Thursday, January 12, 2017

Week 2 Essay: Masculinity in "Manchester by the Sea" and "Moonlight"

Last week I saw Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight back to back, and I was struck by the similarities. While the protagonists could hardly be more different -- white working-class Lee in Massachusetts; poor African-American Chiron growing up in Miami -- to me they both seemed afflicted by masculinity.
            Lee is certainly haunted by his own truly careless action that led to the death of his three children and loss of his marriage. But even six or so years later he's unable to forgive himself and cannot allow anyone else to forgive him. Men take responsibility, and if taking responsibility means cutting himself off from all social contact, that's what Lee will do to remain a man. The only social contact he allows himself is to get into meaningless fights after getting drunk in bars. When his brother dies and leaves him the guardian for the brother's 16-year-old son, Lee finds this unthinkable; he's already proven himself incapable of caring for a child, and a man never makes the same mistake twice. Lee barely talks, perhaps taking “the strong silent type” as model and punishment.

            Chiron is silenced almost from the start with no model of masculinity. His father is nowhere in sight, and he’s different enough that even as a child other boys know he can be bullied and chased at will. In his childhood, one man helps him, a drug kingpin; once he’s befriended Chiron he refuses to sell drugs to his single, drug-addicted mother, but Chiron feels the contradiction almost viscerally. The only way he can have a friend is to engage in fake fights, with their homoerotic overtone. As a teenager, he’s taunted for his gayness, for not being a man like the other boys. In the most tender yet tense scene Kevin, his childhood friend, and he make love on the beach. But for Kevin to continue to enact straight manliness, he’s forced by the school bully into taunting Chiron into a fight. After being beaten savagely by classmates, Chiron’s revenge is an assault against the bully that lands him in prison. As a grownup 10 years later, Chiron has learned to survive by becoming a drug dealer, just as his mother has finally gotten straight (has she also been in prison?). His masculinity is less brutal, and he controls his drug sellers through mind games. But he is still suppressing his sexuality and thus any close emotional relationship, as being openly homosexual can only hurt him in his survival mode of drug dealer.
            Of course there are many ways the two men are different. As a gay black child and man, Chiron’s entire life is circumscribed by race, sexuality, and class. A.O. Scott’s review of Manchester by the Sea has a very interesting take on the movie’s racial subtext. But both address the question of what it takes to be a man, whether straight or gay. Lee and Chiron appear to me to be struggling with what they’ve learned masculinity means.            
            EDITED: This is just one small angle on these two movies, which have many nuances, especially Moonlight, that I’m not addressing. So please take it for what it is, and not what it isn’t.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Cosmic Coincidences

This is a day late, but I don’t want to wait until next Tuesday for this story.
            I usually do the crossword puzzle in the New York Times on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday it gets harder, also on Friday, and Saturday you have to think like Will Shortz, puzzle editor, to have even a chance.
            So last Thursday, January 5, I was doing unusually well, I thought, even figuring out some answers by the letters that appeared in crossing words without having the foggiest idea how “?they related to the clues. “Versatile worker” was “of all trades”? “Putdown of an ignorant person” was “you don’t know”? I had the answers, but I didn’t know why.
            A few days later a friend called to say she wondered if whoever made the puzzle had known Jack or that January 5 was the first anniversary of his death – obviously, those puzzle answers made sense because they were “missing Jack.”
            Indeed. The puzzle creator’s name was unknown to me, but I didn’t know everyone Jack had known. So Monday I wrote a letter to the Times, laying out the facts, and asking whether the creator knew Jack or was this a cosmic coincidence?
            On Tuesday I had an e-mail from the puzzle maker. No, he did not know Jack, and the puzzles are created months in advance. But he had his own “cosmic coincidence” to relate. His father had died just about a year ago, at home, and the puzzle maker found a bird’s feather on the floor by his father’s bed, with no idea how it got there. He picked it up and put it on his father’s coffin at the cemetery. About a week later, he found a nearly identical feather at his own home.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Video of Jack's Memorial

Jack Robbins's memorial is finally up on YouTube, a year to the day after he died. It's in seven sections, so you don't have to watch it all in one sitting -- one hour total. Here are the links, and who's speaking in each part.

Scheduled speakers
Part 1: Me and Christie.

Part 2: Both Jack's brother Jim, and his oldest friend, Martin Limbird, were unable to be in New York for the memorial, but they sent remarks read by Mark Jaffe (my brother) and Richard Haas (Christie's partner), respectively.

Speakers from among Jack's friends
Part 3: Mark Jaffe, Richard Haas, and Anne Newman. Anne is married to a college friend of Richard's and happened to work at Business Week with Jack before Jack met Richard.

Part 4: Cheryl Morrison and Clyde Haberman.

Part 5: Ciro Scotti, Prudence Crowther, Debbie Stead, and Hardy Green, Jack's Business Week colleagues.

Part 6: Erla Hutchinson Alexander and Sylvia Law. Erla was a friend from his college days at Wichita State University, and Sylvia was among our oldest friends, a classmate of mine from Antioch College.

Part 7: Cary Lacheen and Michael Coffey. Cary was one of Sylvia's students at NYU Law School and a movie fan to match Jack's passion. And Michael, my former boss at Publishers Weekly, had the most appropriate last word.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 Deaths

I thought I posted this last week, but just found it in the Drafts folder.
    Jack died early this year, along with Muhammed Ali, Natalie Cole, Leonard Cohen (one of Jack's favorite singers), David Bowie, Prince, Janet Reno, Antonin Scalia, Abbas Kiarostami (whose movies Jack found enigmatic but worth watching), Gwen Ifill, Carrie Fisher (Jack loved her "Postcards from the Edge"), Debbie Reynolds, Tom Hayden, and Monte Irvin.
   Also Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey of the Eagles (one of Jack's favorite bands), Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, Harper Lee (another drinker), country singer Sonny James (Jack really liked country music), Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Frank Sinatra Jr., Phife Dawg aka Malik Taylor, Patty Duke (yet another drinker), Merle Haggard, Afeni Shakur (I think Jack covered the Panther 21 trial), Michael Cimino (Jack thought he was among the handful of people who actually saw "Heaven's Gate" in a theater), Gene Wilder, Edward Albee, Jose Fernandez, Arnold Palmer (but Jack hated golf), Fidel. Only Ali was Jack's age.
   The scythe has swept through heavily.

SOLTuesday: Bureaucracy

I should have all my dealings with bureaucracy on Tuesdays. It will always give me a Slice of Life story to tell.
            One of my husband’s retirement benefits was a flexible spending account that reimbursed him for his Medicare Part D premium. He had never made a claim because he hated filling out forms, but in 2015, he decided, with my help, to find out the procedure. Then he went into the hospital. Then he died. A couple of months after that, he got a letter reminding him that he had until the end of May to make a claim for 2015. Okay, I thought, I’ll do it.
            I called the phone number on the letter, got sent a claim form, called to make sure I was filling it out correctly and also to make clear to the woman I was speaking to that this claim was for my dead husband, so please don’t make out the check to him.
            Of course, a few weeks later comes a check made out to Jack Robbins.
            Again, I called, and at this point I learned that Jack’s flexible spending account was administered by “a third party,” not the benefits office of the company where he had actually worked. And while I had notified that company (let’s call it Company A) that he had died, that information had never been sent on to the “third party” (let’s call it Company B). I was then put on hold while a benefits person at Company A got in touch with a benefits person at Company B, and, I thought, conveyed the proper  information to Company B.
            I then went back to Company B, where I was told that not only would they send me a check for that premium reimbursement as soon as the computers had all the right information, but that I was also entitled to that same survivor’s benefit. How would I get that, I asked? We’ll send you the information to set that up, I was told.
            This was all six months ago. I waited for the information to come; it never did. Life intervened, and this all went to the back of my mind. But the new year reminded me that this was a very loose string. So I called Company B today.
            The woman I spoke with was very helpful, and even offered to direct deposit the reimbursement so I wouldn’t have to wait for a check. But in looking up how to set up an account for me, she saw that the computer still showed an active account for Jack. Could it be that Company A’s computer had never properly sent the information that Jack is dead to Company B’s computer? Jenna, Company B’s representative, said she would look into it and call me back within two days. Maybe I will have a Slice of Life Thursday. 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own. 

Yet another writing challenge. There are no rules for this one about what constitutes an essay, so in case I don't get another more traditional-looking essay written this week, this will do.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

SOLS Tuesday: Stupidity, and Lessons Learned, in Cuba

Here is a slice from a week ago that I couldn’t post because Cuba’s access to the Internet is so unreliable.
            My daughter and I were on the second day of our people-to-people tour in Cuba. “People-to-people” means the tour group is out from 9 to at least 5 every day, with guides, walking tours, educational talks, and generally a surfeit of information.
            Tuesday morning an architect met our group of 26 in the Plaza de Armas, in Havana, where in 1519 monks celebrated the first mass on the island under a huge tree. A church was built there some years later. We then walked through a little park and past a statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, who declared independence from Spain in 1868, which didn’t finally come until 1898. As we then approached an imposing building, which the architect explained had originally been a governor’s palace and now city offices, I saw a man selling maps. A map enthusiast, I hadn’t been able to get one before.
           I stopped and asked how much. Three CUCs (the Cuban convertible peso used by tourists), he said. I’d been carrying my smartphone, for taking photos, a notebook and pen, for taking notes, and our group’s itinerary, and put all of these down on a nearby empty table. Took out my wallet, paid for the map, and picked up all my stuff to join the group.
            You’ve already guessed what happened. A few minutes later I reached for my phone to take a photo of the decorative columns on the front of the governor’s palace – and it wasn’t in my pocket. It wasn’t with my notebook. It was gone.
            I went back to the table where I’d put everything down, and it was now covered with tourist magazines and brochures. No phone in sight. “I’ve lost my phone,” I said loudly, now searching through my pockets again, and in my purse. No luck. Our tour director had me empty everything out of my purse and my backpack. No phone. The local tour guide asked the woman if she had a seen a phone, but of course she hadn’t.
            In my panic, I couldn’t even remember what the map seller looked like, and felt doubly embarrassed, first for being so careless, second for being such a “typical American tourist” and not even noticing the local vender I was buying from.
            For the next 20 minutes, I beat myself up: how could I be so stupid? how could I be so careless? how could I not notice what I was doing, or who I was buying the map from? But basic optimism came to my rescue. I’d traded my phone for a city and country map that I really wanted. The phone was replaceable. Fortunately, it was only a few months old, so there wasn’t much on it, and I can afford the replacement. The pictures of Havana’s famous classic cars were lost, but I was able to get more shots of those in our remaining time in Havana.
            As for Cuba, it is well worth the trip. If you can manage to go, I strongly recommend you do it. Go Ahead Tours would be an excellent way to start.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

SOLTuesday: Forty-six Years Ago Today

Forty-six years ago today, Jack and I moved into our current apartment. It was our third move in New York, and our first where we hired professional movers -- after all, we were 28, time to start acting like grownups. Of course, that was the day the city decided to do some repairs on the pavement of our block; I think the movers were able to park in front of our corner building on 85th Street and Columbus, but then had to back out.
   We were nervous about entrusting our sacred stereo system to unknown movers, so we took the turntable to the new apartment ourselves a couple of days earlier -- and were shocked to find it missing when we arrived on moving day. Complaints to the super were fruitless. Clearly, someone in the building had stolen it. He was also supposed to give us our copy of the lease, which he never did. (Which turned out to be moot when the building went co-op 12 years later, but I was nervous about it for years before the co-op process.) I learned only recently that super was hated by everyone in the building as incompetent, and he was gone a few years after we moved in.
   Our new apartment felt so spacious compared to the one we were leaving. There were two, 2(!) bedrooms, each one big enough for a bed and more than one bureau. There was a long, long hallway, perfect for lining with the bookcases I hadn't bought yet. The kitchen had full-size appliances and was big enough for a real table -- our previous apartment's kitchen was as wide as the narrow stove at one end, the sink's drainboard was a piece of wood nailed to the wall, and there was no, zero, zilch counter space. Wheee!
   Now that we have been here for quite a while, and redone the kitchen, I can see more places for improvement, like a second bathroom, which was more necessary when there were two of us here, and getting elderly. But I love the view out of the front door of the building: Riverside Park to the left, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine two blocks away to the right. Moving is such an ordeal, and I don't intend to do it ever again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

SOLTuesday: One Year Ago Today

Just about a year ago began what we did not yet know was the beginning of the end for my husband. A year ago probably yesterday, Jack noticed a blister on that leg that he thought was more swollen than it had been. A year ago today the blister was larger and had an odd red line at its base. We thought perhaps some particle had gotten inside his compression stockings and scratched him.
            A year ago today, more blisters appeared and began to ooze clear liquid. A year ago tomorrow, we went to a City MD office, since his doctor was on vacation, and Jack didn’t like the backup doctor. The City MD doctor thought these oozing blisters might be a bullus impetigo and suggested a dermatologist. She also covered the blisters with gauze and wrapped the leg with an Ace bandage; I had improvised with gauze pads we happened to have and tape.
            A year ago the next day we were at Roosevelt Hospital’s medical offices; first a long wait in the waiting room, then one after the other a nurse, resident, and finally the dermatologist, all asking the same questions. No bullus impetigo, the dermatologist assured, but he wanted Jack to see his primary doctor. He advised an antibiotic to prevent possible infection and that Jack keep his legs elevated, even putting a pillow under the mattress to keep them up at night.
            We took a taxi home. Our driver was both a Mets fan (remember, the Mets were in the playoffs a year ago) and a reader of the Drudge Report, which somehow seemed a strange combination to me. He was very talkative, first telling us about a farm on the rooftop of the original Ansonia, a Beaux-Arts apartment building (see pictures), soon closed down by the City Health Department. He also wanted us know about a Russian scientist’s article on the Drudge Report reporting how the U.S. would implode at the next crisis because (1) supermarkets had only about a week’s worth of food in stock and (2) drug addicts would become like zombies when they couldn’t get their doses.
            We were taking a lot of taxis in those days, and New York taxi drivers can still be as entertaining as their stereotypes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

SOL Tuesday: Street Scene

I live on a quiet residential side street in upper Manhattan. Out of the window I might see a person walking up the hill or down, the occasional car, sometimes a truck. But not much to make it worthwhile to sit on the window ledge and look out.
            Today, I noticed an orange locksmith’s car, with“Locksmith,” two phone numbers, and a Staten Island address painted prominently, stopped in the middle of the street. What attracted my attention was that both the hood and the trunk were open. Was the locksmith having engine trouble?
            I then noticed a young man talking to a woman in the driver’s seat of a gray SUV with New York plates parked along the curb in front of the locksmith’s car. She got out of the car and ran up the middle of the street – another odd occurrence.
            The young man came over to the locksmith’s car, took out a water bottle, drank, then poured water into something in the engine, the radiator? (I’ve never owned a car, so the internal parts of the engine are a mystery.) He went back to the car, got a larger bottle of water, did the same procedure. He stared at the engine for a while, then went back to the trunk and took out the tools for fixing a flat. (I do know those.)
            There was no visible, to me, flat on his car or the SUV, but he walked around to the curb side of the SUV, so that must be it. Eventually, he rolled the flat out in front of the SUV, and it looked so misshapen, I wondered if the tire had been flat for a long time. He got the replacement tire from the back of the SUV and rolled it around to the curb side.
            A sedan with New Jersey plates pulled up behind the locksmith’s car, and the woman who’d run up the street came out. She (maybe in her late 40s?) and the young man talked for a while, then he got a pad from his car and, leaning on the hood of his car, which he had closed, he wrote out what was no doubt an invoice. She went back to the sedan, where I could see an elderly man in the passenger seat and a “handicapped” sign hanging from the rear-view mirror. She returned, gave the locksmith cash, he reminded her to take a receipt. He had already put the flat tire into the back of the SUV, and then she took two tote bags, a small cardboard box, and a stroller that had been on the street and put them into the back of the SUV.  Then she went back to the sedan and got into the driver’s seat and appeared to put the receipt into a folder that she then placed on the dashboard. After a few minutes, she drove away in the sedan.
            The locksmith was now back in his car, got out to retrieve his cellphone which he’d left on the hood, and returned to his car. And sat there for more than five minutes before he too drove off.
            So what was happening here? Why did she leave all those bags in the SUV? Why did she run up the street in one direction and return in different car from another direction? I imagined the elderly man was her father, the sedan was his vehicle, and she was picking him up from his apartment to take him, where? to her home in New Jersey? to a new residence for elderly people? This whole scene could be its own writing prompt for another day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SOL Tuesday: Grief Art

I should have posted this a week ago, but the experience was too overwhelming to assimilate quickly. Here’s what happened.

Taryn Simon, a multimedia artist, created an installation and performance piece titled “An Occupation of Loss,” about, partly, the ways grief is expressed in several cultures. The installation consists of 11 massive hollow concrete columns in a semicircle, with low ramps leading up to each one, with low entrances. They are in a very large room, dimly lighted. The performance is of professional mourners from 17 countries, including Ghana, Burkina Faso, Bhutan, Cambodia, Colombia, Greece, enacting their rituals of grief.

Both the installation and the performance are interactive. In the installation, viewable in the afternoon, viewers can walk into the columns, make sounds if they want, just sit if they want. With the performance, in the evening, viewers watch from a balcony while the mourners walk slowly around the columns, and then into the columns in groups of one, two, or three. After one mourner plays a high-pitched percussion instrument, viewers walk down to the columns, and then we could walk around the mourners, listen at the entrances, or even walk into the columns to experience the ritual closeup.

Some of the performances are purely instrumental, some are lamentations, some combine laments and music.

I found the experience emotionally overpowering and also comforting. The hollow columns felt like a structure that should be available for mourners in public places, perhaps like “churches” for atheists. As participants in the performance, we only had 35 minutes, and I could have spent at least 10 minutes in each of the 11 columns – going to each one for only a couple of minutes felt almost like window-shopping. I also wish the entire work had been available for more than 10 days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

SOL Tuesday: A Blast of Memories

Putting away my new carry-on suitcase after my trip to Paris, I decided it was time to get rid of the small purple wheelie with the handle too short to be comfortable. As I pulled it out of the closet, I noticed there was stuff in it. The “stuff” turned out to be relics of my mother’s, her sister’s, and my sister’s after they died.
     There’s a Google map to Stratford, Connecticut, where several of the family stayed when we went to my sister’s memorial in Westport. Stratford was close to her home, and family and friends gathered there afterwards. There’s a printout of two kinds of meditation, with the hand and with light; my sister became an interfaith minister late in life and loved meditation. I must have thought I might try these, though I am not much of a meditation-person. There’s a letter my mother wrote to me in 1981, about a book of China photos, a Russell Baker column annoyed about the New York Times style book accepting pinyin spelling (stemming from my mother’s Sinophilia), and a hint to my parents’ divorce two years later, only clear to me now. There’s the program for my aunt’s memorial, as well as cards from her friends to my mother, along with two notes my aunt, who lived in Vermont, had written to my mother, revealing her interests in ballet (she’d seen Giselle in Montreal), cooking (she’d taken a class in low-cal French cookery at the nearby New England Culinary Institute), movies (she’d seen Babette’s Feast), and politics (it was right after the 1988 presidential primary).
     There’s a copy of my aunt’s will, now almost 20 years old. I know why my mother would have kept it (she kept almost everything), but why did I? Did I want her list of charitable bequests?
     There’s a journal my sister started two years after her third breast cancer diagnosis, which she titled “Morning Pages”; she kept it for five days. I know now that she had two more years, but she didn’t know. She writes about her bodily feelings, but also her spirit as different from her body, prayer, positive thinking, visualization – all areas I feel little connection with, but find interesting to read. I think I’ll see if her older daughter wants the notebook.
     Lots of photographs, family and otherwise. some I have, but others are of people I don’t know and don’t know why I took them. A clipping from the Miami News, December 19, 1975, is about my mother's talk at a local YWCA about her recent trip to China, one of the early visits organized by the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association.
      Finally, the stash included recipes, two from my aunt, her Vermont baked beans and a Spicy Rice & Nuts from Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Co-op. I can barely deciper my aunt’s handwriting for the baked beans, but the Spicy Rice & Nuts looks like something I will try out for my vegetarian days. There are also two recipes in my handwriting that I must have sent to my mother, one for Ghivetch, a Balkan vegetable stew, which I remember making, and another for poached bass with sweet peppers. I made this dish for dinner tonight, though I had to use cod since no striped bass was available. It was delicious. 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and read their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

SOL Tuesday: Grief Insight

Last weekend I had several insights, but this is the most interesting so far.
            I’ve noticed how I’ve wanted to have the radio and often the TV as well on whenever I am in the apartment. I was not always like this. At first I thought it was just to replace Jack’s voice, which wasn’t constant, of course, but was available.
            The other day, with both the radio and a fan on, the fan almost drowning out the radio, I remembered as though connected by an umbilical cord to the fall of 1961. I  was 19, on a job with my college in Los Angeles, as far as I’d been away from anything or anyone I knew in my life. I had just moved into a rooming house, brought groceries home after my job, and I had no radio. I had never been so alone. The silence of the room terrified me, and I cried for maybe half an hour. I ended up going home,  a decision I always regretted.
            After that, I never lived alone again, except for a couple of weeks between a roommate and moving into a commune. And then I got married.
            My 74-year-old self is still connected to that 19-year-old self afraid of the silence. I’m trying to get used to silence now. Listen to music or talk, or baseball, if there’s something to listen to, but not just to fill up the silence.

There are more Slices of Life over at Two Writing Teachers. Check them out, and join in!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

SOLTuesday: Why I Love Copyediting

I’m still free-lance copyediting on occasion. The magazine I was working for today gave me a collection of fiction reviews to copyedit. And sure enough, there was a historical novel whose reviewer was a bit hazy on historical fact.

            The reviewer says the novel is set in “Nazi and Fascist-occupied Venice, Italy, in 1945, just weeks before Italy’s surrender to the Allies.” Well, Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, so is this novel set in 1943 or 1945? After the Fascist Italian government surrendered, Nazi Germany invaded, and there might well have also been Italian Fascists in Nazi-occupied Venice, but I don't think one could say the Fascists were "occupying" an Italian city. And if it’s set in I945, then it’s just weeks before Germany’s surrender.

            A little fact-checking shows the book is set in 1945, so I know how to correct the review. And I feel like I have earned my pay for the day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

SOL Tuesday: Donating (a delicate subject)

I came to the Bronx today to donate the unused catheters left over from two years ago, after Jack came home from rehab. (If you don’t care for potty talk, you can skip this one.)
            The rehab place had left his Foley catheter in place; apparently, they didn’t know how to teach an old person to catheterize himself. Jack hated needing me to help him in dealing with the Foley, which was also not a very easy process. So Jack went to a urologist, who showed him how to do it himself; we bought a box of catheters, Jack had the Foley removed, and after a couple of weeks, he was back to normal with his “toileting.”
            Jack would have thrown away the half a box remaining, but I can’t do that. Why not call the urologist and see whether I could give him the leftovers, which he could give to a patient, since these things are expensive. But after Jack died, I learned that the urologist was no longer at Roosevelt (now Mt. Sinai West) Hospital. (Like Jack’s cardiologists and hand doctor, there’s been an exodus of doctors from Roosevelt.)
            Finally I found the urologist online at his new hospital, in the Bronx. Yes, I could bring the catheters to his office. But by public transportation it took about an hour and a half to get there. The  Google map was not that helpful, either; this hospital is much more accessible by car than walking (from the bus), few sidewalks, obstacles Google doesn’t know about.
            However, mission accomplished in five minutes. And I love coming to neighborhoods in this city I have never been to. This one (Morris Park) has two- and three-story buildings with ground-floor storefronts and apartments above. Shops with Spanish and a few Arabic signs; a West Indian restaurant; phone stores; discount stores. And the elevated “subway” follows for a short distance the Boston Road, aka the Boston Post Road, aka the King’s Highway, aka Route 1 (which has run from Boston to New York since the 17th century).

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

SOLTuesday: Blackout! 1977

            This is a slice of life from 39 years ago tomorrow. The night of July 13, 1977, the lights went out all over most of New York City and nearby areas. It was also the summer during which a deranged man was killing young people at random in the city and referring to himself as Son of Sam.
            I was at a meeting of feminists in downtown New York City to discuss how we could overcome the Hyde Amendment, passed by Congress the previous year, that prevented Medicaid funds from being used for abortion. We thought of starting a coalition of women’s groups to organize women, particularly poor women and women of color, and to fight for reproductive rights; this group become CARASA, the Coalition for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse.* We also talked about a zap action group, doing skits to make our political points, which evolved into No More Nice Girls.**
            As the meeting was winding down, the lights dimmed, brightened, dimmed, and went out altogether. Our hostess found a flashlight and candles. The few of us who were mothers took turns on the phone in the kitchen to call our kids or babysitters. When I reached Frannie, the Barnard student babysitter with our five-year-old, she reported that my husband, a reporter at the New York Post, had called to say the lights were going out in northern Manhattan, and she should get the flashlight out of the cabinet in case they went out in our apartment – which they did as soon as she put her hand on the flashlight.
            Out on the balcony of the 11th floor apartment, we could see some leftover fireworks from July 4 popping here and there, and a journalist said it reminded her of Vietnam.
            Eventually we decided to adjourn to someone’s low-floor apartment elsewhere in the Village. But first we had to navigate 10 flights of stairs in darkness. Fortunately, many of us still smoked, so by the light of lighters and matches, we made our way, feeling adventurous.
            On the street, however, it did not feel adventurous. Four of us who lived uptown were walking toward Sixth Avenue when a couple of young men walked by, and one muttered, “I’d like to fuck you into the ground.” Luckily, we were able to get a taxi pretty quickly, but lurching uptown with no traffic lights was unnerving. And only 10 blocks from my home, a car had been rammed into a Woolworth’s, breaking the gates guarding the windows and the windows, and people were looting.
            I felt lucky to be home, and my daughter did, too. She grabbed my hand after I came in the door and said, “From now on, we are going everywhere together.”

*CARASA no longer exists, but you can find out more about its goals here.
**No More Nice Girls can still be resurrected for imaginative protests and demonstrations. And Ellen Willis, feminist par excellence, who coined the name, also used it for one of her essay collections. You can view its contents here, and buy the book from

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

SOL: Today's adventures in Telephoneland

Act I: I call Time Warner first. From Will the phone techie, I learn that while Time Warner still has my phone number, it is no longer active. He said that the original request from Credo to port over, i.e., transfer, my number had been canceled when it wasn't completed in time. So Credo will have to request the transfer again. BUT a transfer can only be made of an active number. So I have to reactivate my phone account with Time Warner, and that itself takes about 20 minutes because the customer service person sort of insisted on finding me the best-priced bundle, and then she has to send me through a "third-party" recording to verify that I'm who I say I am, am authorized to change my plan with Time Warner, and lots more questions.

Act II: I call Credo, where I get yet another techie, named Kenny. I tell him that Credo has to resubmit its request to port over the number. He tells me that Time Warner had called Credo earlier in the day (before my call to Time Warner chronicled above) to ask, "Why are you billing this number when the number belongs to Time Warner?" When told that Credo had been asked to port over the number, Time Warner says, "Expire the request, the customer wants to stay with Time Warner." This is BEFORE I had called Time Warner today. Just want to make that clear. And I do not want to stay with Time Warner

Intermission: I have lunch with Susan and Dozie at Sookk, a nice Thai place on Broadway.

Act III: In my e-mail after lunch is one from Time Warner "confirming" a service visit on Thursday about a digital phone. I have no idea what this is about, but it's a good thing I call to ask, because then I learn that while the woman I talked to at Time Warner earlier in the day had reactivated my phone number, the reactivation won't be final until Thursday. So Credo cannot submit a request to port over my number until at least Thursday. The service call was to connect my phone, but since all I need is to see the phone light on the modem light up, I won't need a service call for that. (So this guy says.)

Act IV: I call Credo again to report that they can't submit a request for porting over the number until it is really a live number on my end. Justin, the techie on this call, tells me my problem is rare; he has only seen it once before. He also has an ingenious theory about what happened: when the porting over looked done, Time Warner immediately released my number, but in fact the porting over wasn't done. So when Time Warner saw that it wasn't complete, it took back the number, but then the number existed in both places, which isn't supposed to happen. So Justin thinks the number got stuck in a recurring loop in which the porting over starts, Time Warner cuts out, then takes back the number when it sees the porting over hasn't completed. AND when I first asked to have my number transferred, I was supposed to have been assigned a temp number, so that when my number was ported in to Credo, it would replace the temp number. Now I have been assigned a temp number, which I don't want to use because I don't want anyone to think that this is my number.

Epilogue: I am waiting for the phone icon to light up on Time Warner's modem -- hopefully this will happen on Thursday -- and then I will call Credo and start this porting process all over again. Will it work this time? your favorite cliche.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SOL Tuesday: Seeing Art

Today I went to an exhibit at the new Met Breuer, the Met’s modern art annex in the old Whitney Museum building a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit is called “Unfinished: Thought Left Visible,” and includes works from the 16th century up through the 21th of paintings, and works in a few other mediums, which appear uncompleted either deliberately, because of a non finito aesthetic, or because the artist never finished the work.
            What was most interesting to me was that very few of the art works looked “unfinished” to me. Perhaps this is because my eye is so used to paintings that don’t look like photographs, but this must have been a shock for 16th and 17th and 18th century viewers. As for 20th century work, who’s to say they’re unfinished even if the pencil or charcoal marks of the underlying sketch are clearly visible, like a Mondrian. It looks fine to me. A few paintings from the 20th century with large areas of beige blotch are clearly incomplete. For example, a work intended to show the drafting of the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War shows George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and others clearly portrayed, while the two British representatives are missing in the beige blob. What’s revealed is a political moment rather than an artistic one, the refusal of the British to willingly acknowledge the independence of their colony.
            Most of the “incomplete” works, however, looked good as they are, interesting and final in their own way. Even the five Turners, which are mostly vague areas of color. And the Abstract Expressionists? How can four canvases that are all white be unfinished? There’s an artistic intention that has little to do with the visual.