that destroyed his apartment. They both exit the train at the same station and she says, "Pardon me for asking, but do you get enough donations to pay for food?" He responds, "Oh, I make about a thousand a week, but it's not an easy gig."
I'm rushing uptown on Broadway in the '70s, when I bump against the arm of a woman. I say, "I'm sorry," and continue walking. From behind I hear: "You're sorry? That's it?" I turn around and she says, angrily, "You bump into me and say you're sorry and then you just walk away?" I respond: "Well, do you want me to take you to a hospital?" She says, "You have some mouth!"
A Hassidic-looking man with a long black coat, yarmulke and white beard, sits on the M 104 bus, talking into a cell phone. Some of his Yiddish-accented conversation drifts out, especially when he says, to the person on the other end, "Vell, arrivederci!"
The following never actually happened, but it's my all-time favorite New York joke: In the early 1950s, an old woman is walking down a Manhattan street when she's approached by two Japanese tourists. The man asks, "Can you please tell us how to get to the Statue of Liberty?" The old woman replies, "Pearl Harbor you could find!"
BETTY CO-ED: CIRCA 1945
By Sheila Solomon Klass
Was I once so young?
Did I actually smoke a pipe? Did I borrow Herb Dorfman's blue winter jacket to go to Ingersoll Hall to a Human Physiology lab? Did Dr. Reidman cry out, "The coat rack's on fire!" because I'd put a lit pipe in the pocket? I've thought about it and felt guilty for more than 50 years, but when I mentioned it to Herb he didn't even remember. Did I really regularly eat mayonnaise sandwiches on the rye bread that came along with Shelley Mehlman's salads in the Brooklyn College Cafeteria? Kosher mayonnaise. Superior sandwiches. FREE!
How did I pass the college swimming test? I can't swim now and I never could. I passed by clinging to the examiner's life-saving pole so she poled me back and forth across the pool pretending not to notice.
Am I the only alum who failed the required Introductory Math course twice? The second time, the merciful Saint Richardson--who was using the incomprehensible textbook he had written himself--permitted me to offer a term paper in lieu of the final exam. (First, I had to look up in lieu, then I agreed.) My paper, "The History of Mathematics Since the Egyptians," was youthfully ambitious. Professor Richardson gave it a "C" with the single terse comment: "Notable for its honesty in indicating sources. "
Were my Vanguard friends loyal to their one cub reporter working the Broadway beat? Indeed. They came faithfully on weekends and stood beneath the giant Mr. Peanut outside the blue-mirrored nut store on Duffy Square and made funny faces at me as I roasted nuts in vats of hot oil in the great front window. Terrific part-time job. Much better than Bickford's or Horn and Hardart. I ate all the nuts I could eat. FREE! It was then that I developed my distaste for pistachios; too much salt and too hard on the jaw.
Was I a lucky participant in the greatest original Christmas production ever; "NO TITUS IS WHOLLY ANDRONICUS," presented in English 53, Bernard D. N. Grebanier's Shakespeare class? The play's title was maliciously derived from the book of Marxist criticism of Thomas Mann, NO VOICE IS WHOLLY LOST, by Harry D. Slochower, our teacher's arch-enemy.
There were seven songs with glorious lyrics. I offer samples: First, Othello's "Jealousy" (to the tune of the popular song with the same name).
Jealousy, that ain't what's wrong with me
Just ask Grebanier, that's how he makes his mon-yeh.
Now this guy I-A-go,
He wanted to lay me low; took my wife's hankie,
But he didn't want to blow.
Desdemona I made into trash, but only because I was rash;
While she sang of willow, I took an old pillow and stopped her from mouthing such trash.
Well, now you know, why Desdemona had to go.
It wasn't jealousy
No, it was something else you see....
It was the fault of Fortinbras
The father of the middle class
That bourgeois music
Made my life a mess Oh-lay!
Then the "Romeo and Juliet" duet, which led into the whole cast singing the grand finale: (Duet to tune of "Silent Night")
Juliet: You look low.
Romeo: I haven't et.
Romeo: Why are you lying stretched out on the tomb?
Juliet: With this housing shortage I can't get a room.
Both: Friar Lawrence shall hear of this.
Juliet: Then I'll rest in heavenly peace.
Both: Then she'll rest in heavenly peace.
Juliet: I love you
But here comes Paris to pay me a call.
Romeo: I'll plaster that Paris all over the wall.
Juliet: That's the last time I'll see Paris....
Both: May he find peace in death
Till Orson Welles puts him in MacBeth.
Enter Friar Tuck
Friar Tuck: I'm called Little Friar Tuck, poor little Friar Tuck....
Two dollars, please.
Deck the halls with loaves of chalah, tra la la la la la la la la.
Juliet will be a cholar, tra la la la la la la la la
We will have a wedding happy, tra la la la la la la la la
(Romeo, revealing small baby doll)
For I already am a Pappy, tra la la la la la la la la.
Professor Grebanier, well-pleased, waddled away on vacation. We were delighted. Shakespeare had been well served.
Did I really survive five nights a week for two years -- on the Iowa Psychopathic Hospital "disturbed" ward, with my fellow aide, Vanguardian Nancy Terrizzi, locking and unlocking toilets and restraining very sick patients while we were becoming great writers in the Iowa Writers Workshop?
In 1952, did Norma Lieberman, during our two-bit Grand Tour of Europe, actually step out of the gondola and into the Grand Canal? Did the gondoliers cheer our arrival?
Was this the way my whole life went?
I think so.
Whenever I begin to wonder if I'm wandering in a fictional past, I go to the Vanguard site and I am reassured. Those college years weren't easy and were more than a little crazy. For me, nostalgia is the delicious morphine of the mind. More and more as I age, I indulge in heavy doses.
A LONG WAY FROM HOME
By Nancy Terrizzi Rockwell
In the spring of 1949, Sheila Solomon and I enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at the State University of Iowa; and in the fall of that year, we were on our way, by rail, to the Iowa City campus, located in the midst of flat lands, fertile black soil, and open skies in a state having an agriculture-based economy. Iowa City, dominated by its large student body, had a mosquito-infested river bank--yes, a river ran through it--and heavily chlorinated water. Clear and clean at its source, the water was befouled by farm waste and fertilizer on its way downriver.
A few minutes after we arrived at Eastlawn, the women's graduate dorm, I noticed unfamiliar-looking articles sticking out of my crushed suitcase. An investigation revealed that someone had placed several items that did not belong to me into it. I had gained a few oversized garments in garish colors. What to do? Sheila and I wondered briefly who had lost her clothing and at which phase of the journey. I don't remember now what I did about it, but I never did find out whose possessions had been shoved into my now useless suitcase.
Soon after we unpacked, Sheila did two things. She introduced herself, and me, to every student on our floor. Not as outgoing as Sheila, I hung back a bit but followed her down the third-floor corridor, saying, "Sheila, are you sure you want to do this? Shouldn't we get to know them first? We might not like some of them. Don't you think we should wait?" I doubt that she heard me.
Before long, Room 310, Eastlawn, became a meeting place for several young, intelligent women. One student, who occupied the room next to ours, was a tall, beautiful, intelligent Indian. She always wore saris, and one day she showed us how she transformed a strip of oblong cloth to an article of clothing. With swift, deft movements of her fingers that my eyes could barely follow, she gathered a corner of the material and tucked it into a waistband. Then she draped the remainder around her body and tossed the loose end over her shoulder. Presto! Change-o! How did she do that? She let us see the collection of saris lined up in her closet--a row of brilliant colors and delicate fabrics, some threaded with gold. Lovely. She was contemptuous of American styles but always wore sweaters, American made, with her saris.
We also had unwelcome guests, almost inevitable. Several of the students at Eastlawn made it a practice to check all incoming packages, which were placed near the entrance door. Sheila's mother sent salamis. My mother sent home-made biscotti. When either of us received a package, we had lots of visitors. One of them, who knew long before she knocked on our door that Sheila's mother had sent a salami, walked around the room in perfect circles, saying, "I smell something. I smell something. I smell salami." Pace, pace, sniff, sniff, round and round.
"Give her some salami, Nancy," Sheila said before she tucked a few books under her arm and walked out, heading for the basement--which combined a rec hall, study room, and laundry-- leaving me to cut a slice from a foot-long salami for the most annoying resident at Eastlawn.
I was still settling in when Sheila went job huntingthe second thing she did after our arrival. When she returned that afternoon, she announced that she'd been hired as an attendant for the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the psychopathic hospital; she'd spoken to the head nurse about me; and the woman was expecting me. I trekked across the river to the psychopathic hospital, which was not a mental hospital but a research facility, by the way. During my interview, the head nurse wanted to know how I felt about mental illness. I had never thought about it, except in psych classes, where it really was academic. Whatever I said, I too, landed a joblike Sheila, for the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, three nights a week.
Our flashlight made a circle of moving light on the walls as we searched for the door we would have to unlock to get to the wards we'd been assigned. On that first night, it was eerie to walk through dark wards where patients slept. We were not sure of what to expect. Most of the time, though, the biggest challenge was to stay awake all night. After we left the wards mornings, we would have a quick breakfast in the cafeteria and return to Eastlawn, where we got into bed and passed out. You might say we fell asleep, but it felt more like falling into a coma.
At the hospital, we shared a small corner office located between two wards, North and West, at right angles to each other. Each of us was responsible for patrolling a ward every half hour. Sheila checked the West ward; I checked the North ward. We were to keep logs for each patient, noting when they slept and describing their behavior if they woke during the night. We were also to sew labels onto the clothing of new arrivals and to count what were called sharps and keys.
Occasionally, we had to do more than stay awake and keep track of patient activities. It was not long before I learned the wisdom of keeping anything that could be used as a weapon out of the hands of patients. We woke them mornings before the 7 a.m. shift arrived. One of our duties was to light the cigarettes of smokers, who were not allowed to keep matches. One patient tried to burn several others with the lighted end of her cigarette.
A woman on North ward wanted out one night. I had checked to see whether patients were asleep, returned to the corner office, and then heard something. When I returned to the ward, I saw a woman holding a chair up, attempting to bash it through a window. It was easy to take the chair away from her. She simply smiled a charming, girlish smile and meekly returned to bed. But a few minutes later, I heard something again, and again found her trying to break the same window with the same chair. How many times did that happen? Several.
I had read about catatonia in psychology books, but that is not the same as seeing it. One patient sat immobile in her bed for an entire night in a position that no one else could possibly assume for even a few minutes. Another tore her bedclothes off one morning and ran toward a door, where she stiffened suddenly and became as rigid as stone.
There are three events that I will always remember. A young man, who had tried to commit suicide by taking barbiturates and leaping into the Iowa river had changed his mind, gotten out of the water, climbed up the river bank, and crawled to the psychopathic hospital, looking for help. I assisted in the clean-up while the medical staff pumped out his stomach.
Another time, a usually quiet, sweet young Amish girl became hysterical. She thought she was covered by bugs, which were biting her. "Look, look," she said, holding her hands out to Sheila and me. "My hands are bleeding."
"Your hands aren't bleeding, Ellen," Sheila said. "Look at them. There's no blood."
"I know," Ellen said. "They're white. All the blood is out of them."
White hands. No blood. Warped logic.
I unlocked the bathroom door one night to let a patient use the toilet. She was a huge, fat woman. When she was about to sit down, she lost her balance and lurched forward. I twisted my back in an effort to stop the fall, but she was too heavy. She fell on her face on the hard tile floor. Sheila came to help, but we couldn't move her, and we finally called a young male attendant from the men's ward to help. She'd hurt herself, and I felt that I'd let it happen.
We were always glad to see someone recover sufficiently to leave the psychopathic hospital. I remember the departure of one young woman who could have been a fellow graduate student. Bright, pleasant, and cheerful, she seemed to have all the qualities anyone would need to lead a full, productive life. But a few weeks later, she was back, in a manic state, dancing on a table. We knew her mood would soon descend to despair and sink as low as it was now high.
We saw broken lives at the psychopathic hospital. I'd like to say those lives were eventually healed, that the women recovered, but I don't know, and I doubt it. Psychiatry was not as advanced then as it is now--and it is not always successful today. Witnesses to human tragedy, Sheila and I maintained our emotional distance through force of will and sometimes even saw the humor in a situation.
Beyond the hospital doors, we participated in campus life. We met people from all over, dated, attended talks and readings by notables like Dylan Thomas, experienced culture shock, were amazed by the regulation 3.2 beer, Sunday blue laws, and midnight lock-ups at local bars; met openly gay men and women (a first for me) at a time when the closet doors were closed, locked, and sealed shut; slogged through snow in temperatures that were frequently below zero, tried not to slip on the ice (especially on what had to be the only hill in the entire state of Iowa), avoided drinking the chlorinated water, went to restaurants that advertised Artesian wells when we could afford to but usually ate the marginally edible food available at the Student Union, had coffee with friends before attending early evening classes, read, did homework, studied at desks in the library stacks, and slept when we could.
Through it all--wonderful, awful, exhilarating, instructive, and sometimes daunting--we remained city girls. We were born in Brooklyn and considered ourselves to be New Yorkers. By different routes and on different timetables, we both eventually returned to the place we thought of as home.
You can take the kid out of the city, but . . . Well, you know the rest.
THE MIT GRADUATION, 2007
By Jewell Elizabeth Golden, LCSW-C (nee Jewel Kurtz)
I still am not sure just why I was so moved to tears.
From the 2,300 graduates' processional that lasted for 1/2 hour, to the many green tree pins that the graduates wore, certifying their pledge to keep the environment green...to the 13,000 visitors in the regalia of their many countries...to the bottles of water at our seats....to the gentle and honoring way they treated grandparents--it was an amazing event.
The first woman president of MIT told them that they were entering a world that was pessimistic and that one of their missions was to bring the optimism to it.
The reception was thoughtfully planned as they fed everyone. There was no ham for any Jewish and Muslim needs and loads of veggies along with the usual roast beef and turkey sandwiches.
And the Nobel Prize winners at the Physics Department reception were delightful.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude that I am still around to enjoy that---and to see my oldest grandchild graduate. She will be at the U of Maryland in their Doctoral Program with their Nobel Prize-winner teaching Physics: The first time one of my seven grandchildren will live in our area.
It was 60 years ago when I entered Brooklyn College. My mother, who was removed from 3rd grade to work in a sweat shop, and my father who finished 8th grade, were so pleased with Brooklyn College. I think they would have liked this graduation, too. Perhaps that is the 'raison d'etre et le but' for the tears.
THEY PLAYED IT ONCE MORE: THE DODGERS LEAVE BROOKLYN
By Stan Isaacs
The recent HBO documentary entitled "Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush," had many good things in it, and I recommended it, but I can't say I was overjoyed with it.
Some sets of quotes were at the heart of my unhappiness with the treatment of the Dodgers' move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. One of them was by Melvin Durslag, an LA sports columnist, justifying Walter O'Malley's desire to desert Brooklyn. Durslag says, "A Puerto Rican fan urinated in a bottle and threw it onto Ebbets Field." This comes after general manager Buzzy Bavasi relates a racist dirge by O'Malley, bemoaning the fact that Latins and blacks were essentially too poor to be cash-paying Dodgers' fans.
Durslag was from Los Angeles. How would he know this? He could say it because he got it from the anxious-to-leave Dodgers brass. This version was new to me. The racist stereotype that I had always heard was that "Blacks and Puerto Ricans were urinating on the ramps at Ebbets Field."
The O'Malley line in the middle 1950s was to denigrate Ebbets Field as much as he could. Knock the fans, point up the lack of parking, insist that too many Dodger fans were moving to Long Island. He said all this because he couldn't get for free the large acreage in downtown Brooklyn that he insisted on to build a new ball park. (Note: There were two environmentally-sound subway and two trolley lines to Ebbets Field; the ball park he has in Los Angeles has ample parking, but people leave the games in the fifth inning to escape massive, fuel-belching traffic jams).
The producers of the documentary tried to be fair. They quoted some pointed remarks about O'Malley and money. Buzzy Bavasi says, "Branch Rickey was all baseball, Walter was all money. If there was no money involved, he was the nicest, sweetest, generous Irishman you ever saw. But if ten cents were involved, you were in trouble."
But they leaned too much, in my view, toward justifying O'Malley's actions by making a villain out of Robert Moses, the kingpin builder of New York. Moses is faulted for not giving O'Malley the downtown Brooklyn acreage he wants and for insisting that he accept the old World's Fair site in Queens for a new ballpark.
Can anybody imagine the management of the Boston Red Sox today making the argument that their quaint old ball park, Fenway Park, is outmoded and that they must have municipal help to build a new one? At worst O'Malley could have renovated Ebbets Field. And why should anybody accept that Moses had to give him the site he wanted? And if he couldn't get what he wanted, he should have sold the team rather than sell out a community.
I would have liked to have seen some mention of the possibility of pay-per-view TV riches out west as another lure for O'Malley to betray Brooklyn. And a point of ridicule was missed by skirting mention of the grotesque that O'Malley had the Dodgers play in the misshapen-for-baseball 90,000 seat Los Angeles Coliseum--his first two years out west--rather than play in Wrigley Field there, a real baseball field but with less than 30,000 capacity.
For me, the documentary quoted too many people who bought O'Malley's line. It used only too well Bob Caro, an old Newsday colleague of mine, who wrote the definitive book, "The Power Broker" on Moses that exposed him as the titan who, in the end, surely did more bad than good for New York. Caro was happy to paint Moses as the villain here.
At another point in the film, LA guy Melvin Durslag ridiculed those who objected to the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for the riches of the west. He says, "Get with it. These are the rules of combat. To make a federal case of somebody moving for more profit, you are like some kind of rustic walking in with some kind of dust on your shoes."
I prefer the comment of Lester Rodney, the former Daily Worker sports editor, at 96. one of the few journalists living who covered the Brooklyns. He says of O'Malley, "The son-of-a-bitch wretched the heart of Brooklyn when the Dodgers were a profitable team. I accept that somebody would go to California and cash in there. But still he's a villain. I hate him."
The piece quoted part of a classic reaction by Brooklynites to O'Malley. Newspapermen Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield once were listing the three worst men in the world. They named Hitler, Stalinand O'Malley. The kicker to the comment was this poser: "You are in a room with Hitler, Stalin and O'Malley and you have a gun with two bullets in it; who do you shoot?" Answer: "You shoot the two bullets at O'Malley."
The documentary captured the ethnic richness of Brooklyn. There were warm street scenes Pee Wee Reese being carried off the field by fans Johnny Podres getting the final out of the Dodgers' 1955 World Series triumph over the Yankees, Podres saying: "I threw him the ground ball that Pee Wee had been waiting for all those years" shots of Ralph Branca lying in despair on the clubhouse steps after he gave up the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" home run by Bobby Thomson I'll abashedly add here that there are quick shots of two icons I had something to do with: the 1955 World Championship flag that friends and I liberated from Los Angeles and brought back to Brooklynand the statue of Reese with Robinson now in Coney Island that stemmed from a suggestion I made at the memorial for Pee Wee Reese.
Producers Ezra Edelman and Amani Martin, and writer Araron Cohen, did the Jackie Robinson saga very well. There were terrific bits of Robinson in action, some shots lingering not quite long enough to catch the full impact of Jackie dancing, jigging, off first and third base bedeviling pitchers with his antics.
And they captured the significance of Robinson. As Lester Rodney says, "Jackie Robinson created Brooklyn fans all points, east, west, north and south. The Dodgers introduced democracy. When you changed baseball you changed America."
MY LIFE AS A SOLDIER
By Norman Gelb
I was drafted during the Korean War and sent to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, for formal induction before being shifted to Fort Dix (of recent terror plot fame) for infantry basic training. After a week, my company sergeant called me out of 6 a.m. line-up and told me to open my eyes and report to him in the company headquarters room. Some form I filled out back at Fort Monmouth told him I could type. His company clerk had gone on two weeks' leave and he needed someone to fill in till the guy came back. The sergeant said that would be me and relieved me of infantry training for the time being.
The missing company clerk did not return when expected and I stayed on in his place another couple of weeks, beginning to worry because the other guys in the company were getting the concentrated physical and weapons training I might need if they really sent me off to war. Officially, I was still in the infantry.
Three weeks after I started clerking, a longtime friend got in touch. Also a draftee, he had been an editor of the NYU newspaper and had been assigned editor of the Fort Dix newspaper. He knew I had been on Vanguard, needed a reporter for the paper and offered me the job.
There was a problem: It was virtually impossible to shift someone from infantry basic training at the time. The army needed all the up-front grunts it could find. Despite clerking for my sergeant, I was still listed as going through infantry training for a combat in Korea.
But the captain who was the newspaper's commanding officer thought he might be able to get me shifted, despite the constraints. I was to accompany him to Classification and Assignment and agree with everything he told them there. When they asked him why he wanted me assigned to the Fort Dix newspaper, he said it was because I was well qualified for the job.
"He's had five years at the New York Times," he explained to my astonishment. Going on 22, I sure didn't look old enough to be a veteran Times scribbler.
But when the major asked me, "Is that true, soldier?" I snapped, "Yes, sir!" as advised.
So I became a reporter on the Fort Dix Post, roaming the base, looking for, and writing up human interest and army stories at my leisure. I was much more comfortably billeted than before, and I no longer had to wake up before the birds did.
Nevertheless, I was required to take the infantryman's final physical and weapons basic training test-- a bureaucratic screw-up I was advised not to try to contest. How I managed to scrape through without collapsing or shooting anyone, I don't know. But it looked like I was going to see out the Korean War as an army reporter in New Jersey.
It didn't happen that way. Before another month passed, the colonel in charge of Public Affairs for the US First Army region (the northeast of the country headquartered then at Governor's Island) developed ideas of grandeur, as army officers sometimes do. He decided the First Army was going to have the best darn newspaper in the whole darn US army. Looking down a list, he discovered he had a soldier at the Fort Dix Post who had worked five years at the New York Times. Suddenly, I was reassigned to Governor's Island, promoted to Private First Class and appointed sports editor of the "Voice of the First Army."
I can imagine Stan Isaacs and the late, lamented Jack Zanger, snickering at the idea. I knew nothing of sports worth writing about. But neither did the colonel who complimented me on my columns devoted to things like the atmosphere (imagined) at boxing matches and the genuine emotional significance of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The job was agreeable enough, but I wasn't excited about being back in New York. I didn't particularly want to go to war but an army life should be more exciting than staying put in your home town. After a while, I cozied up to the colonel. Hoping for an assignment in Tokyo where much of the army command was based during that war, I told him I felt it was really my duty to serve my country overseas, the world situation being what it was. He congratulated me on my patriotism and, in no time at all, I was on my way to Germany.
Having reported for the Fort Dix Post, and having been sports editor of the Voice of the First Army after five mythical years at the Times, I had found a niche in military journalism--soon writing radio news at the American Forces Network in Frankfurt where I served out my army time.
But I never made corporal. Where did I go wrong?
YOU CAN'T GO ROME AGAINby Lawrence Eisenberg
SAILING WITH BOBby Estelle Freedman
NORMA LIEBERMAN FRIEDMAN REVISITED
SEXUAL HARASSMENT—A PREDATOR'S PERSPECTIVEby Jack Leavitt
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING LATELY?by Shirley Sirota Rosenberg (Vanguard Editor in-Chief, 1945-46)
MY ATHLETIC CAREERby David M. Levin
SAINT VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE—IN BLUEby Esther Gold Dorfman
Quadrangle Issue 4
YOU CAN'T GO ROME AGAIN
By Lawrence Eisenberg
(Published By San Diego Union, Philadelphia Inquirer and Arizona Star)
A love affair remembered is often better than a love affair renewed. This goes for cities as well as people. In May, 1972, my wife, Barbara, and I made our first trip to Rome. The explosive charm of the people, the food, the beauty of the city, the sparkling spring weather made us giggle at the wrong times and left us breathless.
For the rest of the year we reminisced, and when we scheduled our next vacation, for July 1973, we couldn't wait to get Spain out of the way so we could spend the last week of the trip on a second honeymoon with bella Roma. Small glitch: Our Iberia Airlines flight from Barcelona to Rome was delayed two hours. When I asked the airline clerk why, he answered: “For reasons.”
Eventually we boarded happily and, when the flight attendant announced, "Fasten your seat belts," for the landing at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, we could barely sit still, such was our joy. A second glitch: One of our three pieces of luggage was missing. Not to worry; it would be delivered to our hotel. The fact that it contained every bit of my clothing except for a shaving apron and a pair of buffalo thongs was even something of a joke.
One more: The man at the airport’s banco got furious because, after cashing a traveler's check, I asked to convert some Spanish money. "You're supposed to do it both at the same time!" he said, hurling the money into the tray.
Shrugging this off, we stepped out into the "balmy July evening"--about 193 degrees with matching humidity. After turning down a cabdriver who wanted three times the normal fare, we settled on one who was asking double. We had become used to, even amused by, fast Roman driving, but his trip made us feel as though we were inside a pinball machine. Finally, though, we entered the Eternal City, and, as we hummed "Three Coins in the Fountain," our driver pulled up at the Hotel De la Ville, at the top of the Spanish Steps.
A sleepy and scruffy porter dragged our belongings across the marble floor while the assistant manager informed us that we had no reservation. No, said Signor Surl, he couldn't be mistaken. Glancing over his reservation list, I said: "Excuse me. You do have my name. It begins with an 'E', but you've spelled it with an 'I'."
"Why didn't you say so?" he scolded.
"Because I didn't know I'd been misspelling it all these years," I mumbled.
On the third floor, we were led into a walk-in closet furnished with a plastic dresser, a saggy bed and two 10-watt bulbs. French doors opened to a fairly good view of a clothesline. The room was unbearably hot, so I asked the porter to send somebody up to fix the air conditioning. "Si," he said, smiling, as he stuffed my money into his wallet.
Signorina Pronto in the telephone room said there were no messages for us, which was curious, since we had a four-month-old dinner date with friends. I called them, and they said, "Where have you been? We've left five messages for you!"
We agreed to meet at 11 p.m. at Sabatini in Trastevere, our favorite restaurant in all of Europe, because they made our favorite dish: Vongole (fingernail-sized clams in wine and garlic).
Then I called to remind the desk about the air conditioning. Signor Surl's response: "The air conditioning in the hotel is out of order. It will be fixed in several days."
"Do you expect us to pay these rates for this heat?" I asked.
"The rates are the same whether you come here in February or July," he said, hanging up.
Barbara calmed me down, and I took a rusty shower. I had no need to change clothes because I had no clothes.
We stood outside the elevator for seven minutes until a gnome-like creature arrived with an "Out of Order" sign in four languages. Midway down the stairs, Barbara slipped on the polished marble and fell half a flight, bloodying both knees and breaking the heels off her shoes.
I marched up to the front desk. "Your elevator is broken, and my wife fell and almost got killed on the stairs," I said evenly.
"We have another elevator," said Surl, turning away.
"We will not let him ruin our first night," I muttered, after Barbara got another pair of shoes, and we walked down the Spanish Steps.
At the bottom were approximately 17,000 Japanese in black suits, with matching cameras, waiting for taxis ahead of us. When our turn came 40 minutes later, I noticed the meter (partly covered by a statue of Jesus) already read 5,600 lira. I asked the driver to please start it at the beginning. He shrugged in incomprehension. "Carabinieri!" I said, and he flipped it over, then tapped it, as though trying to figure out what had been wrong.
A short whiplash later we were at Sabatini, reunited with our friends--also half the population of Tuscany, filling every table. The headwaiter looked at me as though I was insane to remind him of our reservations.
"Well," I said, "we've been waiting a year for the vongole. A few more minutes won't matter." When we were finally seated, I smiled knowingly at the waiter and ordered four portions.
In the most offhand way he said, "Vongole is finish. We are out of them."
I stared. I cried. I stamped my foot, killing something. But a few pitchers of wine and excellent canneloni anesthetized me. By 1:30 A.M., we were making our way through the winding streets of Trastevere toward a taxi stand, when we were stunned by a racing motorcycle, which missed us by about four inches.
Before we could even discuss it, the cycle, containing two laughing men in their 20s, buzzed by us again. And again. And again. Finally, in a voice that crossed the Tiber, I screamed, "Cut it out, you stupid ---!" (It was a four-letter word understood all over the world). The Roman jokesters screeched to a stop, stared at me and disappeared.
While the other three in my party waited on one corner, looking for a taxi, I waited on another, and came face to face with a 60ish woman in ponytail and black leather who had just jumped off a motorcycle. Twisting her body suggestively, she asked, through lips covered by centuries of lipstick, "Amore?"
"Are you nuts?!" I said, pointing toward Barbara.
The grandma of the night jiggled, shrugged, hopped onto her motorcycle and buzzed off.
Next morning, wearing the same outfit I'd put on 36 hours earlier, because my suitcase hadn't been found yet, I complained to the hotel's manager about Signor Surl. He gave us a Rossano Brazzi smile and said they'd have Barbara's shoes fixed.
We headed down Via Condotti to Gucci, which, this morning, was nearly empty, the salespeople almost out-numbering the customers. Halfway across the ground floor, Barbara, in trying to get past a couple of salespeople talking to each other, didn't notice two steps, tripped and went sprawling across the rug with a loud crash. That is, I thought she did and so did she. But not one Gucci employee stopped talking to another long enough to look in our direction. It was only an elderly female customer who helped me get my sobbing wife--who is not accident-prone--to a chair.
We ended our shopping at Anticoli, one of the largest leather shops in Rome, where, when I asked for men's navy blue gloves, the clerk stared at me as though I had ordered an atomic reactor in Swahili.
"To put it mildly, Rome in July is not like Rome in May," I said, sighing, as we headed to the Piazza Navona, stopping in front of Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers, which, to me, is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Then we walked onto the terrace of a favorite restaurant, Mastrostefano.
The food was as good as we'd remembered, and we were even serenaded by a bearded man playing the clarinet and announcing, "I am Meester Benny Goodman, from Holeeywood."' My dessert was fresh fruit from an enormous bowl the waiter put on the table. The check listed two orders. Why? "Because you ate so much!" the waiter said.
By evening we were mellowed, because we'd managed to get tickets to "Aida" at the Baths of Caracalla. The concierge arranged transportation on a chartered--and very expensive--air-conditioned bus because, he said, taxis would be impossible on opera night.
It took us 75 minutes to get to the opera, which was 10 minutes from the hotel, because we had to stop at 11 more hotels to pick up passengers. The air conditioning wasn't working because there was no air conditioning. The route was choked with empty taxis.
I was charged double for a program, because it included black-and-white postcards of the Baths of Caracalla. But the opera was glorious, incredible. When it was over, we discovered our bus had left without us, so we boarded another one owned by the same company. The driver said we didn't belong there, and he wouldn't take us. Quietly, and in English, I told him that if he didn't, I was going to stab him through the heart. He took us.
We stopped at the sparkling Via Veneto for a nostalgic nightcap at Doney's. Our vision was blurred by hordes of Mezzanotte cowboys and prostituta, but we never caught a waiter's eye and finally returned to the hotel.
Signor Surl gave us the kind of smile that makes you want to hold a cross up in front of you. From under the counter he took Barbara's shoes. The heels were back on, but so were gigantic, exposed nailheads, all over the insole. "What day are you checking out?" he asked, still smiling.
It was really too late to do anything but take Valium. But the next morning we took something better--a beautiful American silver bird out of the Eternal City and back to New York, where most people are a lot nicer and those who aren’t will at least abuse and rip you off in your own language.
SAILING WITH BOB
By Estelle Freedman
My late husband, Robert, was a character, one people "took to" and often admired. He was a character to me, too.
When we first met on a date, he was learning to sail on his brand new Star sailboat and was navigating it in waters around the Bay Shore Yacht Club, trying in earnest to make turns to avoid the U-shaped piers and boats in their slips. Soon after, I became his mate of sorts and tried earnestly, too, to learn the ropes, that is, man the sheets, halyard and winches.