Friday, September 29, 2017

First Impressions

Off to a fabulous start in Iowa City. A charming airport with international flags hung, two lovely (in all senses of that word) Orff Chapter women to pick me up, good conversation in the car and my gratitude that they opted for a charming bed and breakfast in a neighborhood over a generic Hampton Inn on the strip mall. Beautiful old house in a neighborhood with large trees, front and back lawns, old houses with character. Really, the quintessential all-American town of Frank Capra movies and 50’s TV sitcoms, but with a twist: signs on the porch that say Black Lives Matter or All Are Welcome Here.

And let’s face it. This kind of town, though not exactly mine growing up in New Jersey, was the mythos I grew up with, the image that resonated with my identity as an American, complete with Ma and Pa stores, cordial and friendly greetings, a sense of tranquility as one strolled beneath the oak and maple trees with a summer ice cream cone or a Fall pile of leaves to jump into or a winter coziness with sledding hills and smoke from chimneys or a Spring renewal as the robins returned and the tulips bloomed. And there’s not a thing wrong with that image.


…for the harsh reality that other Americans growing up with the same mythos were denied the right to live in places like this. And others living not too far away were denied their right to live at all as the lynching mobs gathered. And many living in small towns were—and are—kept purposefully ignorant of those other realities so that their sense of normal was manufactured by others with an agenda of keeping that American dream limited to the people of their choice. While the country was being held together and made prosperous by the labor of those denied access, who were then called lazy.

And for what? What if Beaver’s best fried was black and June’s good friend was Latina and Ward hung out with a Muslim co-worker and Eddie was gay? Wouldn’t life in small town America have been more genuinely happy and certainly more interesting? What if Ozzie was doing Zen meditation and Harriet was going to Feminist meetings and Ricky was hanging out in jazz clubs and Dave going to his girlfriend’s QuinceƱero? Couldn’t they all go to the County Fair together and go to a baseball game and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and really mean what they said when they got to “with liberty and justice for all?” Not have to qualify or quibble or hide or search for euphenisms for what “all” means?

I guess I’m at the age when I’m starting to say, “I won’t live to see the day,” but hey, America, why not? Let’s get moving here so my grandchildren can live peacefully, inclusively, happily in places like Iowa City. If they want to.

I’m off to walk the neighborhood. Maybe I can find their future home.

P.S. I wrote the above before walking downtown and it immediately became clear that my mixed-race grandchildren could live happily in Iowa City right now! I passed by several interracial couples, the Middle Eastern restaurant, played a piano put out on the lovely pedestrian mall, went into Prairie Lights Bookstore with its Banned Books Section. Like my college town, Yellow Springs in Ohio, it's a liberal bubble in a conservative state, but it's a good start. Heck, I might even move here myself!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Dear Abby

Tomorrow I go to teach in Iowa, one of four states I’ve never spent the night in (Mississippi, Arkansas, Delaware the others). Though it would be easy to dismiss a state that allowed that horrible man to ruin our country, I’m keeping an open mind as I know there are good people everywhere. Before going, I decided to look up famous people from Iowa and came up with an interesting list: authors Bill Bryson and Jane Smiley, jazz musicians Bix Beiderbecke and Glenn Miller, actors John Wayne and Jerry Mathers (from Leave It to Beaver) and assorted others.

But the most interesting were two twins names Esther Pauline Friedman and Pauline Esther Friedman. Born on July 4th, 1918 in Sioux City, Iowa, they dressed alike and did everything together. Their father ran a movie house that featured vaudeville performers and the sisters played violin and sang Andrews Sisters songs in Yiddish. They both went to the same college and both dropped out in their junior year to get married in a double wedding wearing identical dresses, hairstyles and veils.

As young adults, Esther (nicknamed Eppie) got a job at a newspaper running a syndicated advice column in Chicago. Soon after, Pauline (Popo) landed a job with the San Francisco Chronicle also as an advice columnist. Now the sisters were rivals and thus began a feud in which neither talked to the other for the next ten years. In 1958, Life Magazine did a story on them and called the situation “the most feverish female feud since Elizabeth sent Mary Queen of Scots to the chopping block.”

The world knew Eppie as Ann Landers and Popo as Abigail Van Buren (of Dear Abby fame).

Isn’t that interesting? All you wannabe screenwriters, here’s a story to put into a play or movie!

Now I’m just wondering whether in all those years, anybody wrote in: “My sister and I used to be close, but now we are feuding and won’t talk to each other anymore. What should we do?”

How would they have answered that?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Can I add my voice of outrage that black football players are taking the knee and refusing to honor the flag and anthem that is the cornerstone of American democracy?! How low can you get? Not only are they being disrespectful, but there is documented evidence that they have been unpatriotic in all sorts of ways. Here’s just a few:

• Refusing to pay taxes that are the cornerstone of things like schools, libraries, road repair and other things that make American life civil, workable and proud. And then having the gall to boast that they’re smart by not paying!!!

• Refusing to reveal their taxes when asked to.

• Publicly insulting Gold Star families.

• Publicly insulting congress people who were P.O.W.’s.

• Getting hired on professional football teams regardless of hard work or talent, because their daddy knew the right people.

• Willing to deny 20 million and more fellow Americans decent health care because they’re rich enough to afford private health care.

• Making shady deals with the Russians.

• Weirdly hugging the flag on camera instead of saluting it.

And that’s just the start. So I agree 100% with President Trump that any son of a bitch who disrespects the basic foundation of our democracy should get fired immediately!! Throw the bums out!!! Are you with me?!!!!

Oh, wait a second. My mistake. It wasn’t black football players who did any of the above. What they did was exercise their first Amendment right to call attention to the fact that innocent fellow Americans were being deprived of not only liberty and happiness, but actual life as public government officials (police) murdered them without reasonable provocation and got away with it. They were actually doing what American democracy demands of its citizens—not to obey mindlessly the orders of the ruling powers, but to question, to ask for accountability, to seek fairness and justice, all the things the flag and anthem stand for.

So who is the son of a bitch traitor that actually did all those things above (substitute inherit money for getting hired to play football)? Oh, yeah. Our President. So let’s take his advice and throw the bum out!!!!! And please, before the next football season!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hear! Hear!

One of the gifts of aging is the equanimity we budding seniors show when confronted with our diminishing physicality. We notice we’re squinting, we can’t hear in the ambient noise of restaurants, that hill we’ve always walked suddenly seems steeper and we look it all in the face and deal with it.

Yeah, right! If you’re anything like me, you deny, deny, deny!! Yeah, my hearing is going, but no big deal. Yeah, I probably should start doing Pilates or Yoga. Maybe tomorrow. Hey, anyone could forget someone’s name, it doesn’t mean dementia is setting in. Well, you have a point, maybe I should know my wife’s name. Etc.

I’m well aware of my diminished hearing. I never played in a rock band or put my ear by the big speakers (well, once), but between a couple of years of Balinese gamelan and intermittent Bulgarian bagpipe playing, I’ve done my share of stressing the old ear drum. And now it’s starting to impact my work a bit. Don’t tell my school parents, but in music class, kids often are practicing on xylophones and a kid motions me over and asks me for help. Well, that’s what I guess they’re doing, because I see their mouth open and their lips moving, but no sound is reaching my ears! So I just nod my head and say, “Yes, keep working on that.”

Well, I’m proud that finally I decided to schedule a hearing test. Of course, the person at the desk thought I’d have to have my primary care doctor, who I haven’t seen in six years, refer me, but I kept trying to convince her that being 66 is enough and could she please repeat what she just said? Finally, she relented and I’m off to the doctor in two days.

My two Orff buddies, Rick and Paul, would be so proud of me, as they’ve been begging me to do this for the last few years. They were badgering me again while we were in the car and I said, “Look, I know I should do it and I think I finally will this Fall. But I guess I’ve been putting off taking a hearing test because frankly, I don’t want to hear what the doctor will tell me.”

And without missing a beat, in perfect unison, they both said:

“You won’t!!!!”

Satan's Voice Mail

Just exactly who had this idea that you could program machines to handle any question you might have when you call a business? I’m trying to track a lost package through the Post Office phone number to find out where it is after three months missing in action and all they can say is “Customer requested that it be re-shipped on Sept. 1 to this address.”

Yep! That customer was me and 24 days later, it still ain’t here. So I have a simple question:

“Where the hell is it now?!!! And when will I get it?”

But the machine seemed perfectly satisfied with the amount of information it gave me. And went on to ask, “How can I help you now?” I waited through the 10 options, hoping beyond hope that the last would be, “Would you like to speak to a living breathing human being who might actually answer the question you have?” But no such luck. I was just looped into the closed circuit of useless options.

So I searched online for another phone number for the U.S. Post Office and got it, but of course, the option I wanted “Tracking a package” put me right back onto Satan’s Merry-Go-Around.

“Are you asking about a package whose number ends in _______?”


“ Customer requested that it be re-shipped on Sept. 1 to this address. How can I help you now?”

My desk in now dented from where I repeatedly smashed the phone into it.

Well, why bother to have the capability of talking on the phone to anyone. When you dial a number, we should just get put on the Generic Voice Mail For All.

“Would you like to speak to Abdul? Wayan? Kwasi? Jennifer? Kevin? Which Kevin? Which Kevin Smith? Which Kevin Smith that lives in Oklahoma?” And so on down the line of 7 billion earthly inhabitants. And if you got them:

“Would you like to speak to them about the 35 cents they owe you from the dinner out you had at September 3rd, 1987? Would you like them to recall the name of the North Dakota gas station attendant who overfilled your tank 12 years ago? Would you like to discuss the possibility of meeting for coffee at Starbucks? Which one? Pick from the one on this corner or that or down the street or around the block. Do you know in advance what you’d like to order? Do you have another choice if they’re out of gluten-free kosher soymilk?”

And so on.

People may be quirky, weird, rude, smell bad, talk funny, have no idea of how to help you, but I’d kill for a phone conversation with a human being in the post office who might have some clue as to how to find my lost box of books. If you know how I could do that, give me call and choose voice option number 647b. That should do it.

Thank you for contacting me. And please stay on the line if you’d like to participate in a survey about your experience.