Thursday, August 31, 2006

August 31, 2006--Pigs in Blankets

And here I thought that after making my escape two decades ago to Manhattan from Brooklyn I was at last off the Bar Mitzvah circuit. But then just the other night I was at a black-tie event at Ciprianis and what were they serving? Pigs in Blankets!

For the uninitiated they are those tiny hot dogs wrapped in baked dough. They are served hot and up to now have typically been circulated on silver-plated trays by waiters during the cocktail hour at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings at places such as Leonard’s of Great Neck.

They were then and clearly now one of the ultimate guilty pleasures. Even the NY Times has caught up with the trend. They report that these delicacies were served recently at goyisher institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and, in Southampton of all places, at a party at the Parrish Art Museum. (Article below.) Just to think, it was a scant few years ago that anything Jewish, much less Jews themselves, was welcome anywhere within ten miles of the Parrish.

The Times, as Paper of Record, can be counted on to track down the history and genesis of these delights. Though there are similar confections in France (saucisson en croute) and England (Toad in the Hole—perfect!), the American version apparently has its roots in Dixie where the pigs were wrapped in biscuit-dough blankets.

But what about this “pig” business? Since the frank part is or can be kosher, why not call them “Franks in Blankets”?

I think I know the answer—when at one of these bar mitzvahs, with he band blasting Hava Nagila for the third time, many Jews of the transgressive sort (Philip Roth and me for example) want to at least believe we’re eating a little traif. And they are so delicious!

Thus no more moulard duck breast hors d”oeuvres, no more caviar and sushi at cocktail time. Even Daniel Boulud and David Bouley are making pigs in blankets.

I’m wondering if they were served at the latter’s recent five-day-long wedding in France. Sorry I declined to my invitation to attend. If I had only known.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

August 30, 2006--Again With The Nazis?

First the President spoke about how we are waging war with “Islamic fascists,” next Joe Lieberman chimed in to remind us that the situation in Iraq is just like the early days of Hitler, and then just the other day Rumsfeld and Cheney reminded us that we “seem not have learned history’s lessons” from that era. (See NY Times story below.)

They remind me of the first line of Sam Cooke’s 1950s hit, “Wonderful World” because they—

Don’t know much about history.”

And thus we have a Terrible World.

After 9/11, conflating those horrific events with the regime in Iraq, the rationale for invading was that since Saddam was linked to al Qaeda and he had weapons of mass destruction we needed to clean them out or he would turn them over to the terrorists and they then would drop dirty A Bombs on New York and Washington. So we went to war. But did not find any WMDs.

Rather then withdrawing out troops at that point, which as it turns out probably would have been a good idea and it would have been in some ways legitimate to have proclaimed “Mission Accomplished,” we stayed on guided by rationale number two—Saddam is a tyrant who “made war against his own people” and this we will stay on to remove him and bring democracy to Iraq (and in a series of good dominos) to the rest of the Middle East.

When it subsequently became clear that this was not working very well and many thousands of US troops were being killed and wounded (forget civilians for the moment), the third rationale was that we needed to “stay the course” in order to support our soldiers and thereby demonstrate that their sacrifices had not been made in vain.

And now, as the public has so dramatically withdrawn its support for that justification for the war, we are seeing the clear emergence of the fourth rationale—to quote Rumsfeld again, since “a new type of fascism” is emerging, to cut and run now would be to “appease” these Moslem neo-Nazis as the West appeased the real Nazis. And we know what happened then—it led to World War II.

Let me suggest a few differences between then and now: the Nazis garnered widespread support in Germany for their ascent to power—they actually were elected. In Iraq, through the democratic process the Bush administration helped to engender, a coalition government, whatever we think of it, was overwhelmingly elected and it is attempting to bring stability to the country. Nazi Germany was a substantially homogeneous society—they had Protestants and Catholics and yes Jews, but there was no evidence of any incipient civil war that would undermine Germany’s ability to invade and take control of most of Europe.

And then of course Germany was the world’s leading military power. They had their day’s version of weapons of mass destruction—it was called blitzkrieg. And the rest of Europe and the US were relatively weak, having substantially disarmed during the previous three decades.

None of this is to say that there are not real threats out there and we should remain strong and vigilant—9/11 and other acts of terror and violence are cases in point. But any neutral historian would say that our unilateral behavior has made things worse in this regard than better.

So, if Rumsfeld and Cheney and Lieberman (forget Bush—he doesn’t read) want to cite history, maybe they should bone up on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It might sound familiar.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 29, 2006--Praying for Tom Cruise

Help me out here. Why do so many (me included) take so much pleasure in Tom Cruise’s aberrant antics and his fall from Hollywood grace?

Schadenfreud, you say—the guilty please so many of us appear to take from the bad news, afflictions, and downfall of the mighty. Especially of those who we contributed to making mighty by purchasing their CDs (Britney Spears); ogling at (Paris Hilton); voting for (remember Monica Lewinsky?); cooking along with (Martha); and, as in Tom’s case, made rich and famous by buying more than three billion dollars worth of tickets to see his movies.

It’s a very interesting phenomenon in this era of hyper-celebrity.

But while we indulge ourselves in this way, while Tom Cruise begins to pick himself up off Oprah’s couch (see, I can’t control myself) by beginning to raise money on his own to finance his next film, others, even in Hollywood, are taking a different, much more benevolent tack.

Rather than lapping up the gossip that drips off the Page Sixes of America, they spend long, unremunerated days praying for us Sodomites. Actually, LA sinners. They are the cloistered nuns of Hollywood (this is not a pitch for a movie deal) who for decades have been offering up prayers for those who need it most—for those living and working in what they call “the Babylon of the U.S.A.” (see NY Times article below).

These are old-fashioned Catholic nuns, not members of a southern California Hale Bopp cult, of the type we used to see walking about with lowered heads, wearing full habits.

Though you might have thought they are no more, a remnant still exists. But they are literally a dying breed. Forty years ago there were 180,000 of them. Today there are just 70,000, only 5,000 of whom are cloistered, and there are fewer than 6,000 younger than 50.

But out in Hollywood there are the ancient Sisters Mary Pia and Mary St. Pious still hard at work. Along with 21 other Dominican nuns, they live in a monastery just blocks from Hollywood and Vine. And, although they have never heard of Hugh Hefner nor listened to an Elvis tune nor know anything about the pedophilia problems within the Church, (they do know about Martha!), they pray for all of them as well as the dopers and runaways and sexually ambiguous who wander the streets of their territory.

As Mary Pia says, “One doesn’t need to be of it to know of it.”

On the other hand, I wonder what they think of Scientology.

Monday, August 28, 2006

August 28, 2006--Joe's Jewish Problem

Call me a self-hating Jew, but who else but a Jew can best see that Joe Lieberman has a Jewish problem?

By this I do not mean to suggest that he is somehow deficient in the ways in which he practices his religion or cooks his food. Far be it from me who likes my Shrimp with Lobster Sauce too much to have a right to do that. I mean that in his day job as a senator in the US Congress, sworn to protect a Constitution that calls for the separation of church and state, he sees the world too exclusively through a Jewish lens.

This, to me, is as much a problem as George Bush viewing the world through an Evangelical Christian lens. And as I will attempt to demonstrate, the two, the fundamentalist Jewish and Christian positions, are too comfortably conflatable. Dangerously so.

The NY Times reported recently (article linked below) that Senator Lieberman, in an interview, drew parallels between the war in Iraq and the early struggle against fascism in Nazi Germany. He said, in the current situation there are “very, very severe echoes of that. . . . As the Nazis began to move in Europe, we tried to convince ourselves we contained them—and we obviously didn’t, and then we paid the price.”

I suspect he heard his president a day or two before talk about the war in Iraq and the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon as part of the larger war against “Islamic fascists” and this motivated him to echo that. Or maybe, very much on his own, he sees everything mediated through the question—“Is it good for the Jews?" Or at least his version of what that question means.

I’m not sure this is the central question for Connecticut much less American citizens.

Lieberman’s applying that question to all international issues also helps explain his long time affiliation with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. He served on their board comfortably with Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Pat Boone, and other Fundamentalists.

Among other things, through its On the Wings of Eagles Program, the IFCJ raises money to fund the emigration of Jews to Israel. They run Infomercials that show Jews shivering in unheated Siberian huts who want to go to Israel but do not have the money to buy a one-way airline ticket. But for only $450 each you can send a Jew to the Holy Land.

This must have been the reason Senator Lieberman was such an enthusiastic supporter of the International Fellowship. What he ignored were the reasons Falwell and Robertson were equally supportive.

According to most Christian Fundamentalists, before the Second Coming of Christ, there are a number of preconditions that must be in place. Among these are the rebuilding of Babylon (which is in Iraq—Saddam, ironically, was working on that) and the return of all Jews to Israel. As a consequence, many conservative politicians and leading Christian Fundamentalists offer unquestioning support for the state of Israel. Including the current George Bush.

Many orthodox Jews have embraced this support apparently without realizing that if it were to come to pass, when all Jews were regathered in Israel, we will be given one last chance to convert to Christianity or be doomed to death and eternal damnation.

Quite an unholy alliance and one that may go a long way to help explain Lieberman’s various genuflections.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

August 26, 2006--Saturday Story: "The Boys of Harlem"--Concluded

In Part Two, the Rugby Rockets basketball team and their coach, Mr. Ludwig, found themselves in Harlem. They were working their way through the streets from the subway station to the Harlem Boys Club where they were to play for the city championship. Never having been north of Central Park, much less in an all-black neighborhood, the Brooklyn boys were naturally curious and, in truth, somewhat afraid. They did, however, find something familiar in Bernie’s Candy Store, including a bathroom where they were able to relieve some of their nervousness.

In Part Three, which follows, the whistle signaling the start of the second half is about to blow and . . .

Mr. Ludwig gathered us in a circle in front of our bench and had us place all of our hands in a stack, one atop the other. He glared at us one last time as we broke the huddle with a less-than-enthusiastic grunt that served as a cheer--as much to motivate us as to signal to the other team that we were to be regarded as a serious competitive threat.

But since we were unable to fool ourselves much less them, we shuffled halfheartedly toward the center of the floor with Little Stewie, trailing along with us, even though he wouldn’t be starting, so he could hide behind Arnie Schwartz, our widest body, before having to return to the bench where he would sit exposed and unprotected.

As the Rocket’s center it was my responsibility to attempt to tap the ball to a team member when the referee tossed the ball in the air to launch the half. This felt like a hopeless task since at the start of the game the Harlem Boys Club center, though four inches shorter than me, leaped so high that he was able to tip the ball, before it reached its apogee, to one of his cutting guards who streaked down the floor with it for an uncontested lay-up. They thus had two points lighting the scoreboard even before I had had a chance to leave my feet.

But this time, the referee’s errant toss floated toward my side of the center circle and I managed to synchronize my jump with its trajectory, slapping the ball to Donny, who for a moment forgot his fear and instinctively resumed being the Donny we knew--the Rocket’s thumb. He grabbed hold of the ball, and dribbled it in a serpentine path through all of their defenders, pulling up abruptly at the foul line where he, in a graceful gyration, lifted himself in the air while simultaneously launching a high-arcing shot that ripped through the net, swish, without even nicking the rim.

Visitors—8 . . . Harlem Boys Club (still)--22

I glanced over to Stewie, who was slouching on the bench, and knew what he was thinking—just six seconds had ticked off the clock and we already were up to eight points. Seven more and we would reach fifteen. I saw him peek toward the exit sign, probably mapping his escape route. But while watching Stewie, and in truth also thinking about how I would escape with my life, after Donny’s quick basket, they quickly put the ball back in play and streaked down court passed us, catching us flatfooted, breaking into the clear, heading toward what would certainly be another uncontested basket. But, seemingly out of nowhere, Arnie Schwartz, who after the center jump had not lumbered down the court with the rest of us, somehow managed to position his hulking body between the basket and the driving player where he absorbed a charging foul. He was slammed to the floor by the collision and the score remained 22-8.

My somehow managing to win the jump, Donny’s quick and graceful basket, and Arnie’s sacrificing his body for the sake of defense energized our team and for the moment shocked and silenced the crowd. Though we still trailed by a probably-insurmountable 14 points, there was for the first time some slight evidence that this could still turn out to be a game and not just a pathetic rout.

Much of this feeling came from Mr. Ludwig who sat impassively on the bench, right beside Stewie, signaling by his calm that we had things under control. Even perhaps that we had the Harlem team right where we wanted them, in a form of perverse strategy of ineptitude that would lull them into complacency. And then, just when they were feeling it was all over, we would pounce and run them off the floor.

While the game moved back and forth inconsequentially, no one scoring for the next few minutes, which was a form of progress for us, I ran through my mind some of Mr. Ludwig’s war stories, looking for analogies to our situation and his during what he often referred to as the “Big One.” Were there situations he had told us about when his battalion rose up suddenly to grab victory from the jaws of seeming defeat? I could think of none—all that he recounted was their relentless, inexorable moving forward. So what could he be thinking now as he sat there exuding such calm confidence in us, even though we were still stalled out, so far behind?

As I was having these distracting thoughts, the Harlem boys regained their collective stride and ripped off two quick baskets, one after intercepting Benny Berlin’s inbound pass and slamming it home before we had a chance to turn around. We thus found ourselves still further behind—26 to 8.

That seemed to rouse our coach who sprang from the bench and whistled to Donny who asked for a time out. The crowd was back in the game, chanting “HBC! HBC! HBC! Harlem Boys Club!" as we again gathered at our bench.

During the entire time out, Mr. Ludwig ignored us, not even joining our huddle. He had moved out toward the middle of the court and stood there staring up at the score board which fluttered as if there was about to be a power failure. We looked at each other, wondering what he was up to, what he was expecting us to do, what kind of reverse psychology he might be using since this was so uncharacteristic of him. In every other instance he would minimally have had something to say about the “fallen heroes of Normandy” or liberating “les mademoiselles de Paris.” But there he was, looking as if he had finally lost the rest of his mind.

Arnie turned to Heshy, by far our most insightful teammate, our best psychologist, and asked, “What’s he up to? What the fuck is goin’ on?”

The rest of us leaned in to hear what Heshy might say. The crowd was on its feet, continuing to scream, “HBC! HBC!" Incited now by what they too saw to be our coach’s erratic behavior.

“I think he feels,” Heshy whispered huskily, “that he lived his whole life for this moment. Including the war. Especially the war. To bring to us what he fought for. To give us this opportunity. And what he is seeing is not just that we are losing but how we’re deporting ourselves. If we are the future he almost died for, what kind of future will that be?”

Benny broke our silence, “To tell you the truth, Heshy, though this sounds like a lot of bullshit to me, I think we should try his two-one-two zone defense. At least go out in a blaze of glory. That is, Lloyd, as the man in the middle, if you feel you can handle it.”

I didn’t respond but rather turned in my civilian version of an about-face and led the team back onto the floor, taking my position on defense. Right in the middle, where Mr. Ludwig taught me to stand; one time, when we were alone in the PS 244 gym, saying, “Someone has to be there, so it might as well be you.”

* * *

And it worked. With just three minutes to go in the game, though we had scored just two more points, which brought us to double-figures, 10; they had managed to score only four, on two lucky baskets from way beyond the keyhole. Our zone defense been so effective, cutting down their driving guards and neutralizing their bulky forwards, that they needed to chuck their shots from that distance, missing at least ten of them before banging in two off the backboard.

The scoreboard by then, more dark than lit, winked 30-10. And with so little time remaining, we could feel some consolation for holding them to “only” a 20 point lead; and even Stewie could relax with just those 10 points of ours showing on the board.

They poked one of Arnie’s cross-court passes out of bounds so we needed to toss the ball back into play. But before the ref could hand it to Heshy to inbound it, from the scorer’s table, the horn blared signaling a substitution.

We were all bent over, sucking air, when we heard a familiar voice, Little Stewie’s, lisping to Arnie, “Mr. Ludwig wants me to take over for you.”

Arnie straightened up in surprise. True, we were trailing by 20, but never in the PS 244 or Boys Club history of the Rugby Rockets had Stewie ever been inserted into a game. In truth, he served as sort of our mascot. He knew that we felt he brought us luck and that in our adolescent ways we loved him, and he both accepted and liked playing that role and receiving that affection. He understood that with his tiny and hopelessly uncoordinated body, he could barely catch a ball tossed to him much less move with or shoot it.

But here he was on the floor with us. It was a clearly a generous gesture for Mr. Ludwig to allow him in this way to be a part of what would for certain be the Rocket’s last game ever. And his as our coach.

For some time, the spectators had been celebrating their team’s impending victory, but with Stewie’s appearance they paused to see what might happen. They too sensed that something unusual was going on.

The whistle blew and Heshy passed the ball in to Donny who dribbled it slowly up court. He was not closely guarded—the game was effectively over. There was no shot clock in that era and everyone expected Donny to stand at the top of the foul circle and dribble out the remaining minutes in a desultorily and unchallenged way. Which he did.

The clock ticked down to the remaining two minutes. Donny dribbled and dribbled. Standing in place. Uncharacteristically, not moving. The rest of us stood there, yards apart. Alone with our thoughts. I would not have been surprised if others besides me were reliving some of the things we had been through together. I was by then attending a different high school from my teammates and expected that without the Rockets we would drift more and more apart. This was to be the end of more than just our team.

But as I was having these melancholy thoughts, with 90 seconds remaining, Donny snapped the ball over to Stewie who had been hovering close to him, seeking protection. Then, for a final few moments, we became a team again; and as we had done hundreds of times in the past, as if on automatic, we shifted into our well-practiced weave at the top of the circle.

Stewie had managed to take hold of the ball though Donny’s pass had smacked into his chest. And as we moved in a braid of motion behind him, as if to weave him into the fabric of our team, embraced in that way, he heaved the ball into the air, miraculously toward the basket, where it seemed to hover in the air in defiance of the laws of gravity, before slicing through the net soundlessly.

The scoreboard with that regained full power and flashed enthusiastically—

Visitors—12 . . . Harlem Boys Club—30

The Harlem Boys Club then took what would certainly turn out to be the final possession of the game, but their center’s casual pass was intercepted by Donny who darted in front of their guard to grab it. So we had the ball again, now with only 72 seconds remaining.

We set up once more in a large circle, with each of us in our accustomed position. Stewie, though, hovered even closer to Donny who resumed his rhythmic dribble. He was this time defended a little more closely. The clock showed a minute to go. Donny stood motionless, holding the ball high above his head with both hands. He looked to his left toward Benny but then passed the ball quickly to Stewie. This time he caught it cleanly. He was unguarded. He held the ball. Not dribbling. Clutching the ball to his chest. The clock moved to 40 seconds.

Heshy then called over to Stewie, and in a gentle voice said, “Shoot it Stewie.” Which he promptly did, again in a ceiling-scraping arc. Everyone watched it on its way up and then more intently as it began to descend. This time it bounced high off the rim before dropping through the net for another two points. No one moved. The gym had become silent.

Up in the rafters we saw--

Visitors—14 . . . Harlem Boys Club—30

All members of both teams remained frozen in place, staring up at the scoreboard as if looking for some meaning there that might be revealed beyond the score. And then before the Harlem team could toss the ball inbounds, Mr. Ludwig had us call one last time out.

This time he was waiting for us as we strode to the bench. What could possible be on his mind with only 29 seconds remaining and us trailing by an impossible 16 points?

We formed a circle around him as we had so many times over the years: Donny Friedlander, our inspired floor general and leading scorer: holding hands with Benny Berlin, prior to that day deadly from beyond the keyhole; who held hands with me, the Rocket’s captain and, because of my unnatural height, top rebounder; and I in turn clutched the hand of Heshy Perlmutter, always moving without the ball, always thinking on his feet. And during that final moment, Little Stewie was a part of that circle as well, grasping hands with Donny on his left and Heshy on his right.

“Men,” Mr. Ludwig began, he looked first at Donny, “we’re going to lose.” He saw how his acknowledging that shocked us, even with less than half a minute remaining in the game. “I know, I have never said that to you before while there was still time left, but today is different.” He swung around to Benny. “I know you think that winning was all I cared about.” He next held me in his gaze, and I thought I heard a slight break in his voice as he said to me, to us, “Like during the war. My war. Where there was to be no losing. That was not acceptable. You noticed how often I talked about that war and about how I tried to make connections between what happened there and what we were trying to achieve here. Together.” We all nodded. He then looked directly at Heshy who locked eyes with him. “You, Perlmutter, you always understood. You knew what I was trying to teach these men. How I was not much older than you when I was drafted. I was just a boy. Like you were.” We noticed his use of the past tense. And finally, he addressed Little Stewie who for the first time looked back at him. “And how that war made me a man, brutally forced me to become one. Robbing me of my youth. For you, for all of you,” he took all of us in now as the whistle sounded, calling us back onto the floor, “I wanted it to be different. Sure I wanted us to win. I love winning, but all I ever really wanted was to see you begin to become men. Learning that from playing together as a team. And as much from losing, actually learning maybe more from losing than from winning.”

He turned away from us as we broke our last huddle as the Rockets. But even with his back to us, we heard him say, as much to himself as to us, “I am very proud of you men.”

The Harlem team had the ball out of bounds and we expected them to freeze the ball for the few remaining seconds. But they quickly snapped the ball into play and broke toward their basket, clearly intent on doing more scoring. There was so much cheering again that perhaps, to satisfy their fans who had placed bets on the game, they wanted to repad the point spread.

But for one final time we sprang into motion. Quickly enough so that our zone took sufficient shape to impede their best shooter, who already had 12 points, as he cut to the basket. His shot, a floating layup that rolled from his finger tips as he soared above the rim, hung on that rim and then fell off to where I had moved so that I was able to elevate myself enough to grab my sixth rebound of the day from out of the hands of their leaping center.

There were still fourteen seconds on the clock. Thirteen, twelve . . . .

I immediately passed the ball down court to Donny who in a seamless motion got it on the other side of the court to Benny who released it to Heshy deep in the right-hand corner. I trundled down court to join them.

Through the microphone, the official scorer intoned, “Ten seconds remain in the game. Ten seconds.”

Little Stewie was moving right behind me, I could hear his sneakers slapping the floor as he cut to his left when he reached the top of the key. He ran toward the corner opposite to where Heshy stood protecting the ball from his defender, who was frantically flailing his arms, attempting to steal it.

As he approached his spot in the corner, Stewie raised his hand, calling for the ball. And Heshy obliged, passing it dangerously back across court to him, something Mr. Ludwig drilled us never to do, where it settled into Stewie’s hands.

Five seconds.

Without hesitation this time, Little Stewie let it fly.

Two seconds.

While his other two shots were time-consuming, lofty parabolas, this final one was more efficiently flat and slammed off the backboard right above the basket, where it rolled around the rim before beginning to drop away, with only the final second showing.

The clock inexorably ticked down to 0.0 as Heshy, forgotten by the other team which stood, as we did, transfixed, while Heshy for the first time in his life lifted his lanky body enough off the floor so that he, right at the rim’s edge, could tip the ball in.

Two points!

The buzzer sounded and scoreboard exploded with the final score—

Visitors—16 . . . Harlem Boys Club 30

They had won, but we had passed the 15 points Stewie had been warned about. Realizing that we collapsed around him, to cuddle and protect him.

But he broke loose from us and ran to the middle of the floor where he danced with joy, alone in the center circle.

We joined him there in celebration.

Mr. Ludwig remained on the bench. And the crowd resumed its chanting. This time, however, it was—

BBC! BBC! Brooklyn Boys Club! Brooklyn Boys Club! BCC! BCC!

Friday, August 25, 2006

August 25, 2006--Fanaticism XLVII--Which Grinch Stole Jesus?

Since next week is back to school week for many, here is one more (for the moment final) report on the status of public education in the USA.

While New Orleans is struggling to provide classes for a few thousand of its formerly 60,000 student school district and the education progressives in New York City are criticizing the City’s new deal with the College Board to offer the PSAT exam for free to all high school juniors and seniors, labeling the test as having no “educational value,” in Bridgeport, West Virginia they are trying to recover the “portrait” of Jesus that was stolen from the wall outside the principal’s office of the town’s pubic high school.

It had been hanging there for 37 years (yes, thirty-seven years), and just the other day, disappeared.

No one as yet is claiming that this is evidence of a miracle. Just simple theft. Or perhaps it is a consequence of an on-going lawsuit about the appropriateness of having such a painting on the wall of a public school.

The county board of education has been battling the suit, not spending any taxpayer money to do so, rather receiving support from the Christian group, Focus on the Family (see NY Times story below).

One school board member said, “We have decided to step up to the plate here. This is important to us and reflects what our community wants in the schools.”

Forget for the moment the conflation of sports and Christianity (“stepping up to the plate”?), all over the county one can find Christian tokens and symbols in schools. In addition to crosses in most of their public schools and government buildings, in the women’s bathroom at the board of education headquarters there is a leather-bound copy of the New Testament.

I hope it’s on a chain.

This is a glaring example of the widespread, nationwide transformation of public schools into versions of parochial schools. It’s far from just being about restricting the teaching of evolution. We are talking here about the blatant religious appropriation of a basic public service.

Bridgeport, West Virginia by the way, with a population of just 8,000, is home to 40 churches. They may fight about doctrinal issues, but they are united in wanted their Jesus back.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 24, 2006--PSATs

Just one question--

To those critics of New York City's new deal with the College Board to offer, free of charge, the opportunity to take the PSAT test (NY Times story below), what are they doing to help their own college-age children study for the SATs? Are their children taking SAT-prep courses with Stanley Kaplan or the Princeton Review? Are their children being tutored and helped with their applications so they can increase their scores and get into good colleges? And how many times do they take the PSATs? Two, three, four?

We all know the answers. And so what hypocrisy it is to criticize this fine initiative that will contribute to raising college awareness and help prepare low-income students for college.

If, as these critics claim, the PSAT "has little educational value" and that the College Board is "profiteering," than so is Kaplan, where their kids are enrolled, and so are the tutors they are hiring at hundreds of dollars an hour.

All the NYC Department of Education is attempting to do is level the playing field. Something all educators should presumable be about.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

August 23, 2006--Fix the Friggin Schools!

Today marks the first anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas. On that day no one knew its devastating potential. It struck New Orleans on August 29th. We know all too well what it left behind.

One would think that if the city wants its displaced residents to return, by now they would have schools ready for the children. Forget the fact that many of these kids missed a year of schooling. That’s bad enough, but how can you expect the city to come back to life if the school system is still a mess?

The NY Times reported recently about just how big a mess it is. (Article linked below.) Nearly half the schools theoretically ready to open do not have any administrators in place, much less teachers. As part of the “solution,” the state encouraged the establishment of charter schools.
Forget for a moment that there is gathering evidence that equivalent kids in public schools do better academically than children in charter schools. Let’s say that any school is better than no school. But in New Orleans most of the new charters have established admission standards so that the neediest students are effectively being screened out.

Forget the federal government. Though “Brownie” is no longer on the job the Feds are still not getting the job done. So where are all the private funders? Where, for example, is the Gates Foundation? Our largest, tax-exempt foundation with a huge, multi-billion dollar budget to improve America’s lowest-performing schools, is AWOL.

With their agenda to fund the establishment of small schools, isn’t New Orleans an ideal proving ground for them? There, sadly, they could have been working on a blank slate since all the schools were destroyed. For a measly few hundred million Gates could have helped the city set up scores of small schools and shown the nation both how this is a good approach to school reform and how serious they are about working with the most daunting of social problems.

To quote a 17- year-old who is waiting for his high school to reopen, “If they turn kids away, guess where they’re going to wind up? On the corner. You’ll hear about it when they get killed.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

August 22, 2006--China's China

For the past two decades we have been interested in China for three basic reasons—first, as a good place to locate plants devoted to the cheap manufacture of textiles, toys, clothing, electronic devices, and whatnot; second, as a burgeoning market for American services and cultural products; and third, perhaps most important, as our banker—China is the major purchaser of US Treasury instruments, money we in turn use to finance our debt so we can continue to live beyond our means while buying expensive oil and making war.

There will of course a price to pay for this. And it has to do with who will emerge as the world’s dominant power. We may not be thinking this way, but the Chinese certainly are—we are in a hegemonic struggle with them: which of us will be the foremost economic (and military?) power by the middle of this century? Why, for example, are the Chinese so willing, in spite of our protests, to sell rockets and missiles to Iran, knowing that many of these will flow via Syria to Hezbollah? Because they perhaps rightly see Israel as our surrogate in the region; and by helping to foster confrontation and warfare there, they know that this is yet another way to help us overextend and thereby weaken ourselves.

Speaking of proxy ideological battles brings me to sub-Saharan Africa where, during the Cold War, many of these kinds of confrontations took place. The Soviets used Cuba and liberation groups as their surrogates while the US supported the repressive governments in places such as Rhodesia and Mozambique. But now that that war with the Soviets is over (we won that one, didn’t we?), we have little use for this part of Africa. Except, of course, for countries such as Nigeria because they have oil or other extractive resources.

The Chinese, on the other hand, are looking at this part of Africa in very different ways. In ways that should concern us. Or better, if we were smart and wanted to learn how to be more effective in the world, we could learn from what the Chinese are up to. They did, after all, teach Marco Polo a thing or two those many years ago.

They are trading with Africa. To such an extent that that commerce between them quadrupled since 2001 to $40 billion last year (see linked NY Times article). And they are doing it in a very different way—rather than through deals for raw materials that they then use for manufacturing, they are offering to work together as equals, with the enterprises they establish based on mutual interest. Jeffrey Sachs, though not always my favorite development economist, has it right this time—looking at what is happening he says, “China gives fewer lectures and more practical help.” And he should know since he gave the Russians more bad lectures than anyone else! Fewer panaceas from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and more investments in things such as soybean processing and prawn production.

Critics contend that China is in fact just as interested in exploiting Africa as the West. They too crave Africa’s raw materials and see the huge population there as an ideal market for their goods. But on the ground, many in Africa see China offering a development model quite different than ours, an attractive one that is based on China’s own experience of moving from an agrarian society to the world’s fastest growing economy. A move that many in Africa would like to replicate.

Fair warning.

Monday, August 21, 2006

August 21, 2006--To the Loser Belongs the Spoils

Now Israel and the US have yet another thing in common—not only are we both “democracies,” not only are we both home to millions of Jews, but now we also both lost wars at the same time in the same region. And for many of the same reasons.

Bad news? On the contrary, quite the opposite. More jujitsu.

Ironically, by conventional measures Israel and the US, though having lost—we to the Iraqis, Israel to Hezbollah, are still by far hegemonic: Israel economically and militarily in the Middle East; we in the same ways, as well as culturally, worldwide.

They and we are obviously still exposed to external threats—especially from various forms of terrorism. But neither country is truly imperiled. No one has the capacity to do to us anything like the kinds of lethal harm both of us could potentially do to any conceivable enemies—even a nuclear Iran. And both countries remain by far the strongest regional and global economies.

Yes, radical Islamists and Hezbollah are celebrating in the streets, while also rebuilding what has been destroyed. But maybe, just maybe, their “victories” also represent a great opportunity for peace.

In a NY Times article about how Islamism may now be trumping Arabism (linked below), Dr. Fares Braizat from the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan says that one of the reasons divisions between Shiites and Sunnis are being blurred is because they share a common denominator—“People want their dignity back.” Having been losers for so long, to the West and Israel, dignity is in short supply in the region, and this may help explain all the frustration and murderous rage.

But victory, even the perception of victory, can help restore people’s dignity.

As a radical suggestion, therefore, why don't we declare the Iraqi insurgents and the Hezbollah fighters victors? Why not congratulate them as two boxers do at the end of even bloody struggles. This might help restore their essential dignity.

And, here’s the reason to do this--as they come to feel better about themselves and thereby gather psychic strength, we should seek to sit down with them, somewhere in private, as “equals” to see if we can make a deal to begin to end the violence on all sides and work out solutions to ancient problems.

There is evidence that this approach has worked in other seemingly intractable situations—in Northern Ireland (where the British “lost”) and particularly Vietnam, which may be the closest parallel, because there we clearly “lost” to a “weaker” enemy. In both cases there has been at least an outcome acceptable to both sides and there is as a result a reasonable peace.

This works best when the more powerful party (Britain, the US, Israel) acts magnanimously—recognizing its still hegemonic power while simultaneously realizing that the best way to use that power is to seek peace and not have to deploy it in the air or on the ground, which ultimately doesn’t work.

When superpowers have acted this way, out of enlightened self-interest, they have found the security that all of their power could not bring.

I know that these kinds of suggestions would be viewed as naïve and politically suicidal if promulgated by the opposition (the Labor Party in Israel, the Democrats here); but in the spirit that only a Nixon could have made a deal with “Red” China, the Bush administration could try to right its place in history by stepping back, looking at reality, and making these kinds of grand and “generous” gestures.

It might just work.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

August 19, 2006--Saturday Story: "The Boys of Harlem"--Part Two

In Part One, the Rugby Rockets, at the end of the first half found themselves trailing the team representing the Harlem Boys Club by a humiliating 22 to 6. They were playing for the Championship of the City of New York. Back in the locker room, the Rockets’ coach, Mr. Ludwig, berated his demoralized team for playing like wimps. To inspire them to action, for the hundredth time, he told them about his experiences hitting the beaches of Normandy as part of the First Wave, on D Day, June 6th 1944. In spite of this attempt to rouse them, the boys in his charge only wanted to get through the second half and safely back to Brooklyn.

In Part Two, we find . . .

Mr. Ludwig smiled again. He felt that when the ramp, so to speak, was dropped to signal the beginning of the second half and the referee’s whistle blew, we would hit the hard-court beaches and no matter the incoming we would prevail.

His team of Jewboys was not about to be made into deodorant soap for the Boys of Harlem!

Or so he imagined.

Because just as we were wearily pulling ourselves to our feet and dragging ourselves back into the gym to complete our humiliation, little Stewie, wiping the last globule of vomit from his chin, in his bird-like voice squeaked, “Mr. Ludwig.”

Our coach, who was in full martial stride at the point of his straggling platoon, in his mind leading us back into battle, he was so startled by that unexpected chirp that he almost tripped as he stopped short and wheeled on Stewie, barking, “Yes, private? Uh, Stewie?”

“Mr. Ludwig, I’m still afraid.”

“Of what?” he asked incredulously.

“Of them,” Stewie whimpered. “One of their players told me that if we score more than 15 points by the end of the game we’ll never make it back to the subway alive.” The rest of us cringed at his report about this threat and wondered why not just forfeit the game right now and head for the subway.

Mr. Ludwig, though, had very different plans. “Even if they don’t score in the second half, which is unlikely, 15 points will not be enough to win. It won’t get the job done. They already have 22 points. We came all this way to win a championship. Not to put our tails between our legs and retreat like a bunch of cowards. So get a move on. There’ll be no shirkers on this team.”

And with that he executed an impeccable about-face and marched through the tunnel back into the gym. We crawled along behind him, and when we reappeared on the court the crowd of local people who had packed the makeshift grandstands greeted us with derisive whistles and mock cheers.

“Hey, white boy,” one shouted, “what do you have in those shorts?” I saw Charlie quiver and clutch a towel to cover the front of his pants as someone from the stands on the other side of the gym hollered back, “Not much!” which caused a rumble of raucous laughter to swell and then ricochet off the tiled walls from one end of the gym to the other.

* * *

It had not been like this back in Brooklyn. Our team had been together since elementary school, from PS 244 years days, and we felt we had become battle-hardened there during our race toward the Brooklyn Public School Championship. True, we lost in the semi-finals by two points (at the final buzzer I missed a jump shot that would have taken us into overtime), but we felt that we had given a good account of ourselves, as did our coach, the ubiquitous Mr. Ludwig, good enough so that he encouraged all of us, even after entering various high schools, to become members of the Brooklyn Boys Club, remain a team, the Rugby Rockets, and play in that league. He of course volunteered himself to be our coach. One more try for him at a championship before retiring on top and retiring on his pension to south Florida.

We did that and fared well enough to win the Brooklyn Boys Club league title, which qualified us for the city championship final against the Harlem team, after two wins in the elimination round, beating the Staten Island team in the semis. They collapsed toward the end of the second half under the withering two-one-two zone defense that Mr. Ludwig taught us (“total team defense” he had called it, using the hand-as-a-team analogy for the first time), which had become our specialty.

So we felt intrepid and confident when we trekked up to northern Manhattan, to Harlem, where the title would be determined in their gym—they had the best record in the city and had thereby earned home court advantage.

Half of the Rockets had never even been to Manhattan, and those of us who had ventured across the East River had not been north of Central Park. And the city was so segregated at the time that none of us had seen an all-black neighborhood. Diversity to us meant that there were three Italian and two Irish families living in our otherwise all-Jewish neighborhood. So when we emerged from the subway on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, we were not prepared for what we encountered on that sparkling late spring Saturday afternoon.

As we walked south toward the Boys Club on 118th Street, though if we had thought about it, it should not have been much of a surprise to any of us, literally everyone we saw on the street, in cars, in the stores, on the stoops, hanging out on street corners, all were Negroes. It was as if we had entered a mirror-world where everything was reversed, where suddenly we had become the reflection. I felt that everyone was staring at us, as curious and suspicious of us and what we might be doing there as we were afraid of and shyly fascinated by them.

I was ashamed of my reaction to this obverse reality since being with a person of color was not so beyond my experience. When I was about seven, my parents welcomed into our home Henry Cross, the nine-year-old son of our maid, Bessie, who, while juggling the many jobs she needed to work at in order to support them could not care for him and her elderly parents who lived in South Carolina.

Henry quickly, in effect, became a version of an older brother. I idolized him. He taught me to ride a bicycle, when my father couldn’t, and read to me, when my mother wasn’t home. He made me laugh when he imitated our neighbors (he had mastered a perfect Jewish accent) and stood by my side to protect me from the local bullies—it was goy on goy, but mine was black and thus was imbued by the others with special powers. He knew how to play that edge, that bias and fear. And since he was in such demand to play on teams in our street games, he elevated my status as I both brought him and tagged along behind.

Then there were his Aunt Sis and Uncle Homer who lived in the cellar by the coal furnace of our street’s only apartment house. Uncle Homer stoked the fire and removed barrels of ashes and garbage while Aunt Sis swept and scoured the stairs and hallways in return for being allowed to live there, without having to pay rent, amid the cinders and trash.

Henry and I helped Uncle Homer with his work. He was ancient, to me at least a hundred, and could no longer do it alone. And while we were there, in this basement home, he told us stories about his life as a sharecropper in Fayette, Mississippi. How during the growing season he worked from stifling dawn to dusk behind a horse and plow; and how at picking time, he chopped the cotton by hand, filling long sacks that he dragged down the dusty rows. These were stories that transported Henry and me back to another time; and, nested with Uncle Homer and Aunt Sis by that hot furnace, those days with him were among the happiest and securest of my early life. Thus I was disappointed in myself to be so afraid of the black people we saw on the streets as we moved through Harlem.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Stewie whined, interrupting my memories of the Cross family. In addition to his other afflictions, his bladder was no larger than a walnut, and he always seemed to have to pee at the most inconvenient times. And that day, at the corner of 121st Street and Amsterdam Avenue, it for many reasons was by far the least convenient time. “I can go in there,” he whimpered, pointing at a candy store called Bernie’s. He looked pleadingly up at Mr. Ludwig. “They must have a toilet. Is it OK for me to go in there?”

“Lloyd,” Mr. Ludwig commanded, “you’re the captain so take Heshy with you and go with him. And make it snappy. No need to wipe his ass. Just make sure he doesn’t get lost.”

Holding his crotch, Stewie didn’t wait for us and bolted into the store. Heshy and I followed with some trepidation, again not knowing what to expect.

Looking around, Heshy said, “It’s just like Krinsky’s, the candy store on his corner back in Brooklyn. And it did. With the same kind of long lunch counter that ran the length of the store, about a dozen leather-covered low-backed stools that swiveled on steel shafts, newspapers and magazines stacked in shelves just inside the entrance, two rotating circular wire racks in back stuffed with pocket books, and a wooden phone booth with an accordion-style fold-up glass door right next to the bathroom into which Stewie darted.

We stood just inside the front door taking it all in. Two boys about our age stood by the shelves of magazines flipping through copies of Life and Ebony, a magazine I had never before seen. Halfway up the counter there was a jet black man dressed in what appeared to be African garb. He was wrapped in a boldly-patterned scarlet robe that flowed to the floor, and on his head he wore what looked like a crocheted wool yarmulke. He was sipping a cup of coffee and spread before him on the counter was the Herald Tribune. Further down the counter, on the last stool, there was another man who looked much older. He was dressed in tattered work clothes—overalls that looked as if they had been charred in a fire and a threadbare denim shirt. There were two grimy shopping bags wrapped and knotted with rope on the floor beside him. He had both arms folded on the counter and was slumped forward with his head resting on them. He was fast asleep and even from a distance we could hear him mumbling something to himself. And all the way in the back, there was a light skinned man of about forty, dressed in a tweed jacket, who was rotating one of the racks of books. He selected one and brought it up to the front where we were and placed it by the cash register where the counterman joined him to ring it up. I caught a glimpse of the title. It was John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

“Thanks, Bernie,” he said to the white man who was clearly the owner. “See you later in the week.”

Bernie said, “I think you’ll like it. I served in the Pacific and had trouble putting it down when it first appeared in the New Yorker.”

As I was not expecting something so familiar, I turned to Heshy to see what he might be thinking. He stood there, also quite transfixed, and said, “Can you believe it, just like in Krinsky’s, they even have Breyers Ice Cream here!”

* * *

Mr. Ludwig gathered us in a circle in front of our bench and had us place all of our hands in a stack, one atop the other. He glared at us one last time as we broke the huddle with a less-than-enthusiastic grunt that served as a cheer--as much to motivate us as to signal to the other team that we were to be regarded as a serious competitive threat.

But since we were unable to fool ourselves much less them, we shuffled halfheartedly toward the center of the floor with little Stewie, trailing along with us, even though he wouldn’t be starting, so he could hide behind Arnie Schwartz, our widest body, before having to return to the bench where he would sit exposed and unprotected.

To be continued . . .

Friday, August 18, 2006

August 18, 2006--Fanaticism XLVI--Bush to War Cabinet: "I'm Frustrated"

According to the NY Times, at a recent meeting with his War Cabinet in Washington (not Crawford), President Bush said he was “frustrated” that the new Iraqi government “and the Iraqi people” had not shown greater public support for “the American mission.” (See article linked below.) He was especially vexed that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens had flooded the streets of Baghdad to support the Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon, chanting as they marched, “Death to America.”

After all we have done for them--overthrowing Saddam, bringing “democracy” to their country--the President told the group that he did not understand why so many would take to the streets and participate in an anti-American rally.

Apparently no one who attended the meeting said anything to help him understand.

If I had been there I would have mentioned a couple of things that might have been helpful:

First, I would have recommended, stop referring to what we are up to in Iraq as “the American mission.” I don’t think the notion of mission goes down very well with Moslems who are still smarting about the Christian Crusades, even though the last one ended in 1291, a scant 715 years ago.

Then I would have pointed out that just the day before the War Cabinet meeting the President interrupted his brush-cutting vacation to return to the Oval Office to sign a law that transfers a 29-foot-tall cross to the federal government. Ignoring issues of church and state, he used the government’s power of eminent domain to transfer the San Diego land on which the cross is erected to US ownership, attempting to preempt a 17-year-long lawsuit that claims it is unconstitutional for such an overtly religious symbol to be situated on public land. Bush and the law he signed claim that the cross overlooks a war memorial and thus does not violate the US Constitution. (Times article below.)

If our President wants to understand why Iraqis and others are angry and frustrated with us, he only needs to understand the connection between his seeing our invasion and occupation in mission terms and his pandering to Christian zealots in the US.

He may not see that connection, but the rest of the world does.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August 17, 2006--Winning the Peace

We won the war in Iraq but appear to be losing the peace. What are some of the lessons that might be extracted from that experience that could prove helpful in the current situation in Lebanon? So we don’t make the same mistakes twice or three times or indefinitely? It feels as if we had better figure this out. Unless we do, it is all too obvious what awaits us and the rest of the world.

Militarily it is clear that we in Iraq and the Israelis in Lebanon fought this time using “last war” strategies and tactics, thinking shock-and-awe bombing would so defeat and demoralize the “enemy” that it would be a “piece of cake,” to quote Paul Wolfowitz, to waltz in with a handful of ground troops and be welcomed as liberators.

That didn’t work in either situation—the “defeated” armies wound up the victors. Previously, I described this as geopolitical jujitsu, where the opposite of what you think you are achieving through the use of your strength gets turned against you and defeats you. So there should be lessons to be learned about how in the future we can be more effective in fighting “insurgents” or other groups that are imbedded in communities and receive local support.

In regard to the peace, after winning in Iraq, in order to rebuild the infrastructure that we destroyed and build institutions, including a new government, we did what other global enterprises do—we outsourced the work. Primarily, we turned to the private sector, awarding “no-bid” contracts to Halliburton and others. And what has been the result? Iraq is still an infrastructural shambles and the government and security forces there have thus far failed to protect their people. 3,500 Iraqi civilians were killed during the month of July while Halliburton made hundreds of millions of dollars.

And what are we seeing in Lebanon just three days after the cease fire took effect? Significant evidence on the ground of rebuilding and the restoration of services. And how is this happening? Rather than Halliburton, Hezbollah is getting the job done!

Turn on CNN and you will see Hezbollah bulldozer drivers clearing the rubble; Hezbollah EMS personnel tending to the sick and wounded; Hezbollah recruits bringing in food and water; Hezbollah rescue workers extracting the dead from among the ruins; and as reported in the NY Times in yesterday’s lead story, “Hezbollah Leads Work to Rebuild, Gaining Stature” (linked below) they are on the ground even giving displaced Lebanese money to pay their rent!

Cynics here are saying, “Sure, they are doing all of this because Iran is providing the money.” I say, “What’s wrong with that?” It certainly is a brilliant strategy. And by the way, who is providing all the billions that are being wasted and ripped off in Iraq? Isn’t it clear that Iran is getting a better bang for their bucks than we are?

Which leads me to a few heretical thoughts—I know we are not supposed to talk with our “enemies,” the Iranians and Syrians, etc.—but what would happen if instead of pledging a puny $50 million is relief aid for Lebanon, to be laundered through who knows which NGOs, what if our government and private foundation funders were to approach Hezbollah to see if they would be open to receiving our support for this humanitarian effort? In effect, rather than hiring Halliburton, which has a record of corruption and failure, we turned to the group that is proving to know what to do?

Of course the Israelis would, to say the least, object. But if we want to help calm that region we had better come up with some bold and effective strategies.

We might even remind Israel that after the Second World War we led efforts to rebuild and reconstitute the nation that had put six million Jews in gas chambers. And it worked.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

August 16, 2006--For Lack of a Ph.D. the Patient Died

We will need 200,000 new nurses by 2020. This is largely because we have an aging population who will live longer than previous generations and eventually all of them (us) will wind up for at least a time in hospitals or other kinds of care facilities.

In the past, when faced with less acute nursing shortages, we as a nation raised nurses’ pay and welcomed RNs from overseas. That helped. But we are now faced with another set of issues as we attempt to train the nurses we will need—according to a recent piece in the NY Times (linked below) there are enough qualified applicants to nursing schools to meet this demand, but record numbers are being turned away because there are not enough nursing teachers available to staff the required classes and clinical settings. In 2005 alone, there was no room for 150,000 who otherwise would have been accepted.

What’s the problem? Why are there too few teachers? Shouldn’t it be easy to lure qualified nurses into classrooms, away from 12-hour shifts in overcrowded hospitals and nursing homes?

The quick and easy answer is that nursing instructors make less money than those working in clinical settings. But a closer look reveals the real problem—the very few nurses in clinical settings who have Ph.D. degrees make more money than nursing instructors. And since colleges of nursing require their instructors to have Ph.D.s they cannot compete with hospitals that hire Ph.D.s to fill senior management positions and pay more.

There is thus a simple solution—nursing schools should stop requiring instructors to have Ph.D.s. What does having a Ph.D. in nursing have to do with teaching the next corps of clinical nurses?

I ask what the course described below, which is required of all Ph.D. students at New York University, what does any of it have to do with qualifying someone to teach future nurses? This comes directly from the NYU catalog:

Contemporary Nursing Research

Course content emphasizes the development of scholarly inquiry in nursing science through the critical analysis of nursing concepts, theories and models from their original to their current state. Applicability of course content to student’s independent research is emphasized. Students examine and evaluate scholarly inquiry in nursing for past, current, and future contributions to the discipline. This course is the first to introduce theoretically based research with consideration to the priority of identifying research questions related to increasing the understanding of health care outcomes for diverse populations.

“Scholarly inquiry in nursing science through the critical analysis of nursing concepts”? Help me here. I’ve even been an academic, but I do not for the life of me get why the person who will minister to me at Lenox Hill Hospital has to be taught by someone who was required to take this course and others that are similarly theoretical.

Actually, literally for the life of me, I’d rather have Mary Malone, who actually cared for me at Lenox Hill, teach the next group of nurses who I will probably soon be needing. A little less “theoretically based research,” please, and a little more practical knowledge and experience.

Ph.D.s need not apply.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 15, 2006--The One-Eyed Minuteman

I suspect that you, like me, when conjuring up images of the guys who have taken it upon themselves to patrol the border with Mexico to keep Wetbacks out of the U. S. of A., the so-called Minutemen, you picture some Neanderthal redneck who drinks beer by the six-pack and whose knuckles drag on the ground.

The last thing in the world I would imagine is that any of these vigilantes would be quoting anything coherent, much less from the writings of John Stuart Mills.

But then along comes the NY Times to confound things (article below). They report about a one-eyed 57-year-old decorated Vietnam veteran who comes from a family of two generations of newspapermen and from memory cites Mills’ assertion that “The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made so and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

He’s Britt Craig and he appears to be quite some romantic hero right out of a Hemmingway novel—after Vietnam, the Times says, “He drifted. Sailed. Fished. Pounded nails. Made music in Puerto Rico. Knew a few women and forgot a few women.”

Get the picture?

Most of the guys who do this Minuteman thing do so part time. Proverbial weekend warriors. Britt, on the other hand, is out there 24/7. For 500 days so far. Alone with an equally one-eyed over weight cat, he sleeps in his van and gets through the long days mainly by sulking.

He refuses to be absorbed into the “official” Minuteman “organization.” There is a lot of rivalry and competition among the men along the border. Each is trying to out-macho everyone else. There are, no surprise, few physical fights but a lot of bad blood and frequent exchanges of ugly talk. Craig has even been accused by some Minutemen rivals, who never served in the real army, of being a “phony war hero.” But he has the papers to prove it. All the rest have is a lot of swagger. And guns. All he wants is to do something significant—to be part of a society that “enforces its own basic rules,” claiming that if it doesn’t “is not a society at all.”

So he sits out there in the 110 degree heat keeping his eye out for the drug traffickers. That’s where he’s set himself up. In the most dangerous spot along the border. He dreams of bagging the elusive “coyote,” that’s what the smugglers are called, whose distinctive size 7 soccer cleats he’s been tracking for months. He looks forward to the day when they will be hanging from his rearview mirror like baby shoes.

Monday, August 14, 2006

August 14, 2006--Only the Amorphophallus Titanium Knows Brooklyn

Though from its Latin name, Amorphophallus Titanium, one sort of gets the picture of how this swollen flower looks (you can get a full view from the linked NY Times article). You've probably seen enough of the kinds of bulging forms that gave the flower its scientific name so that you do not need to head for the D Train and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. On the other hand, if you want to get a whiff of this otherwise unnoteworthy flower, you had better get a move on because it's aroma will last for just a short time--sort of like a flower on Cialis.

But I warn you, the plant's common name is the Corpse Flower, because of its stench, which rivals that which arises off the even more famous Gowanus Canal of Brooklyn.

You may, though, have to wait in line. So many thousands of the curious have been drawn there that it may take some time before you get within sight of it, though, they say, you will know you are in the right place because of the smell of, well, rotting flesh.

Brooklyn has also been home to many poets. Walt Whitman, for example, lived and worked on Leaves of Grass in Brooklyn Heights. So some of the Amorphophallus visiters also have a way with words. One of the gardeners was quoted as saying, “It smelled like a lot of things rotting at the same time.” The Vice President of Horticulture and Facilities, attempting to do a little better, said, “The smell pulsated in waves,” not bad; but then sort of spoiled things when he added, “It was like a fishing dock at low tide.”

And then, after visiting the Botanical Garden, for a full tour of Brooklyn, walk around the corner to the nearby site of Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers played, still haunted by the ghosts of Duke and Gil and Pee Wee and Jackie. Their motto, because they always lost to the hated Yankees in the World Series was “Wait ‘til next year”; their nickname—The Brooklyn Bums. They departed for Los Angeles in 1957, preferring smog to the smell of rotting meat.

Thomas Wolfe had it right about only the dead knowing Brooklyn; but then he went too far because you can in fact go home again.

But bring along a respirator.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

August 12, 2006--Saturday Story: "The Boys of Harlem"--Part One

Donny Friedlander, who was our best foul shooter, was on the line. Typically, he sank eight out of every ten attempts. Not bad for a skinny sixteen year-old from Brooklyn.

He was also well known for his preparation routine before shooting—three dribbles on his left side, three on his right, a semi- deep-knee bend, followed by a quick two-handed shot. And then swish, invariably 80 percent of the time. One point for the Rugby Rockets of the Brooklyn Boys Club!

This time, however, he dribbled just twice on his left, once on his right, and forgot the deep-knee bend entirely. We knew something was wrong; and this was confirmed when he shot, missing both the rim and backboard.

The ball was immediately rebounded by our opponents’ center, who passed it like a spear the full length of the floor, where it settled into the hands of their darting point guard who, in a single graceful motion, caught it and slammed it home, just beating the buzzer that signaled the end of the first half.

The crowd went wild and the score board flashed—

Visitors (us) 6; Harlem Boys Club 22.

Demoralized, we gathered our sweat-soaked towels and slunk back to the locker room where our coach, Mr. Ludwig, spent the next fifteen minutes berating us.

“That was pathetic,” he spat, glaring at Donny who sat slumped on the bench in front of the pockmarked steel locker, “You throw up an air ball to end the half and they convert it into two points. A three-point swing. This is the way you compete for the New York City Boys Club Championship?”

He now included all of us in his contempt. “How many times do I need to remind you about how to face challenges? Do I need to tell you again about D Day, June sixth, nineteen hundred and forty-four?”

If any of us had had the energy we would have groaned, having heard about the First Wave from him at least a hundred times. “Well, those of us assigned to the First Wave,” I looked over toward Heshy Perlmutter, hoping to catch his eye so we could together distract ourselves by mouthing the words to this all too familiar story, “we huddled in our LCTs, our amphibious landing craft you remember, waiting for the ramp to drop and the whistle to blow indicating it was time to hit the beaches.” He paused to allow the full effect to descend upon us. No one moved or looked at him. We were all lost in our exhaustion, and fear. Not of him but of our opponents and even more of the neighborhood, Harlem, where we found ourselves. Most of us had never ventured so far from Brooklyn. Much less here.

“The Jerrys were waiting for us; but when that ramp dropped,” for emphasis he slammed his hand against a locker door and even the Harlem Boys Club team members, who were clustered at their end of the locker room exchanging high fives in celebration of their success, jumped as if shot.

“When that ramp dropped, even though we were staring right down the muzzles of the Krauts’ guns, we hit the beaches. You remember the pictures I showed you? From the news reels?” Charlie Aaronstein rolled his eye up in his head but nodded back at Mr. Ludwig so the rest of us could ignore him while sucking air back into our lungs. The second half would be starting in a few minutes. All we wanted to do was get it over with and escape with our lives.

“That longest day was a living hell,” he had lowered his voice as he always did out of respect for the lost and wounded. “But did that stop us?” He had resumed his stentorious narrative, “Did we curl up in a ball and cry for our mommies? Did we quit?” By not so subtle implication it was obvious that as he reached his peroration of rhetorical questions the comparisons he would be drawing between his courageous band of brothers and our team of wimps would be starkly clear. He pointed at me now, I was the team’s undeserving captain—it was simply that I was his favorite because he and my mother were friends—“I ask you what would have happened if we had given up?”

Without waiting for an answer, he played his trump card, “Well, all of you would be speaking German or maybe already have been made into bars of soap or lampshades.” He snorted and let the nightmare of that possibility sink in.

Though the thought of serving as some Nazi’s night light was no longer as frightening as it had been the first dozen times he had forced us to imagine the fate we had escaped, it did seem to again agitate Stewie Hirsch enough so that he threw up all over his sneakers.

Mr. Ludwig nodded knowingly in his direction and said, “Exactly. Just as I was saying.” No one had the energy or motivation to ask him what he meant by that non sequitur; but he must have thought Stewie helped drive home his point since he smiled empathetically at him while the rest of us struggled to stifle our own rising nausea as the mess and smell oozed their way into that over-heated space.

“So, men, again we find ourselves at war. Far from home,” his majestic gesture took in all of the battered locker room. “But we are not alone. We have each other.” He tried to force each of us to look him in the eye. “That’s the definition of a team. We are like a hand,” from this familiar simile we knew he was near the end of his inspirational rant, “Look at my hand.” He held his hand before us with the fingers spread widely apart. We knew he would not continue unless we looked up at his starfish-contorted hand. So we did. “Note how without the thumb,” he flexed it back and forth on its hinge while holding Donny in his gaze, “it is no longer a hand. Just four fingers.” Donny was always the thumb. “And of course the smallest of fingers, the pinky,” he wiggled it, looking at Stewie, of course our pinky, “without it there also would be no hand.” He added, “No team” in case we were missing his analogy.

He smiled again, but this time with a sense of self-satisfaction. He felt that when the ramp, so to speak, was dropped to signal the beginning of the second half and the referee’s whistle blew, we would hit the hard-court beaches and no matter the incoming we would prevail.

His team of Jewboys was not about to be made into deodorant soap for the Boys of Harlem! Or so he imagined.

To be continued . . .

Friday, August 11, 2006

August 11, 2006--Friday Fanaticism XLV--Check the Lipstick

On a day when air travelers are being told that they will no longer be allowed to take lipstick on board with them because it might be turned into an explosive device; and Israel is asking the US to hurry the delivery of the M-26 cluster bombs it ordered because their current weapon systems are not doing a good enough job of wiping out Hezbollah fighters (and civilians); and Joe Lieberman is claiming that because he was defeated in the primary Al Qaeda is feeling emboldened and as a result the world is in fact a more dangerous place (Dick Cheney is nodding in agreement); and when Bernard Lewis, the eminent historian of Islam warns, in the Wall Street Journal, that we should worry that the president of Iran may attempt to jump start Armageddon (yes, that Armageddon) on August 22nd, claiming that in the Moslem calendar it is a propitious time to do so; if you ever wondered why I devote Friday’s blogs to example of how fanatics of various stripes are a mortal danger to the world, today you have more of an answer than you might have been seeking.

(By the way, no NY Times or WSJ articles are linked below because they are just too depressing.)

You don’t need to hear anything more from me today. I will, though, post the first part of a new story on Saturday.

Just try to enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

August 10, 2006--The Humvee Phone

Dick Cheney was right after all. True, he got a few specifics wrong, but in big picture terms what he predicted came true. He said that US troops would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq. That not only were Iraqis eager to be free of Saddam, but they also craved a Western way of life, including American consumer and cultural products such as cable TV and Hollywood movies. Maybe this hasn't worked out that well because to enjoy this bounty you need electricity, and we know that's in short supply. But at least we have enabled pretty much everyone who wants to be hip to get cell phones.

The NY Times reports that the number of cell phones in use increased to 7.1 million from 1.4 million in just two years (article linked below). But of course, as with so much else over there, the Iraqis are using them a little differently that we are over here.

First of all, our cell phones have boring names such as Nokia 3660 and Motorola V66, whereas those in Baghdad have nicknames such as the Apache (for the helicopter), Afendi (which is the Turkish word for “dapper”), and the ever-popular $800 Humvee (named for you know what).

Text messaging is quite popular, but again with a difference. In Iraq the most popular text image is that of a skeleton and the favorite voice mail message is “Your call cannot be completed because the subscriber has been kidnapped.”

This gallows humor is also available via video images. One of the most popular clips shows a masked man with a knife who cuts off the head of a fish because, as he says on the tape, “All the fish did not come out of the sea.” Get it? No? I guess you had to be there.

For some reason the religious police are not confiscating these fancy phones. One might think that Islamic extremists might, seeing them as yet another example of Western imperialism, sort of like MTV. For example, in May they murdered a tennis coach and two of his players because they were wearing shorts. So why are they OK with cell phones? What might be going on here?

It’s apparently because insurgents use cell phones to talk with each other about where to meet to set up their ambushes, and also find these phones to be very useful as detonating devices for their bombs.

On the other hand, they do not use the Humvee model for that purpose because it costs $800. Rather they use cheap phones since they get blown up in the explosions. Makes sense.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

August 9, 2006--The Gravity Diet

With growing concern about the obesity epidemic and, of course, about just looking good on the beach, there have been a series of diets through the years that have attracted devoted followers—

Some have been named for locations: The Scarsdale Diet, the Beverly Hills Diet, the South Beach Diet. Others for their inventors—The Prtitkin Diet, the Jenny Craig Diet. While yet more are descriptively named—The Lo-Carb Diet; the High-Carb Diet, the Low-Fat Diet, the High-Fat Diet.

Though these diets call for very different approaches to eating and are often controversial, there is one thing all neutral observers agree about—they do not work. Yes, all produce some short-term weight loses, but nearly 90 percent of dieters over time regain the weight they lost.

So what to do? I stumbled on the answer in yesterday’s Science Times section of the NY Times—go on the Gravity Diet.

The best news about this one is that it is guaranteed to work; and, if you don’t move about too much (more about this below), you will keep the weight off. But best of all you do not have to change any of your eating habits. If you can’t give up dessert or like extra fat on your steak or can’t let go of bread at dinner, not to worry because you will still lose weight and it will not come back.

The article linked below is not in truth about dieting. It is about how the giant Tsunami of 2004 affected the Earth’s gravity. But if you track along with me for a moment, you will quickly see the dieting implications.

The story’s headline indicates how the Tsunami “shook gravity.” This caught my attention since up to now I have always thought that the force of gravity was invariable. That it was locked into the elegant simplicity of one of Newton’s most famous equations, his 1687 Universal Law of Gravity, which states that objects that have mass tend to accelerate toward each other: F = MA. The force of gravity (the F) equals that total mass (M) times the rate at which they accelerate toward each other (the A).

In a world of infinite, unpredictable variability, I cling to the certainty and security of those few things, such as F = MA, that are universal and unchanging. But the Tsunami, in addition to all the physical destruction it caused, also apparently shook up gravity itself. This was discovered by slight changes in the relative positions of two polar-orbiting satellites. As a consequence of the shifting in the mass of the earth that was the result of the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that caused the Tsunami (thousands of square miles of sea floor were ruptured and raised, thus affecting the mass of the Earth—it made the Earth in places less dense) the force of gravity itself where this occurred was diluted—the M was less than before the earthquake.

And as another consequence, if you’re following me, in certain locations where gravity was thus reduced, if you lived there and of course survived, you would weigh less. To be precise, if before the Tsunami you weighed 150 pounds, after it you would weigh one-25,000th of an ounce less.

Admittedly not that much, but at least a good start.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

August 8, 2006--Art Not For Art's Sake

It used to be enough to say that art for art’s sake is good enough. No longer. At least not when it comes to arts in the public schools.

Now educators have to make the case that if kids listen to Mozart it will increase their scores on standardized reading tests. If they paint and draw it has to lead to measurable improvements in “problem-solving skills.” If schools can’t demonstrate this, music rooms get turned into places where students can be drilled on ways to push up their reading levels, and art studios are transformed into study-skills labs. To keep their art and music teachers, principals have to make the case that they can contribute as much to improvements in test scores as math teachers.

As a result, arts educators are scrambling around contorting themselves into quasi-academic skills teachers. And of course the funders, always courageous, are lining up in support of this reductionist agenda. A case in point is the $1.0 million grant the Guggenheim Museum recently received from the US Department of Education to conduct research on whether or not students’ analytical skills are enhanced by studying art (see NY Times article linked below). The money is to fund the continuation of the evaluation of the Guggenheim’s Learning Through Art Program. To see if studying art has an effect on skills such as brainstorming and “breaking down a problem into parts.” Just the way artists work. Help me!

And if you think that only the DOE under President Bush is craven, I can testify from considerable personal experience that any number of “liberal” private funders are insisting that their art-education grants also pay off in this quantitative way. And if they have the vision to see non-test-score value in the arts, they insist that teaching the arts contribute to students’ “ethnic identity.” In my view, equally reductionist and instrumentalist.

Maybe the Department of Commerce can make a second grant to the Guggenheim to help them open more profit centers such as the one in Bilbao, Spain or to the Metropolitan to fund the expansion of their gift shop.

By the way, in case you are wondering, the evidence is gathering that children who participate in rich art programs in elementary school do much better on standardized tests than those who are “arts challenged.”

Monday, August 07, 2006

August 7, 2006--The Hezbollah Foundation

To many in the so-called “donor community,” foundation officials and staffs, it is felt that a healthy society requires that there be many robust NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) to offer services governments are either unable or unwilling to provide. It is the role of these NGOs, these institutions of “civil society,” to hold governments accountable to the people they presumably represent.

These independent not-for-profit groups are necessary in order to keep pressure on governments to provide basic services, protect human rights, establish effective schools, help poor people establish livelihoods, protect the environment, and provide adequate health care, among other things. Thus, funders look to make grants to NGO organizations of this kind in order to improve people’s lives and foster the growth of free societies.

In my former role as a senior director at the Ford Foundation, we attempted to help do things of this kind both in the United States and in the “developing world” (though the proper PC way to refer to this part of the world was to call it “the South” since “Third” and “Developing,” we felt, didn’t quite capture the truth of the situation).

So to have an article on the front page of the NY Times about the work of a foundation such as Ford, an article that praises the work on the ground of NGOs we were funding, would be welcomed. Thus, when just yesterday there was this kind of front-page story about work underway in Lebanon, effective efforts to help with health issues, education, security, and support for micro-enterprises, I was disappointed, as a former FF staffer, to discover that the article was not about Ford or another major US funder, but about, yes, Hezbollah (see linked article).

Without elaborate “field offices” and high-priced staff set up in sumptuous subsidized housing with drivers, servants, and security guards, it appears that Hezbollah has, for years been, quietly going about getting the job done. When poor people get inflated electrical bills, Hezbollah often pays them; when someone does not have the resources to cover the cost of expenses for medical treatment, Hezbollah frequently covers the bill. They run schools, provide policing in neighborhoods where the government doesn’t, and make micro-loans to help incubate small businesses.

No wonder a car mechanic in southern Lebanon was quoted as saying, “The trees in the south say, ‘We are Hezbollah.’ The stones say, ‘We are Hezbollah.’ If the people cannot talk, the stones will say it.”

Any wonder that Israel, with all its US-Supplied smart bombs, is so bogged down?

Even the stones are fighting back.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

August 5, 2006--"The Club"--Concluded

The Club--Concluded

In Part Four, Lloyd finally gets to visit the Traub’s Squirrel Hunt and Racquet Club. After a torturous drive battling Labor Day traffic along the notorious Long Island Expressway, where all the other drivers are “sheep,” in the words of Dr. Traub, Lloyd immediately realizes he has seen it before—the Traub’s house back in Brooklyn is a mini-version of The Squirrel, having been designed and built by the same architect, Lorenzo del Pesto. Dicky is instructed by his mother to give Lloyd the grand tour, especially not forgetting to take him to see the men’s locker room. But Dicky, once free of his parents, absconds with Lloyd to the Acorn Bar where, over a quick series of gins and tonic, he tells Lloyd about his girlfriend Betsy Sue Robinson (who is neither Negro nor Catholic) and his dream to become a veterinarian. If only his parents would give him a little encouragement-- and pay his tuition.

In Part Five, the story concludes with . . .

Mrs. Traub waltzed up to me, that is the only honest way to describe it, and took me by the hand, pausing to adjust my clip-on bow tie, and said, “Please escort me to cocktails in the Bridle Lounge. Dicky of course thinks that’s a silly name. But it is spelled with a ‘d-l-e’’ and not with a ‘d-a-l,’ though many a romance began there. And who knows about tonight? After all, you are about to meet Jewel Silvergold. But before that let me take your arm, darling, I want to make a grand entrance. And show you off to everyone.”

I didn’t quite know what this meant or what to do, but she came to my rescue by letting go of my hand, crooking my right arm, and placing her own hand there so that we were transformed into a version of an elegant couple, only familiar to me from certain movies of the period—my only point of reference for what was I was being drawn into. And reflected in a mirror along the bar, where I glanced to check to see how I looked with Mrs. Traub at my side, I also saw Dicky mopping along behind us as if in tow.

We passed behind a waterfall that served as the far wall of the bar (Mrs. Traub said to me, “Isn’t Lorenzo a genius?”) and right there spread before us was a sweeping set of marble steps that descended into what was clearly the Bridle Lounge. Seeming all of it made of crystal.

Most striking was a series of immense chandeliers that traversed the full length of the room, each sparkling with hundreds of bulbs that were not only in the shape of candles but also had special filaments that flickered in imitation of real candlelight. Also the full length of the Lounge, there was a table covered with rose-colored linens down the middle of which was placed a two-foot wide red satin ribbon on which there were centered huge crystal bowls and tureens and platters, all overflowing with what seemed from a distance to be cornucopias of fruit and salads and meats and vegetables and various kinds of bubbling and fizzing and steaming concoctions.

Sensing how struck I was by all this glittering splendor, Mrs. Traub leaned over to whisper, “And don’t forget to notice the crystal Champaign fountains (mind you that’s real Piper Heidsieck flowing, from France) and the ice sculptures—all of animals that are hunted, especially squirrels. Silly, no? And the tapestries,” she gestured toward the wall behind the vast table, “See them? They’re from the Cloisters Museum. They are pictures of Unicorns. White horses with mythical horns. They’re copies of course. Lorenzo had them specially woven in Europe and had the silver frames made so they would go with the rest of the décor. I’m not sure I like them. The frames I mean. It feels a little much, don’t you think? But there is no disagreeing with him. I wasn’t sure about the Aztec headboard either, but he insisted.”

Then I noticed that a group of club members had gathered at the foot of the stairs. “But come, it’s time to meet everyone. And stand up straight. You’re so nice and tall.” Hearing echoes of my father’s voice when he admonished me not to slump (“Shoulders back. Chin in. Chest out”) I attempted to do that while at the same time holding my breath and attempting to be careful not to stumble on the hem of Mrs. Traub’s ball gown that swept the floor. And then step by step, in truth led by her, side-by-side, arm-in-arm, we managed to make quite an impressive entrance, if I may be allowed to say so.

“And of course there waiting for you is Rose. Mrs. Silvergold. I’m sure she’ll also want you to call her ‘Rose.’” But before turning me loose, Mrs. Traub again leaned close to me to whisper, “Isn’t she adorable?” I nodded since she was in her own firmly-rounded way. Not much more than five-feet tall, even in her tiny silk pumps, she was stuffed, not unattractively, into a short pink dress, which went as well with the red table ribbon as her crystal earrings, which emitted a full spectrum of prismatic light, were a perfect fit for the room. And with her silver-streaked hair that was whipped in an airy froth as if for a soufflé, she was the picture of coordination.

Just as we reached the bottom step, in her full bubbling voice, Mrs. Traub announced, “Rose, honey, here he is at last. This is Lloyd. All the way from Columbia.”

And to me, “Lloyd, meet Mrs. Silvergold.” I reached out to shake her hand, but she ignored me for a moment to say to Mrs. Traub, “He’s just like the way you described him. So tall. And even with a good nose.” Mrs. Traub stood aside, beaming proudly, to allow her friend to take my full measure.

I managed to stutter, “I’m so please to meet you, Mrs. Silver . . . . “

“But you must call me ‘Rose,’” she cut in. “I’m only ‘Mrs. Rose’ to the help. Though I try to be a liberal with them.”

“I’ll try to . . . .”

Again as if not hearing me, and I was sure that I was speaking up, Mrs. Silvergold continued, “Trudy can’t stop talking about how well you’re doing at Columbia. Tell me again, you are the pre-med? And on the crew? A wonderful golfer too, Trudy says. But too thin.” She pinched my side below my cummerbund. “I’ll bet you eat like a bird.”

She turned away from me and Mrs. Traub who had drifted off toward one of the Champaign fountains in order to leave me alone with Mrs. Silvergold. “Sid,” she called out, “doesn’t he look as if he eats like a bird?” She directed this toward a small, square man who had his back to us and was talking to Dr. Traub who appeared not to be listening, though he occasionally nodded his head. “So,” she instructed me again, without waiting for Mr. Silvergold to respond, “be sure to eat.

I tried to interrupt her so I could thank her and her husband for letting me use one of their guest passes. “Don’t mention it. We never use them, even though we have to buy them. We never bring anyone here so they would just go to waste. Don’t think about how much they make us pay for them. Just be sure to eat. They have everything here. It’s a buffet. And then they serve you dinner. Prime ribs. But let me tell you something I shouldn’t be saying,” she drew nearer to me, “What they have at the buffet is better than what they give you at dinner. So eat as much as you like. Don’t be shy.

“They stuff you here like a pig. Of course not really like a pig. Sid and I are Kosher you know. But there are all kinds of salads and cold cuts. I like them because everything is very lean. Just like the way Sid and I like it. So eat. They don’t charge us by how much you take. Just enjoy. Look how nice everything is laid out. Such a big table. It must be forty feet long. It’s a wonder it doesn’t collapse considering how much they put on it. So tell me again, Floyd, about Columbia.”

And though I tried to correct her and say something about my courses or the crew, once again she turned toward Mr. Silvergold who did not seem to hear or notice her though her voice carried quite well, “Sid, isn’t it a bigger spread than last year? I see lobster this time. They only had shrimp last year. Of course we don’t eat that. It’s traif you know. But you can eat that too. As much as you want. It’s OK with Sid and me. Whatever you want. But I’m sorry, you were going to tell me about pre-med. But before you do, don’t forget to have the chopped liver. You know with Jews, even though it will kill them, they need to have their chopped liver. And see how it’s shaped? Like a squirrel. Like the club—the Squirrel Club. When we joined I said to Sid what kind of a thing is it to name a club after an animal? But he told me that in England all their exclusive clubs have the same kind of names—the Fox and the Hare, the Elephant and the Castle. Am I right Sid?”

Again, since he did not appear to hear her, Mrs. Silvergold continued, “Tell me then about you. You go to Columbia? You are going to medical school?” I began to say that I hoped to, though in the future; but she interrupted once more, “I know. You’re still a pre-med. But Trudy says you’re doing very well and God willing will go to a good medical school. I know, Trudy tells me, it won’t be the best one but that’s still fine. A doctor’s a doctor. Isn’t that true? Who cares what kind of diploma you have hanging. They’re all in Latin anyway. My gynecologist, Dr. Raab, went to Flower Fifth Avenue. His rich uncle Sam had to pay them money under the table to accept him but he’s now one of the biggest doctors in Brooklyn. He has an office by Grand Army Plaza. You know where that is? It’s where the goyim live. I think he even has antiques in his waiting room. Isn’t that right Trudy?” she hollered across the room to where Trudy had found Larry from the bar. Mrs. Traub didn’t appear to hear her either.

“Dr. Raab has antiques. She knows. Trudy knows everything there is to know about antiques and reproductions too. And about young men.” She was looking toward Mrs. Traub and Larry who again had his arm around her waist. “Forgive me, I don’t mean it that way. I know what everyone at the club thinks, but I mean she knows about young people like Dicky and you. Though I don’t mean to compare the two of you. I know he’s nothing special. If it wasn’t for his father, poor dear, who works so hard he would be out on the street. He has no brains at all. All he cares about is his horse and his hair. Sid told me that when he went to the men’s room last weekend at the club Dicky was there all through dinner looking at himself in the mirror and fixing his hair and patting his pompadour.

“But I know how smart you are and Trudy tells me you’re getting such good grades. So before long you’ll be able to put ‘Doctor’ in front of your name and ‘MD’ at the end. Doctor-doctor, no?” She chuckled at her own joke. I smiled back at her.

And with that she called out, again, “Jewel, my gem, come over here and meet Floyd. Or should I say ‘Dr. Floyd?’”

* * *

And with that Jewel materialized as if from out of nowhere.

“Mom,” she said, “do you have my lipstick?”

I was instantly enchanted. To this day I am not sure if it was her lack of pretense, for surely she knew I had been invited to the club as a potential “good prospect,” and that things had been set in motion for us to meet. And yet the first words she allowed me to hear were about her makeup.

Or was it because she was a cute and sexy version of her mother? Also in a short, tight, strapless, almost matching mother-daughter red silk dress that compressed and exposed just enough of her flesh to make me instantly ache to know more of it.

“Look again in your purse, Jewel. But first you must say hello to Floyd. He’s the pre-med.” Jewel did not look up to acknowledge me, rummaging in her sequined bag in search of her lipstick.

“It’s not here. What am I going to do? Look at me. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten anything. My lips are a disaster. I guess I’ll have to borrow yours though I hate your Fire and Ice.” She was pouting which made her look even more alluring.

At last she noticed me, “So you must be Lloyd. Trudy thinks I’ll like you, though you’re a little tall for me.” She looked me up and down as if considering a purchase. “I prefer boys less than six feet. I’m a midget. We’ll look ridiculous together on the dance floor. With my head in your stomach. I’m glad I at least wore these heels.” And with that she bent over to show them to me, though I must confess I was more interested in her neckline, which was now gaping and bountiful, than her shoes.

“I think,” I stammered, trying to divert my eyes, “that we will be . . .”

“I doubt it. But since Trudy and my mom are just dying for me to like you, they think dating a pre-med is every girl’s dream, for their sake I’ll give it a try. Though to be honest with you, I think pre-meds are boring. All they want to talk about is dissecting frogs and how they want to be dermatologists so they don’t have to be on call nights and weekends.”

“I don’t . . .”

“It’s OK. It’s the end of the summer. All the other boys are creeps. I should know. I dated every one of them. Ugh. So you’ll have to do for tonight.” She smiled at me for the first time.

I was willing to accept that. “We can . . .”

“Look, I know my mother wants to fatten you up. For the kill, so to speak. But I want to dance, OK? We have Tito Puente here every Labor Day. Don’t you just love him? He’s such an amazing drummer. I hope you know the Cha-Cha-Cha.” She began to move her hips. “Did they teach that to you at Columbia? I mean along with frog anatomy?” She was playing with me and I loved it.

“Well, not . . .”

“Let’s go,” she took hold of my hand, “before it gets too crowded and my parents and their friends ask him to play Foxtrots or whatever.” She pulled me along behind her down toward the far end of the lounge, passed the ice sculptures and heaps of cold cuts, dodging waiters who were circulating with trays of hors d’oeuvres, and then off to the side, into another room that was situated between the lounge and the club’s restaurant where, on a platform, Tito Puente himself and his band were positioned. All were wearing tight black pants with satin stripes running down the sides, foot-wide cummerbunds, and pleated shirts with huge puffed sleeves. The music was already throbbing, even though there was no one as yet on the dance floor, and members of the band’s rhythm section were singing to themselves--

Vamos a bailar esta vida nueva
Vamos a bailar na na na

Jewel was in immediate motion, dancing her way into the center of the floor. The music rippled through her body as she began to dance, alone. The band picked up on her energy and I could feel them take up the tempo and become connceted with her. Transfixed, I watched her. It looked as if she might dance right out of her dress—it moved one way as her body twisted in the opposite direction. This prospect both thrilled and frightened me. What would I do if that were to happen? Would I . . . ?

As I was having these wicked thoughts, Jewel danced her way to me, reaching out as she moved her torso to Puente’s relentless drumming. I was drawn to her, took her hands, and was led out onto the dance floor.

Vamos a bailar esta vida nueva
Vamos a bailar

“There, see, you can do it,” Jewel shouted so I could hear her over the soaring music. “Like that—one-two-three. Cha-cha-cha.” She threw her head back and laughed, “So you did learn something useful at Columbia!”

I couldn’t believe that my feet were moving as if beyond my control and that I was able to keep up with Jewel who, intermittently, danced her way in a circle around me, all the while singing along with the band—

Vamos a bailar esta vida nueva
Vamos a bailar na na na

And then she was at my side and stayed there, with our hips touching, moving in unison as if we were one organism. “I’ll be going to Finch College in the fall,” Jewel said, a little breathlessly, never leaving my side. “My mother thinks I need some ‘finishing’ so they’re sending me there. (Right, you’ve got it—one-two-three.) It’s really a school for rich girls who can’t get into a real college, but I want to go there because it’s in the city. That’s where I want to be. I hate Great Neck. (Vamos a bailar) I know I’m not too smart,” I’m embarrassed to admit that I was so concentrating on the dancing and the heat searing my hip that I failed to contradict her. “I may not be smart but I know what I don’t want.” She swept the room with a gesture that was timed perfectly to fit the music. “Grace Slick went to Finch. From Jefferson Airplane. That’s the kind of life I want. Far away from all of this. I’ve had it with this stupid club and all the manipulations to get me married off to some bald-headed proctologist.” I became self-conscious of my prematurely receding hairline and tipped my head to the side to angle it out of Jewel’s line of sight.

Vamos a bailar esta vida nueva
Vamos a bailar

“Don’t take it personally. I’m sure you’re very nice and we could probably have fun in the city once I’m there. But if you’re thinking about dating or going steady or anything like that, forget about me.” One breast was about ready to pop out of the top of her dress and I was more focused on it than on what she was saying.

“But if you want to get laid or anything like that,” she paused for a moment, “be sure to look me up.”

And with that she let go of me, tossed her hair, and cha-cha’ed her way over to the band stand where she and Tito Puente and his men finished the number in a great flourish, while I’ll remained out on the floor, no longer dancing, and alone—

Vamos a bailar esta vida nueva

* * *

“Lloyd, darling,” it was Mrs. Traub, “Dinner is about to be served so please take my arm so we can find our table. I see that Jewel is taking very good care of herself.”

I was intoxicated from what she had offered and how I might “look her up,” as she put it; and, as if in a state of rapturous automatic pilot, I was swept along again by Mrs. Traub, away from Jewel, down yet another few steps into the Tack Room Restaurant, which was decorated as if it were a medieval mead hall. The walls were half-timbered and the ceiling, which soared above us, was crisscrossed with deeply carved hammerhead beams whose bosses were illuminated by the light that trickled in through mica glass window fragments set in lead-lined traceries. The coffered, wood-paneled walls were oiled and lined, cheek by jowl, with stuffed animal heads—deer and moose and black bears as well as larger game such as lions and leopards and even two massive elephants.

“Here, Lloyd, this is our table. And this is Mr. Silvergold (‘Call me Sid,’ he said as Mrs. Traub escorted me to my high-backed leather chair), he wants you to sit next to him. He knows you’re about to be a doctor . . .”

“Well, not . . .”

“. . . and since he’s in that business—not a doctor but in the medical business, I’m sure he’ll explain it better than I can—he wants you to sit with him so you can get to know each other. I love Sid,” they exchanged a long look, “He’s so funny, I’m sure you’ll like him too.”

He patted the zebra-skin seat of the chair on his right. “I know you’d probably prefer to sit with Jewel and Dicky but there’s a gang of good-for-nothing boys here she grew up with; and since this is the last weekend before they all go back to school I assume, unfortunately, she’ll want to be with them. But she’s going to college in the city and maybe you’ll be able to get together there in a few weeks.” Especially with Mrs. Traub on my right I was glad to be sitting because the thought of that prospect continued to excite me and thus, in my rented trousers, took visible form.

“So, Floyd, what kind of Sore Bones are you planning to be? Ob-Gyn? They have the most fun,” he was smoking a cigar and choked on the smoke. Mrs. Traub also thought that was funny.

“In truth, Mr. Silvergold . . .”

“Please, my name is ‘Sid.’ My father’s name is ‘Mr. Silvergold.’ Or was, he should rest in peace. He died two years ago. Just went out to get some cigarettes and never came back. Dropped dead right on the corner of Livonia Avenue. In Brooklyn. Do you know Brooklyn? It’s a terrible place to die. Especially right out on the street with all that traffic. He smoked two packs a day since he was sixteen. They killed him. That’s why I only smoke cigars. As long as I don’t inhale. Still a filthy habit. Rose hates for me to smoke. Says it will kill me too. But we live in Great Neck so at least I won’t die in the street.” He laughed at his own joke.

Mrs. Traub said, “Sid, what kind of talk is this? This is a dinner dance. Talk medicine with the boy. You’ll both enjoy that.”

“Sorry,’ he said to me, “do you want a cigar? I have three more of them here.” He reached into his tuxedo jacket, but I shook my head and thanked him.

“And don’t worry about all of these forks and knives and spoons.” He had noticed that I had been staring at the lavish table setting, at all the silverware and pewter beakers and crystal glasses. “If you ask me, it’s all about the prime ribs. The rest will just fill you up. You can pass on the salad and the soup, though the shrimp they tell me are good—I don’t eat them you know.”

“Yes, Mrs. Silvergold told me that . . .”

“Yeah, well,’ he chortled, “with my family history it doesn’t hurt to have God on your side. I told you about my father. And my circulation they tell me is all clogged up. I could pop off right here. Even before they bring the first course.” He patted his expansive stomach which was stuffed into a plaid cummerbund. He exhaled again and this time a belch accompanied the cigar smoke. “I hate these things. They give me gas. I’d love to take it off, but Rose would kill me.” He squirmed uncomfortably in his seat, which was too unyielding to accommodate his shifting bulk, and glanced across the table at Mrs. Silvergold who was laughing at something Dr. Traub had just said to her.

“But that brings me closer to the subject at hand.” Mr. Silvergold shifted nearer to me and draped his arm across the back of my chair.

“Everyone is just waiting around to die.” Some of his cigar ash fell into my lap. “Distracting themselves as best they can while waiting for the inevitable to happen. And also before they die they spend half their time with doctors and in hospitals. That’s where I come in. And you too. We’re in that business. Right?”

I tried to say, “I’m just going to be a sophomore . . .”

“I know, I know. But even you have to think about the future, because the future is just around the corner. And then we know what’s waiting for us.” He chuckled to himself, “So here’s how I look at things—Everyone is going to need Ostomy supplies. Right?”

He saw that I wasn’t following him, “That’s my business—Ostomy supplies. You know, bags for people who have had Colostomies. My sales went up twenty-three percent this year alone because, as I said, everyone nowadays needs them. It’s an epidemic. Problems with the colon, considering the shit, pardon my French, that people eat.”

He turned to the liveried waiter who was just then serving the first course, “Not for me. I’m taking a pass on the salad. Rabbit food if you ask me. But what about you Floyd? Don’t forget what’s coming.”

“Ah, I don’t know . . .”

“Leave him be Sid,” it was Mrs. Silvergold who was now focused on the food, “I told you he eats nothing. So let him eat.”

“You see what I mean? Take the salad,” he whispered to me so his wife wouldn’t hear, “but you don’t have to finish it.” The waiter placed a massive portion before me and from a silver bowl ladled onto it a clotted stream of Thousand Island dressing.

“But as I was saying,” Mr. Silvergold resumed, “colorectal surgeons are cutting out hunks of people’s large intestines and colons as we sit here. Even on Labor Day weekend.” He looked over to me, “How’s the salad Floyd? Do you have enough dressing?” I said that I was fine. “And when they stitch them up and send them home from the hospital, they need what I sell. I’m the largest supplier of Ostomy products on the entire east coast. You wouldn’t believe how much mail order I do. Most people who need these bags are embarrassed to go into the drug store to buy them, so I save them from having to. It works out very well.”

I was beginning to feel full from just the salad and was thinking more about Jewel’s breasts than Colostomies, which in truth I didn’t know too much about. So I let the waiter clear my salad plate and told him I would skip the soup and wait for the prime ribs—well done, if possible. Mrs. Silvergold saw and heard all of this and looked across at me with disappointment. I just shrugged back at her.

“We stock colostomy pouches, ileostomy and urostomy pouches, closed-end pouches, drainable pouches, pouch covers, glue-on wafers, one-piece systems, two-piece systems, skin barriers, irrigation items, ostomy belts, tapes, adhesives and cements, adhesive removers, deodorants, gas vents, and accessories.

“That’s the whole enchilada.” He smiled proudly at me, but I was straining to catch a view of Jewel with her friends.

“Then we have our tagline, right on the mail order catalogue it says:

Silvergold’s Sickroom Supplies--If you gotta buy it somewhere- - how about here? We hope we'll both be glad you did!

“Pretty catchy, don’t you think?” I recall that I just grunted something about liking the alliteration.

“Sit back in your seat Floyd because they’re about to roll out the beef. They serve it from flaming carts so be careful. I don’t want to damage the goods, if you know what I mean.” I think I understood what he meant but was still more interested in looking for Jewel and thought I saw her, through the flickering candle light, on the other side of the hall, sitting and wriggling on the lap of one of her friends.

And with that, before I could be certain, the lights dimmed further and Tito Puente moved over to his largest set of Mambo drums where he began to beat out an intricate Latin rhythm to accompany the appearance of about a dozen stainless steel grills from which flames were shooting so that it looked as though we were celebrating the Fourth of July rather than Labor Day. Each cart was propelled forward in among the tables by waiters who were dressed now in what looked more like blacksmith’s aprons and gloves than riding attire. I was glad that Mr. Silvergold had warned me since, as one of the carts approached us, it belched a geyser of sparks. Some of which landed on our table and burned small holes through the thick brocade cloth.

“Here, sir,” a cinder-stained waiter said, “you asked for it well done so I hope you like it this way.” His tone was a little condescending as he plopped on the wooden slab that served as my dish a triple-thick set of ribs that looked as if they had been incinerated.

“You know,” Mr. Silvergold said, his piece was so rare that blood was still seeping from it, some of it onto the tablecloth since the tortured piece of ancient-looking wood that was his plate was so warped that it couldn’t contain the gravy, “your hunk of meat also reminds my of my business.” I must have given him a skeptical look as I began to hack away at it with my wrought-iron steak knife. “I mean it.” He had already cut off a piece and was chewing and sucking on it as he spoke, “After the surgeon resections the colon, he pulls one end of it through an opening that he cuts in your stomach and staples it in place.” He reached over to illustrate, poking me on the right side of my abdomen. “The piece that they leave sticking out right there,” he jabbed me again, “looks just like your piece of prime ribs.” I stopped slashing at it for a moment. “Not the same size mind you, but the same color and texture.” I put my utensils down and gulped some water.

“And, again, that’s where I come in. I make all the equipment they need to glue the bags to their stomachs and of course manufacture a whole line of the bags themselves. You’d be amazed how quickly people learn how to take care of their own wafers and bags so it all works out very well. We even try to make it fun.”

I had pushed back my chair, feeling the need for a little fresh air; but before I could get up and make my escape, Mr. Silvergold leaned even closer to me. I could smell his breath—it was a mixture of stale cigar smoke and extra rare beef, “And if you play your cards right, son, one day,” he looked out over to the dance floor where he and I saw Jewel with a close friend moving sensuously to a Mambo beat, “all this, Floyd,” he swept his hand in a grand gesture, “will be yours.”

* * *

I bolted from the table and raced back through the Acorn Bar and out onto the terrace. The sun had nearly set but the air had become even more saturated. In spite of that, I took a few deep breaths in an attempt to regain my equilibrium and settle my stomach. I was happy that I hadn’t eaten too much, though that one gin and tonic was still rattling around in my system. Or maybe I just needed to be alone to sort out my raging fantasies and to think about what Jewel’s father seemed to be suggesting. How much of a bargain might I be willing to strike . . . ?

“Oh, there you are Lloyd. I thought I might have to look for you in the men’s room.” It was Mrs. Traub. “What was it that Sid was saying to you that made you so upset?”

“It wasn’t so much that. I don’t know. I guess I just got a little overheated.” She had moved quite close to me so that I was now breathing her perfume as much as the moist air. She took my hand in hers and looked at me, as if asking me to tell her more. I tried to accommodate her, “This has been a very different kind of day for me. I mean, being here at the club.”

“I know Lloyd darling. I do understand. I really do. You see, this life is a very different life for me too.”

“I don’t . . .”

“You know me the way I am now. In my home. Here at the club. How I look.” She held her arms out to the side and turned in a slow pirouette, showing me her dress, her hair, and I thought perhaps even her face and body. “This is who I have become. Mrs. Doctor Traub. Trudy Traub. But before that I was Ida Zimmerman from the Bronx. From two blocks east of the Grand Concourse. No Trudy. No Dr. Traub. No Lorenzo del Pesto house. As a matter of fact, when I came home from school one day, I was in the fourth grade, I found my mother on the street in front of our apartment house, sitting on one of our kitchen chairs. It was out on the street along with all the rest of our hand-me-down furniture. And all our other things were in boxes. On the street. We had been evicted. The year before my father had died in an accident—he worked in the city in a hat factory and had been killed there in an elevator accident. We had no money. My mother had to take in laundry and clean apartments. Our life was quite a cliché. But still there wasn’t enough money to keep us above water. But she never complained or let on how much trouble we were in. She wanted me to still have a childhood and to stay in school and not have to work. But then I found her there, sobbing on the street.” Mrs. Traub stepped back away from me, staring off over the 18th green as if to call up an image of that sad scene in the Bronx.

“I had no idea Mrs. Traub. I’m so sorry to hear that . . .”

She turned back to me. “No need for that because look at me now. Just look at this. At my life. We always dreamed about one day moving those two short blocks to the Concourse. But it was as far away as the moon. But here I am now.”

She paused, and then said, “It’s also what you want. That I also know.”

“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure just . . .”

“It’s OK, Lloyd. To want this is normal. Your parents are very fine hard-working people who only wish the best for you. But do you want their life? Do you want to spend your life with us in East Flatbush?” He voice had become husky. “You realize of course that our house is just across the street from yours.” What was she trying to tell me? “So don’t think, in spite of how things appear to you, that this is all of life.”

“I don’t, but you do have . . .”

“You have no idea what I have. More important you do not know what I gave up. To you it looks like I have everything.” She looked around to take in all of the club and its perfect grounds. “I worked in an office typing invoices to put Dr. Traub through dental school. He didn’t have the grades to get into medical school. We met at a dance at a Jewish center in Queens. We both had friends there. I was quite beautiful then. At least I had looks, and he saw what he wanted. He was going to Brooklyn College and was pre-med, so I saw what I wanted. He had already lost most of his hair and he only came up to my nose, which by the way is also a reproduction, but I saw in him a one-way ticket out of the Bronx.” She paused again, and with a self-mocking laugh said, “From the Bronx all the way to Brooklyn!”

She took a handkerchief from her bag and wiped what I assumed was perspiration from below her eyes. She spoke now with a harder edge to her voice, “I know what you and everyone else in the neighborhood think about us. What a war hero Dr. Traub was. I could tell you about that. And such a wonderful professional. There are things I could say about that too. And what an upstanding citizen and sportsman. But I know, Lloyd, that when you were about twelve or thirteen you had a Saturday job at Augie’s barber shop and that you knew about the back room which Sugar Traub visited quite regularly. No one ever talks about that. And other things too, which I will not go into now.

“But I’ve achieved my dream, haven’t I? I’m no longer Ida Zimmerman from East 172nd Street.”

She took both of my hands. She was trembling. We were close enough so that even in the last light of the day I could see that it was not perspiration on her cheeks.

“You know, in my house, on the ‘living floor,’ which I still tell Lorenzo is a ridiculous idea--no matter--that there is the harpsichord? We spoke about it. About the music I love so much? And appreciate and understand. I really do.” Her makeup began to run. “That was the life I should have dreamed about.”

She let go of me and turned away. I think I heard her say, “All I have of that now is the fucking harpsichord. And even it’s a reproduction.”

I thought I should probably go over to her and try to say something like “It’s not too late,” or think of some way to comfort her. Maybe touch her or even take her in my arms since I thought she must by now be crying. But from all the wine and excitement, I desperately needed to pee and said, as I passed by her, “I’ll be right back. I really have to go to the men’s room.”

* * *

I fled back inside and almost ran into a liveried footman assigned to the Acorn Bar who told me the bathrooms were just behind the waterfall. Out of breath and in truth happy again to be alone, I pulled open the hammered bronze door and entered into the half light of the onyx-inlaid men’s room. And though I was hoping for a respite, I realized immediately that something was terribly amiss.

Right at the entrance, on the slate floor was what appeared to be a torn cummerbund and floating in the first of the three black sinks a discarded clip-on bow tie. As I steeped carefully over the cummerbund so as not to disturb it, I saw, also on the floor, by the first toilet stall, an inside-out white tuxedo jacket so twisted and knotted that it looked as if it had been ripped from someone as the result of a fierce struggle. I thought I had come upon a crime scene and began to back away toward the door, thinking I should summon help. But as I was about to, from that stall, I heard, “Can’t get this fucking fly open.”

I tentatively looked in and saw Dr. Traub standing before the toilet and struggling with his suspenders. “Is there something I can do to . . . ?”

“Just stand back will you. Need to drop my pants,” which he finally managed to do. They gathered around his ankles. A weak stream of urine began to dribble into the bowl.

“Ah, that’s better,” he groaned, “Goddamn prostate. Need to piss every half hour. Size of an orange my urologist claims. Wants to slice it out. Turn me into a capon. Rather die than be made into a eunuch. Trudy, ah Mrs. Traub, disagrees. Sure. She’d like to see me with my whole pecker cut off.”

I started to back away but he stopped me, “How’d you like that? With a dick that doesn’t work? Wouldn’t be a lot of fun, eh? Bet yours works pretty good. You’re in your prime. I hope you’re making the most of it. Giving it a good workout.” He snorted. “She thinks that would change things, Trudy does. Get even, if you understand. Fat chance. All she knows is spend, spend, spend. Can’t keep that woman out of my wallet. How she carries on with that Pesto faggot. You have no idea how much he took me for? One hundred fifty grand for that house. And she complains about what I spend on the ponies. Hasn’t worked a day in her life since I graduated from dental school. A man needs a little relaxation every now and again. What’s the harm? You see any harm?”

He didn’t wait for me to respond, for which I was relieved. “One-fifty. You know how many cavities that is? At 35 bucks per? That’s a shit load of drilling. A life sentence to hard labor. On my feet ten hours a day. Most Saturdays too. Just need a little fun. You have any idea what standing on your feet all day does to you? Stand back a little and I’ll show you,” which I was as only too happy to do.

Dr. Traub sat down on the toilet seat and removed his patent leather dress shoes, black silk socks, and garters. He reached down, almost toppling off the toilet, and grabbed hold of his right foot. He took hold of it and lifted it so I could see better. As it was quite dark with the two of us in the stall I needed to bend forward to see it. “Look at that. Ever see anything that beat up and ugly? All corns and bunions and calluses.” I agreed that it was quite a twisted mess of a foot. He let go of it and, from its weight, it slammed down onto the floor.

“And you know something else? What an abscess smells like? I need to deal with them too. Clean ‘em out. When you open them up they smell like this toilet. In fact, more like an open sewer.”

He looked up at me and I looked down at him, “That’s my life.” His eyes were blinking rapidly. He said, “Don’t be fooled by everything you see.”

He held my gaze. “But I shouldn’t be talking to you this way. Especially on such a fine evening, with you just starting out in life.” He rose from the toilet, hoisting his pants at the same time.

He hooked his arms back through his suspenders and winked at me, “I did see you dancing with that Jewel. She quite a hot number. Think you’ll get any? I’ll bet she’ll put out for a Columbia pre-med.”

At last--THE END!