Friday, August 29, 2014

August 29, 2104--Best of Behind: Velcro Parents

This first appeared near the end of August 2010. Since then not much has changed--

It is still a few days until Labor Day, the traditional end of summer, but already things are getting quieter here on the coast of Maine where many families have been vacationing. 

Especially noticeable is the thinning out of the wait staffs at restaurants in the area. They depend on college students during the summer and now clearly older crews are struggling to cover more tables.

Schools for students of all ages are starting their fall terms earlier and earlier. To extend the school year for youngsters in an effort to provide more instruction than in the past; and, in the case of colleges, to get the semester's work done by Christmas so that students do not have to return after the holidays to finish their classes and take their exams.

This means that they, frequently with the help of their parents, have to head off to campus in late August with SUVs loaded with the things college kids these days squeeze into their undersized dorm rooms. I am showing my age, but when I went to college there were no computers and printers, microwave ovens, or stuffed animals and all sorts of non-allergic pillows. Just a bag or two of clothing.

But in addition to what undergraduates transport with them these days, they also, in more and more cases, bring their parents along with them. Not just to help with all the stuff but also to share the college-going experience. 

As a result, an increasing number of colleges are concerned about what some refer to as "over-parenting." They are for the most part happy to see an increase in parental involvement--and in response many colleges have opened offices of Parents Affairs to manage and take advantage of this increased interest. But they are also concerned that things for some are getting out of hand. So many parents, they feel, are hovering too close and pressing for more involvement than colleges feel is good for their students that they are instituting practices to help parents and their children go through the adjustment required when a youngster enters college.

After all, they say, college is supposed to be a major step toward young people becoming independent. To help facilitate the letting-go, some colleges have added activities and even ceremonies to wean parents from over-involvement, especially during freshman orientation.

According to the New York TimesMorehouse College in Atlanta now has a formal "Parting Ceremony." After introductory speeches attended by both students and parents at an off-campus chapel, freshman march through the gates of the campus which then are ceremonially closed with parents both literally and symbolically left outside. Emotionally difficult to be sure, but college officials feel it is necessary to help with the complicated transition.

At Grinnell, move-in day for freshmen was last Saturday; and after duffel bags and iPods were dropped off at the dorms, students and parents were invited to the gymnasium where they were placed on opposite sets of bleachers. According to the vice president for student affairs this was designed to be "an aha! moment, an epiphany where parents realize. 'My student is feeling more comfortable sitting with 400 people they just met.'" And then, after that hoped-for epiphany, parents are encouraged to leave campus.

At the University of Minnesota the same goal is being pursued but a bit more subtly and gently. There, when students are finished moving into their dorm rooms, they proceed to orientation activities that are just for them (at many places some parents insist on accompanying their children to these) while parents are invited to a reception held elsewhere.

But in some dramatic instances, after the colleges have done their carefully-orchestrated thing, so-called Velcro Parents manage to find ways to stay deeply involved with their children. Some go so far as to rent or buy apartments near where their kids are enrolled and travel there every weekend. As surprising as it may seem, many children of these parents seem to be happy with this arrangement, even bringing friends along to hang out with their parents and, of course, do their laundry. 

School administrators and sociologists are struggling to figure out what is going on. Some say it's because adolescence is continuing longer than in the past--perhaps extending well into children's 20s. Others are saying that parents are living vicariously through their children and, in effect, going to college as if walking in their footsteps. It is also speculated that this is a class-based phenomenon--that it is only middle-class and affluent parents who can afford to do this and/or feel sufficiently comfortable on college campuses to spend so much time there with their children. 

Whatever is going on, when I went to college I recall being dropped off on Manhattan's Amsterdam Avenue by my double-parking parents. I think they didn't even accompany me to my dorm room. I schlepped the bags up there myself. They were involved and loving parents and certainly had very mixed feelings about my going off to college, realizing how big a step it was for me and them. But they also knew that if I was to get the most from the experience I needed to do more of it on my own than many today appear to feel.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August 28, 2014--Monhegan

We spent a wonderful but long day on Monhegan island to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Captain John Smith's visit and the 100th anniversary of the first art show on the island.

As a result, I did not have the time to prepare something for here. I will be back tomorrow with another Best of Behind.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 27, 2014--Off the Hook

At the heart of Barack Obama's education reform initiative, Race to the Top, are various ways to hold school districts, administrators, and especially teachers accountable for student learning. This approach is actually an extension of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind.

From day one, back in Bush's day, teachers unions offered lip service support for these efforts, feeling that though their main agenda is protecting teachers' jobs, even incompetent ones, they could not publicly oppose approaches designed to enhance student learning, especially those that address the achievement gap that separates minority students from more affluence white students.

But first with NCLB and more recently with Race, the unions quietly and increasingly more openly have been chipping away at the accountability provisions of both programs.

Most recently they have criticized the results of high-stakes academic achievement testing as the primary way to measure teacher performance, claiming that with the introduction of the new Common Core curriculum in nearly 40 states, a product of the National Governors Association, there has not been enough time for teachers to be orientated to carrying it out effectively.

Until just recently the Obama administration, led by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has been holding the line, saying there in fact has been enough time for states and school districts to help teachers master the new content and the use of testing would continue to be used when evaluating individual schools and individual teachers.

This is quite a big deal because not only can there be consequences for low-performing teachers (they might not get tenure or, rare, even be let go) but also federal education dollars to states and districts are largely contingent on how schools and districts perform.

Under considerable pressure from teachers unions that historically have provided significant support for Democratic candidates, and because in June Duncan stepped into the current teacher tenure debate, offering his strong endorsement for a judge's decision to dramatically limit tenure in California, Duncan last week said that the DoE would allow another year to pass before using student test scores when evaluating teachers.

He said, "I believe testing issues are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools" and thus teachers needed more time to adapt to the new standards and the tests pegged to those standards.

What he might have said is that oxygen is being sucked out of schools because students in unacceptable numbers are not learning and teachers and school administrators must be held accountable for that. Not in another year, but now.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 26, 2014--Midcoast: Maiden Voyage

"Since when did boats become she's?"

It was a glorious Sunday afternoon and a friend had invited us to an open house to see his new boat.

"Open house?" I said to Rona as we were driving over to the marina, "Wouldn't it be more appropriate to call it an open boat? Or something more maritime?"

"Can't we just have fun today? I mean . . ."

"Just thinking, that's all. No problem. I'm not being grumpy"--I could see Rona rolling her eyes--"In fact, I'm feeling great and can't wait to see the boat and to hang out with Jack and his friends."

Above the sound of the engine I could hear her mutter, "That'll be the day."

Still thinking about the gender issues, I persisted, "I mean, referring to boats as female . . ."

"Men own boats," Rona said, sounding exasperated, "The same way as in the old days when they thought of themselves as possessing their women. And I guess there's something erotic about the whole boat thing. I don't want to get too graphic but men run boats, they ride them or ride in them. So . . ."

"So that's why they think about them as female?"

"Maybe more like mistresses. They sneak away on them, run around with them, tend to them, take pleasure from them . . ."

"It is true that it's rare to see women with boats of their own or even being the ones driving them, if that's the right way to think about taking them out for a cruise."

"I think it's called running them," Rona said.

"And many of the boat names, if they're not named for wives or sweethearts--which is the usual thing--have double entendre meanings. Like one's we saw the last time we were out on the water. Remember A Little Nauti? And Scrumpy Vixen?"

"And also, Shaggwell and Lucky Sperm.

"Those are more single than double entendres. Nothing subtle about them." Rona laughed at that. She was getting into it.

"Even Columbus had the Nina and Pinta."

"Wasn't it the tradition then to name boats after saints? Like the Santa Maria."

"And, to help make your case, I once read," Rona said, "that the Pinta was not the actual name but one some of Columbus' rebellious crew named, which means 'painted one,' or 'prostitute.'"

"So there you go. That was all the way back in 1490."

"If women were boat owners what kinds of names do you think they'd come up with?"

"Good point," I said. "Let's see if we can make up a few."

"Do you think they'd refer to their boats as he's?"

"Probably, and name them things like Hot to Trot."

"Or Macho Man."

"It'll never happen," I said. "Women have come a long way, to quote that old Virginia Slims' commercial, but women owning boats, which I can easily envision, is very different than naming them that way. Women feel too smart to me to call a boat Big Guy."

"Aren't we being silly." Rona said as we neared the boatyard.

"Not entirely," I said, "I think it's an interesting set of issues."

"Remember, when we get to the boat, behave yourself. We don't know all the people who'll be there and this is supposed to be a low-stress good time."

I promised not to raise the subject or say anything else that might be considered controversial.

After a couple of beers and delicious homemade lobster rolls, while a good time was being had by all, I asked our friend Jack what he planned to name the boat. Rona shot me a look.

"I don't know," he said, "Someone told me it's bad luck to change the name. This one's not a new boat and the previous owner named it for his wife, the Elizabeth II, which is sort of fun since that's the name of the queen and all that. But, I don't know."

"How fuel efficient is it?" Rona asked in an attempt to change the subject. She's never been all that interested in miles-to-the-gallon sort of things.

"It's supposed to use about two gallons per hour when cruising at 18 knots or so."

"That sounds pretty efficient to me," Rona said, not really knowing what she was talking about. She was, though, doing a pretty good job of changing the subject.

"About the bad luck business," I said, "We have a friend here who was in the Coast Guard and I remember him saying after he also bought a new used boat that it you want to change the name and also want to avoid bad luck you write the old one on a piece of paper, set it on fire, and float it out onto the water. Then you can name it anything you want."

"Can I have another beer?" Rona asked.

Jack reached into the cooler and passed one to her. "I'm not that superstitious, but still I like that idea."

"So you have a new name in mind?"

"Yeah, I plan to name her after my mother, just like my last boat."

"A lovely idea," Rona said. "Sorry, but we need to go. We have a few things we have to do this afternoon."

"We can do them tomorrow," I said, to myself sounding wimpy.

"We have to go," Rona insisted.

"She's right. We need to go. But thanks so much for inviting us. It's a great boat," it really is, "And I wish you nothing but happy sailing or cruising."

"But we haven't christened her yet," Jack said. "Please stay for that."

"Christened?" I blurted out, now thinking about boats through a religious lens. With a wink I said, "That's not of my faith."

Our friend who has a Jewish grandmother got it and said, "What should we do? Bar Mitzvah the boat?"

"That's a thought," I said.

And with that, since he doesn't drink, Jack broke a bottle of Matinelli's sparking cider over her bow.

It was all great fun, and with that we really did need to go.

While hugging goodbye he asked, "Are you guys free Thursday afternoon? To join me for her first cruise? You now, her maiden voyage."

Rona jabbed me, hoping I wouldn't say anything about that.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 25, 2014--Rona al-Assad

Just between us do we think Egypt is a better place since Hosni Mubarak was ousted? What about Libya? Muammar Gadaffi is gone but what has taken his place? Chaos and civil war.

And would Jordan be an open society if King Abdullah were overthrown, or would Saudi Arabia suddenly become democratic with women allowed to drive without the Saud-family absolute monarchy in iron-fisted control? And we know what would result if and when Bashar al-Assad is killed or chased into luxurious exile.

Then, there is Rona's favorite example--Iraq.

For a moment it felt good to see Saddam Hussein captured and even executed, but what is his legacy? More civil war and unrelenting brutality and killings. She quipped some time ago, even before ISIS invaded and took control of a central swarth of Iraq, declaring a caliphate, that it's too bad Saddam is dead because in order to keep Iraq from splintering we need a tyrant to keep a lid on things. Sure Iraqi Shiites not a part of the Sunni ruling elite would again be discriminated against, and often worse, but compared to the number of killings and executions and beheadings currently going on, Saddam's rule seems benevolent.

So it is not entirely surprising that officials from governments in one way or another involved with Iraq and Syria would be wondering out loud if it might be a good idea to encourage and enable Bashar al-Assad to defeat the militants operating from within Syria, jihadists who are leading the effort to overthrow him as well as crossing back and forth across the Syria-Iraq border in order, day-by-day, to take control of much of Iraq and Syria, the heart of their new caliphate.

Rather than calling for his ouster, perhaps, based on the Libya-Egypt-Iraq experience, it may be in the best interest of Western parties to see al-Assad triumph and in control again of all of his country. Most of the killings would then stop, perhaps some rebuilding would occur, and minimally our interests would, in their own hypocritical and tortured way, be protected.

In that region the old status quo had many advantages.

Speaking the unspeakable, in Britain, a former foreign secretary and defense secretary suggested that though Bashar al-Assad is "unsavory," he should be used against the even greater evil, ISIS.

As reported in the New York Times, former secretary Malcom Rifkind said the beheading of journalist James Foley (by a Brit) required a forceful response from the West. The militants "need to be eliminated and we should not be squeamish about how we do it."

Speaking the language of realpolitik, he went on, "Sometimes you have to develop relationships with people who are extremely nasty in order to get rid of people who are even nastier."

Rona couldn't have said it better.

Understandably, the current foreign secretary rejected the idea out of hand. In polite society one does not speak so frankly. Especially not in public.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 22, 2014

August 22, 2014--Best of Behind: A Jew in Vermont

This was originally posted on October 3, 2007. Since then, my friend has made a significant adjustment. He pines less for Manhattan and takes pride in growing tomatoes--

To come to Vermont for a visit in the autumn to witness the leaves changing or in summer to get away from the heat of the city is a non-sectarian event. But to leave your roots behind in that city in order to live there permanently is decidedly something else.

My Jewish friend (who to protect him from himself will here be referred to as “he”) who moved up here eight years ago, put his condition this way as we sat in a vast meadow, having arrived at it after following an abandoned logging trail; sprawling on the cut hay grass and looking out over the broad Connecticut River Valley toward the White Mountains of New Hampshire—I cannot recall a more transporting vista or feeling more at one with nature—he said: “Every day, and I mean every day, I think about what I need to do to get back to New York City.”

His wife, also Jewish, made a remarkable adjustment to their new life. Actually, a remarkable transformation. Really, a remarkable metamorphosis. She owns horses and cows and sheep and chickens and slaughters and butchers the latter to feed the family. She takes care of and rides the horses to the hounds (truely) and for hunting. Last year she had a moose license from the county and this year is allowed to “take” one doe. She seems to know everyone and all about every aspect of their lives—even of the usually stoical Vermonters. Jewishness does not appear to have been a problem for her.

He on the other hand knows nearly no one, can’t distinguish the front end of the horse from the rear (and doesn’t care to learn); has allergies to virtually all of Vermont’s wildflowers (which proves beyond DNA evidence that he is Jewish); and even the sight of anything that contains cheddar cheese makes him instantly nauseous.

There are, I suspect, other Jews in Vermont. For example, there is something that looks very much like a Jewish Center in Woodstock. But you would never know this from him. Though he holds a Hanukkah party every December and invites to it everyone who he knows or suspects might be Jewish (don’t ask how he makes that determination), even stretching his definition of what makes one Jewish, at its most attended there were no more than ten people who showed up—and, to drive home his predicament, I understand he invited potential members of the Tribe from every part of the state.

The few friends he has made (he calls them “acquaintances”) are worried about him. Even the non-Jews. Those are, truthfully, more concerned than worried—concerned being the gentile way to be worried. So, concerned or worried, they have through the years made many suggestions and offered encouragement about things he might do that they feel he would enjoy and that might make him become more of a Vermonter. Like get into serious recycling or heating his home with wood fires or organic gardening or throwing pots. Or even developing an interest in nature. Some, more radically, thought he might like skeet shooting or gourmet cooking. To them he said, “But I'm from New York. Guns are illegal and I always ate out."

And, he insisted, after getting into source separation where he divided his clear glass bottles from his green glass bottles and his coated paper from his newsprint, and so on, everything they suggested and urged made him think about illness, dying, and, what else, death.

“A Jew after all,” he would insist, “is a Jew.” Though no one within 50 miles of where he lives understood any of this, they did respect his right to think that way. Vermont, after all, prides itself on its openness to all manner of views and differences. It was the first state in the union, for example, to legalize same-sex unions. Do you need to know anything more?

“When I made a vegetable garden,” he moaned, “I was surprisingly good at it. In Brooklyn, where I grew up, there was hardly any dirt to stick a seed into much less a backyard that wasn’t made of cement. So what would I know about gardening? Organic no less. But when it came time to harvest my crop, every time I pulled a radish or carrot from the ground it felt like I was committing a violation against the Commandment ‘Thou shall not kill.’ I could almost hear them crying in pain.”

 I nodded in understanding. “And even worse was when I bought two of the latest high-tech wood stoves and tried to heat our house that way. To be environmentally responsible. I did well at that too, but when I had to clean the grate all I could think about was how all those mighty logs were reduced to a mere handful of ashes. ‘Dust to dust,’ as the sages said. It took me weeks to recover from the depression.” Again, I nodded.

“And then I threw pots, even though I never could figure out how what I was doing had anything to do with throwing.” This sounds promising, I thought. “But I had my problems with that too. Metaphysical problems.” I had no idea where this was headed. “Because whenever I placed one of my vases or bowls into the kiln they came out shattered. I turned them into shards. Just like the Zohar says. You know, that ancient book of Jewish mystical lore. How Cabbalists believe that the world was once a perfect vessel that became shattered, with the shards scattered everywhere. And that we Jews have a responsibility, Tikkun, to regather those shards as our contribution to healing the world. So there I was in the pottery shed making more shards all the while thinking I’m not carrying out my responsibilities. In fact I’m making an even bigger mess of the world!”

To this I had nothing to say and so he continued, “But what was worst was trying to become interested in nature. You’re up here now to see the autumn leaves. Fine. You think they’re a majestic and beautiful sight. And you are right. Before we moved here, when we would come for a visit that’s what I also felt. But now, when Nature puts on this display, all I can think about, again, is dying and death. This is the dying season. Call me crazy,” and I was beginning to, “but that’s the way I look at things in Nature. Yes, things bloom and are beautiful but very soon they start the withering and dying.”

I decided not to talk about dormancy and regeneration and the promise of spring. After all, I was headed back to New York in a day and a half to my restaurants and cable TV, so I tried a different tack--“But maybe this is a good thing. I mean maybe what you are observing in Nature is to put you in touch with elemental things and thereby inspire you to make every moment count.” I only half-believed this, but I was trying my best to be a good friend.

“And tell me what will I be doing with all those moments that I’ll be counting?” He swept the horizon dismissively with his hand.

For this I didn’t have a ready answer and said to him, in part to change the subject, “Look at those clouds over the mountains. Aren’t they magnificent?”

“Clouds. Smouds. To tell you the truth, right now I could go for a nice pastrami sandwich.”

Amen, to that, I thought.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 21, 2014--Obama's Past Tense

Over lunch with Loraine and Doug, after lots of catch up about family and work and what they've been doing while in Maine, she asked what we've been thinking about Barack Obama. She made a bit of a face which tipped off what she is feeling.

A lifelong progressive and feminist, Loraine in 2008 initially was a fervent supporter of Hillary Clinton's, but during the primaries found Obama's ability to inspire and his position on issues she cared deeply about to be so persuasive that she switched her support and offered her organizational skills to him and his campaign.

"I remember the excitement I felt when he won the nomination," she said now with a sense of sadness. "I found myself screaming with excitement, just like a teenager, and unashamedly and uncontrollably crying with joy."

I confessed that I found myself doing the same at that time and then later when he managed to get elected. If it were possible, when he gained a majority of Electoral College votes, I felt even more elated.

"The promise he represented," I said.

"For me," Loraine said, "it was more than that. It felt unbelievable that someone from his background, his mixed race background, who had spent his childhood in an Islamic country, that Americans could put all that aside and vote for him, to elect him. To me it seemed miraculous."

"It was a miracle," Rona said, "It felt as if America had healed its racial wounds, that we were voting as if to say--no, literally to say--we are one people. That the worst of our past is receding. For the current generation, hopefully, maybe it is fully healed. Wouldn't that be the end of the worst chapter in American history?"

"I felt it was all that," Doug, who is African-American, said.

"I notice," I said, "that we're speaking in the past tense. Or am I wrong? Am I projecting my frustrations with how things have turned out?"

"No, you're right," Loraine sighed.

"So what are you thinking now?" I asked.

"It's still the same miracle," she said, "But . . ." She trailed off.

"You know," Rona said, "we were at a dinner party last month with three other couples, all liberals, all of whom were enthusiastic supporters of Obama's."

"There's that past these again," Loraine said, smiling.

"Well, to the eight of us it was all past tense. No one was still feeling good about him. We as one said . . ." She didn't complete the thought.

"I still feel good about him," Loraine said. "In the present tense."

"I thought you were suggesting disappointment," I said.

"I am disappointed."

"Then I'm confused."

"In historical terms I feel good about him. Actually, still inspired."


"Because of what he represents and what he achieved. Maybe not in the governing arena--where I have become quite disillusioned--but in his very being. That he was able to inspire much of the nation and figure out a way to get elected. Twice. Amazing. Remarkable. Inspiring. But . . ."

"To be fair," Doug interrupted, "They--and you know who I mean--they did everything to thwart him, from day one to bring him down."

"From even before day one," I suggested.

"Right. So how could he have been more effective with all that fierce, bigoted opposition? His honeymoon lasted, what, maybe 15 minutes."


"But, to be fair," Loraine offered, "He never figured out how to work with Congress even during the first two years when the Democrats controlled both houses. And, maybe more significant, where he has a lot of independent power, in foreign affairs, what can we say about him that's positive?"

No one said anything. Or had anything to offer.

"But, and it's a big but," Loraine concluded, "we've had other presidents who turned out to be disappointments."

"Many," I said, "Maybe most."

"And so he will probably be ranked by historians among those who have been disappointments. But I want to stay in touch with how I felt. Not to forget that. To continue to feel some measure of joy and inspiration. Our son, who looks like Obama, if you know what I mean," she glanced toward Doug, "for him anything is possible. That wasn't true the day he was born but today, because of Obama's example, it is. That means a lot to him, to me, to you as well," she winked at us, "And, if I may be so bold, to everyone else in this country. Even to those who don't recognize that or hate him. About this, they haven't a clue."

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 20, 2014--Lazy Morning

I spent a happy day with friends from the city, was up quite late (for me), and did not have time for this this morning. I will return tomorrow with a report about our discussion about Barack Obama.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 19, 2014--Googling Oneself

A guilty pleasure that I confess to is occasionally googling myself. All right, checking at least once a month.

I rationalize this act of vanity as one way to see if my Web-presence has been contaminated by hackers. Actually, it's really to see how many times I am listed on Google (OK, how many pages it takes to list all my listings) and to check if anything interesting has been said about me via the Internet. All right, to see anything that's been added during the past month.

And also, less frequently (3 or 4 times a year), I check my virtual presence in the New York Times database. As a digital subscriber I am able to find any mention of me back to 1883, not the year of my birth announcement.

Being mentioned in the Times is a big deal to me. Read what I say about the NYT just to the right of this below my now out-of-date picture. The thing about my father and me and how the Times every morning was one of the few ways in which we communicated with each other. Etc.

Killing time Saturday morning I checked in with the New York Times. There were my occasional published letters to the editor and a quote or two from the days when I was responsible for education grant-making at the Ford Foundation.

But for some reason, via the TimesMachine, I thought to look up reports from early 1969 when I was a young administrator at Queens College, during the time when a coalition of black and Puerto Rican students occupied the campus, demanding that administrators of the SEEK program, a special admissions and scholarship program for minority students, who were white (virtually all of us were) be fired and replaced by people of color.

In many ways I agreed with the demands, feeling, though, that I was an exception and should be the one white administrator to be retained since . . . . well, you know. I was that young and naive.

I seemed to remember that I was mentioned in at least one of the articles covering the months of events that eventually led to violence. And sure enough, on January 14, 1969, I indeed was. In an article about SEEK students invading the office of the director and in a symbolic act (at least at the time I thought it was symbolic), since the president and deans were was not agreeing to the students' demand that the SEEK director be fired, they moved all his office furniture and telephones out into the street.

I recall being there at the time and acting heroically, trying to talk them out of doing this and urging the students to seek to negotiate peacefully with the dean of the college to whom the SEEK program director reported. I even offered to help.

But, according to the Times, my behavior was a little more--how shall I put this--ambiguous.

When the intruders arrived and swarmed into the office, Steven Zwerling, assistant director, escorted three women assistants outside, foresaking any attempt to thwart the invasion. He noted that the demonstrators carefully avoided harming anyone in the office or even touching them.
As an old English major I did a little textual analysis--

Intruders first arrived, then swarmed, and after that morphed into invaders and eventually demonstrators. I failed to thwart the invasion, forsaking any attempt, but did step up to escort to safety three damsels in distress. Though, according to my New York Times, it appears that was unnecessary since, as I apparently told the reporter, no one was harmed much less touched.

Well, at least they spelled my name correctly.

And, yes, the director resigned a month later. A few weeks after that he was replaced by a black professor of psychology, and shortly thereafter I and all the other white administrators were fired.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014--This Guy Is Getting Interesting

Senator Ted Cruz--the physical and ideological image of demagogic Senator Joseph McCarthy--is a candidate for the 2016 Republican nomination for president, but he's going nowhere. Actually, he is setting himself up for a lucrative future on the lecture, book, and Fox News circuit. So we do not have to take any shifting in his positions seriously. He is merely building his brand.

Senator Rand Paul, on the other hand, the current frontrunner for that nomination, is doing some interesting things to adjust or, to be kind, flesh out his views and image. He clearly doesn't want to be this generation's Barry Goldwater and get trounced two years from now by Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, I am beginning to get the feeling that not only is his likely to be nominated but he may have a good chance to become president. Hillary has probably already peaked and is feeling like yesterday's news, a part of the problem in Washington who, playing it safe, thus far has nothing new to say or credibly promise. She's got the gender thing going and has a talented and widely beloved husband, but there may be enough Clinton fatigue to override even that. Barbara Bush may be right--enough already with the Bushes and Clinton. We're not talking Adamses or Roosevelts.

Rand Paul is the only national Republican figure with the guts and inclination to speak at the recent NAACP convention; is comfortable with young people, gays, and people of color; is calling for sentencing reform; and last week had some fascinating things to say about the racial confrontation in Ferguson, MO.

Since 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security has been paying for the arming of the nation's local police forces, making armored vehicles, helicopters, high-capacity weapons, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and body armor readily available. And so, when there is a confrontation between police and alleged perpetrators (the Boston bombing suspects, for example) or between police and demonstrating and rioting citizens (Ferguson, for example), the cops show up armed to the teeth in full military regalia.

Observing this, Rand Paul late last week in an op-ed piece on first made a connection between himself and the demonstrators--
If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But I wouldn't have expected to be shot.
Then, in regard to the military-style arming of the police and the expansion of their powers he said--
When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with the erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury--national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, preconviction forfeiture--we begin to have a serious problem on our hands.
Interesting, no?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15, 2104--Best of Behind: The Dead Rosenbergs

This is from a fictional memoir that I have been working on for a number of years. I posted this chapter on Behind on September 28, 2012. 
Yes, on June 20, 1953, Heshy Perlmutter and I made our way to the I. J. Morris Funeral Parlor in Brooklyn to see the bodies of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who had been executed the day before in the electric chair at Sing Sing. I had never seen a dead person and the prospect of seeing two, and such notorious Soviet spies, was irresistible--
When we heard that the Rosenbergs had been electrocuted up in Sing Sing and that their bodies would be laid out and available for viewing at the I. J. Morris Funeral Parlor just six blocks from where we lived, Heshy and I raced over so we could for the first time see some real dead people. In my neighborhood we had seen lots of dead cats and dogs, but no dead bodies and thus had developed an inordinate interest in death.

But a lot of others had the same idea that hot June night, and thus we wound up near the end of a line that stretched around the corner. Since it took hours for the line to crawl toward the entrance, we learned from what we overheard that no one else shared our morbid obsession: We were there to see some corpses. Everyone else was lined up to pay their respects to these martyrs of “progressivism” and to protest not just their executions but the injustice of the entire American and Capitalist System. We barely understood any of this—the raging about Judge Kaufman, the abuse heaped on President Eisenhower who refused to stay their “murder,” and especially the fury reserved for someone named Roy Cohn, who, as a Jew, was venomously vilified for his role in their prosecution.

“He should rot in Hell,” we heard these atheists mutter.

Heshy and I understood what they were feeling. His father, Mr. Perly, was the local glazier and window blind maker but was better known for wandering the streets at night talking to himself, debating some inner furies, waving like a saber a rolled-up copy of the Daily Worker. Heshy knew that what his father was so agitated about also had something to do with Capitalism and “surplus value,” whatever that was, and lynchings and anti-Semitism and McCarthy and also that betrayer Roy Cohn.

More important, having Heshy with me meant that we would actually be allowed to enter I. J. Morris. You see, as we got closer to the door, word filtered back to us that to be admitted you had to be at least sixteen. He and I were a few years younger than that and were worried that they wouldn't let us in and that we would have to wait for subsequent executions before being able to see some dead people. But when we got to the entrance, the man guarding the velvet rope took one look at me, already almost six feet tall, and especially at Heshy’s premature beard, and waved us in. Heshy’s nickname, you should also know, was Big Dick.

Once inside, things settled to a hush. No more sputterings about the Running Dogs of Capitalism, just the muted sound of shuffling feet as we inched our way toward the chapel. As we crept forward, Heshy and I were whispering to each other about what to expect. We thought Julius and Ethel would probably just look like the dead cats—with stiff arms and legs and bulging, staring eyes (would they be attracting flies too?); but we grew increasingly nervous about how dead people who had been electrocuted would look.  We had never seen an electrocuted cat or dog.

What we knew from The Street was that when someone from Murder Incorporated went to The Chair, the next morning, screaming in six inch type from the front pages of the Daily News and Mirror would be the headline, “Bugsy Berkowitz Fries!” And since we knew how my mother’s fried liver looked—the closest thing to shoe leather not worn on a foot—we were trepidiously expecting the dead Rosenbergs to look like huge slabs of fried liver in side-by-side coffins. We were thus rethinking the whole situation: Maybe we should wait until we were really sixteen when perhaps someone would just die of a heart attack or something. That would be a better way to get started with dead bodies.

But before we could reconsider and get out of there, we were pushed through the chapel door by some grizzled shoemaker.  If we had thought about it, we might actually have been glad to have a shoemaker nearby as we approached the leathery Rosenbergs. He again began to spit about that “Jew bastard Roy Cohen.”

And then, there we were face to face with the dead Rosenbergs whose side-by-side coffins were tipped forward for better viewing. Dead they were, but under spot lights with orange faces and black hair that looked as if it had been touched up with shoe polish.  Julius’ mustache was so blackened that he appeared more like a Semitic Hitler than a Jew from the Bronx. It was not hard to believe, from their squirrelly looks, that they had been spies and had indeed given away to Russia the secret to the Atomic Bomb, which as a result caused us to have to practice taking cover under our desks in school in case the Reds decided to drop one on the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The undertakers moved us along quickly so we had time for just a quick but sufficient glimpse and, in truth, a sniff because all the dead cats and dogs we knew stank something awful. We were curious about that too. But the Rosenbergs smelled more like the science lab in school, which was fitting since this whole experience was more like an experiment to us than a pilgrimage, except perhaps to Heshy who would be interrogated and lectured, we were certain, by Mr. Perly, about more than their hair, painted faces, and smell.

I had entered this cult of death as the result of being most responsible for taking care of the family plot in Mount Lebanon Cemetery. We couldn’t afford Perpetual Care for the graves so unless we were willing to let them become a jungle, someone had to go there regularly, spring through fall, to cut the grass and pull the weeds that were indigenous to that part of Queens. As the most dexterous family member this truly awesome responsibility fell to me. So clip and pull I did with barely disguised eagerness.

As I would work my way among the headstones that multiplied through the years, as I drifted further from the bench where my mother and aunts sat huddled, talking silently to their deceased mother and father, I began to think about more than what was growing above ground. What, I wondered, was happening below the ground? That was not a question I could openly ask about poor Uncle Hyman who, I had been told, died of a heart attack before he was fifty. The weeds, by the way, were thickest at his grave.

In the spirit of experiment, when one day Chirps my parakeet died, rather than leave it to my mother do whatever she did to dispose of our dead pet birds and guppies. I suspected the guppies got flushed away, I absconded with him, found an empty Hellmann’s Mayonnaise jar, washed and dried it thoroughly, put Chirps inside, screwed the top back on securely, and buried him in a shallow hole of a grave in the vacant lot next door. Thinking I would dig him up periodically to see what was happening to him in that jar, interred as I imagined he was, not so unlike Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Hyman at Mount Lebanon. That would finally answer my existential question.

A week later, when I exhumed Chirps, he looked a little dried out, sort of what an apricot left too long in the sun begins to look like, with his flesh now sucked tight against his tiny bones. The second week it appeared that his eyes had disappeared. Where they went I couldn’t figure out—though I turned and shook the jar they didn’t seem to be in there anymore. This was getting profoundly interesting, and mysterious.

But when I went to unearth him for the third time, about a month after he died, I couldn’t find him or the jar. I had marked his place with a distinctive stone but couldn’t find it; and without that, I couldn’t remember precisely enough where he was buried. And so over the course of the next week, I dug up virtually the entire lot, which must have been 30 feet wide and 75 feet deep.

My mother wanted to know what I was doing out there at all hours. I reminded her that in the past I had planted a successful, even legendary vegetable garden and was thinking about doing that again.

She said, “But it’s November.”

And thus I gave up on Chirps, but not on my quest.

Next came my obsession with Egyptian mummies. Even before I was aware of King Tut and all the stories surrounding his discovery and his treasures, from Richard Haliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels, a huge and enthralling book given to me one birthday by my well-traveled Aunt Helen, I learned about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which included the Pyramids at Giza. And how they were in reality giant tombs for the most famous pharaohs. And that the dead pharaohs, turned into mummies, were sealed in those pyramids.

So when our public school class went on a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I managed to sneak away from the group and got “lost” for an hour in the labyrinth of the Egyptian Hall where, secured in glass cabinets in open coffins, what the Ancient Egyptians called sarcophagi, I could see actual mummies, dead pharaohs’ bodies that were more than 4,000 years old.

I was getting closer to the real thing. But there was still a problem—I couldn’t actually see the pharaohs’ bodies since they were so tightly wrapped in cloth shrouds. But the fact that I could sense more or less full bodies obscured within those wrappings suggested to me that both Chirps and Grandpa and Grandma might still be recognizable if somehow I could only get to them. After all, if the mummies were in such good shape after 4,000 years, Grandpa and Grandma and Chirps might still be quite like I remembered them.

Little did I know that before very long I would have a close encounter with a dead body, right in my own family, when one of Aunt Madeline’s husbands killed himself by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.

I barely knew him because they had been married less than six months. He seemed nice enough to me. Minimally he was the first of her husbands who wasn’t bald and, even more important to her, was taller than she and thus a better dance partner. Stories circulating in the family suggested that after living with Madeline for a few short months, he took the “easy way out” by killing himself. Though he may have had enough of her, from her carrying on after his death, she appeared to have lost the love of her life. In fact, things were so bad with her, and his ten year old son from a previous marriage, that it took her brothers’ and their wives’ total attention to console her.

Perhaps because of my experience weeding the family plot, I was assigned to help make arrangements for his funeral.

My primary responsibility was to give the mortician a suit in which to bury him. As you might imagine, at twelve, though tall for my age, I was not fully prepared for this. So I just grabbed the first suit I saw from his closet and spent the rest of my time hoping that at the service they would have an open coffin so I could at last . . .

To my considerable disappointment they didn’t.  But at the chapel, the funeral director to whom I had given Morty’s suit, pulled me aside and directed me to a very private corner where he whispered so as not to disturb anyone, “Was that his suit you gave me?”

“Certainly,” I said, “It was in his closet.”

“Are you sure?”

“I think so,” I stuttered, my certainty now eroding, “Why are you asking?”

“Because it looked as if it was a suit for a ten year old.”

I looked over to where Morty’s ten year old son was sitting and saw that he was in casual clothes. He was not wearing a suit.

The undertaker rasped in my ear, “I can’t tell you what we had to do to get it on the body.” I was cringing, “But we did,” he added with a twisted smile.

And so, on that day when I got to see the Rosenbergs, I was reminded of the guilt I felt about what I had inadvertently done to poor Morty.  But more, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the I. J. Morris needed to do to get that suit to fit.

My education and interests took some new directions as I began to grow into my body. And though a total failure at Hebrew School, where I was presumably to receive a religious education, in spite of my lack of facility for things of this kind, I begin to think about what one might call “spiritual things.”  Adolescent meaning-of-life questions—Where did we come from (not Facts of Life kinds of matters)? And where were we going (and I didn’t mean Mount Lebanon)?   Heshy, under the influence of Mr. Perly and his surging hormones, was ever the materialist and said, non-biblically, that we’re just a bunch of atoms and molecules and thus to a version of dust we shall revert, if we're lucky, after a life of feeling up the Siegel Twins in the school coat closet.

By then I was also into atoms (remember the A Bomb), but the dust-to-dust thing didn’t work for me. I had begun to think there were higher issues and meanings to being human. I saw a very different place in the world for us as compared to Chirps, the neighborhood cats,  and my guppies.

                                                                *    *    *

Many years later my father, well into his eighties, began to fail. He had always been such a force of nature. I know to children fathers often seem to be that powerful and arbitrary, but my father was truly tectonic. When he raged, all trembled; when he commanded, all obeyed; what he expected, we did; and when he acknowledged and in his own coded-way loved, we were smitten. So when his big body was being reduced by time and he could no longer move forward but was afflicted by what the medical people called “retrograde movement,” which meant he fell backwards when he attempted to move ahead, I saw this to be a metaphor for his decline—he was heading backwards, even while attempting still to cut his way through life.

To see him like this raised many more questions about the meaning of life, at least the meaning of a life. The answers I came up with were not comforting. Everything seemed to reduce itself to biology—eating and pissing and shitting was the final summing up. Not so different from what Heshy had been saying some years earlier.

Dad lived in Florida and we in New York; and so when my mother called to say, “Come down,” we got on a plane to Fort Lauderdale. We immediately lost our way from the airport to the hospital, grinding in frustration that we would miss the end. From my mother’s voice and her deserved fame as the family “witch,” invariably perceiving the future, we knew there was very little time and every missed turn made it less likely that we would find him still alive.

But with a sense of the miraculous, the hospital appeared just as we were about to make another futile U turn. We skidded the car into the parking lot and raced up the steps afraid that even to wait for the elevator would make us fatally late. We found his room and him in bed, unconscious, breathing with obvious final distress.

I sat beside him and held his withered hand, saying what I knew would be a few last words. There was no way to know if he heard me as I attempted to sum up what I had by then come to conclude about us (contested), his life (contradictory), and life itself (still imponderable). I longed to feel even a reflexive squeeze from him and perhaps there was one or at the very least a last spasm to let me know he understood, and that was what he too had come to understand.

And then all was utter, utter stillness.

I closed his quickly cooling eyelids and put my hand to his chest as he had done so many times to me when he would say to me as child and adult, “Such a good boy. Such a lucky boy.”

And then he was no longer there. Even during his last unconscious moments it was apparent that whatever he was was present but then that was gone. Just gone.

I looked at his body to see if I could perceive his spirit depart or whatever it was that was him.

But all there was was just a body.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 14, 2014--Hillary's Presidential Checklist

Here's how you can know for sure that Hillary Clinton is actively running for president. Check out her checklist--

Over the weekend, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for The Atlantic, she caused a stir by creating some distance between herself and Barack Obama. On foreign policy.

Recall, she was Secretary of State during his first term.

She said that a president (are you listening, a president) needs to provide the nation with "organizing principles" when it comes to our relations with the world, that it's not enough to, as Obama put it, just to not "do the silly stuff." He said that about silly stuff in a major speech at West Point as part of his comprehensive overview of the principles that organize his approach to foreign affairs.

Disagree with Obama as one well might (and "silly stuff" is silly)--including that Clinton is not required to agree with him about everything even though she served in his administration (actually, the opposite, to dissent is the best way to serve)--it is more than a coincidence that just as the midterm elections are heating up and the scramble for the presidency two years hence is accelerating that Hillary, after her memoirs failed to interest anyone, would be creating this opportunity to tell us that she should not be perceived as coupled to Obama's foreign policy initiatives, especially when they are feeling feckless and inept.

Anyone with an interest in the American presidency knows that Richard Nixon in 1960, when he ran for the presidency, lost in part because he did not sufficiently distance himself from President Eisenhower; and poor Hubert Humphrey in 1968 lost to Nixon in large part because he was seen to be Lyndon Johnson's policy lapdog.

The Humphrey example is the operative one now--Hubert, with only a few weeks to go before Election Day, finally expressed some tepid criticism of LBJ's Vietnam policy and, as a result, almost fully closed the gap in the polls, losing to Nixon by less than one percentage point.

Hillary does not want to make that mistake. So a full two years in advance she is acting to distinguish herself from the increasingly-unpopular Obama. She does not want to be the Nixon of 1960 nor the Humphrey of 1968.

This distancing shows her in the middle of her presidential checklist--

(1) Serve as Secretary of State for only four years to give herself time to run away from her foreign policy blunders ("resetting" relations with Russia, Benghazi, etc.) and even to physically separate herself from the State Department and the president she served.

(2) Take a month off to get some rest and, who knows, maybe do some Botox.

(3) Strike a $8.0 million book deal and get help writing a bland, no-drama 635-page tome.

(4) Hit the talk show circuit to pitch the book and remind people she's still around.

(5) Just as midterms approach, find someone gentle to interview her about foreign policy and give her the chance to do a little subtle and not-so-subtle Obama dissing.

(6) See where the chips fall in November and keep an eye on Elizabeth Warren and any others who might step forward to stand in the way of her march to the nomination. (I predict she will have some significant challengers from the left.)

Based on the numbers, or who steps forward, continue to act as the incumbent or, if necessary, announce sooner than currently planned and hit the campaign trail to test her messages and hone her debating skills. And, of course, put down her opposition.

(7A) About a year from now, since Obamcare will probably still be widely unpopular, have Jeffery Goldberg interview her about domestic issues and take that opportunity to take a few pot shots at the Affordable Care Act. If somehow by then it is more popular than at present, take credit for it--claiming that it's the very same healthcare program she came up with as First Lady.

(7B) And if Obama is able to strike a deal with Iran to give up their nuclear weapons program, take credit for that too. No one will remember that she voted for the war in Iraq and was pretty much in agreement with John McCain when it came to wanting to bomb, bomb, bomb . . . bomb Iran.

(8) And perhaps most important, raise money, raise money, raise money.

I mean for the campaign. The Clintons by now have more than enough for themselves, Chelsea, and the soon-to-be-born grandchild.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August 13, 2014--Midcoast: Auto Repair Purgatory

This will be brief because I spent most of yesterday in car repair purgatory and ran out of time and energy for blogging.

Our car was making a put-put sound that concerned me. At breakfast I described it to my boating friend Stan who knows a lot about cars and engines. When he looked at me quizzically, I said, "Like the sound of a boat. A Put-Put."

I thought that might amuse him, but he was having one of his grumpy mornings and it annoyed him because he felt I was casting aspersions on boats in general, even though I meant a small, outboard motor boat. A Put-Put. Not his boat which emits a macho roar when underway.

Stan said this wasn't Car Talk where callers tell the Tappet Brothers how their cars sound and that helps them diagnose the problem over the radio. And with that, he left the diner in a bit of a huff-huff before I could draw on his mechanical expertise.

Driving over to the VW dealer in Brunswick I was thinking there was something seriously wrong and that to repair it they'd have to drop the engine. In my over-heated imagination I was looking at a four-figure bill. Anything requiring dropping the engine, I fretted, runs into the thousands.

The good news: after checking out the car they told me that the part would cost just $10 and for the labor it would take "only" two to three hours.

The bad news: this would not fix the put-put but the transmission which was leaking.

"The transmission? When did that happen?" I was close to screaming.

"Can't tell. All I know is that the transmission housing is wet all over. And, sorry," the service manager informed me, avoiding the sound effects, "but that won't take care of what's concerning you."

I interrupted to say, it wasn't the transmission that had been worrying me but now it was, even more than the "you-know-what."

"Well for that--the you-know-what--I'm afraid you need two new tires."

"What? For the put-put? I bought new tires, four of them, just two years ago."

Understanding, he nodded, "It's all the pot holes up here. They chew up tires. The bottom line still is that you need at least two. The ones on the rear are pretty chopped and that's what's making the," he lowered his voice, "put-put."

"What can I say," I said. "The car gods will do with me, with it, with them whatever they want. At least they won't have to drop the engine to mount the new tires. And considering the new transmission expense, I'll go to my tire dealer and have them replace the two."

"Okey dokey."

They must train them to be chipper, I thought. Like dentists.

"The good news," he said, "is the $10 part. The bad news," he clearly liked the good-news-bad-news business, "The bad news is that we have to order it and it won't be here until next Tuesday. In the meantime, you'll be fine. We'll top off the transmission fluid--like I said--it's leaking and . . ."

"I know. I know. The good news is all it needs is a $10 part. To tell you the truth, I'd feel better if it needed a $100 part. Then at least it would make sense to have to drop the engine. To drop it to install a cheap part seems like an extravagance."

"We'll try to avoid having to do that."


"Drop the engine."

Later that day I went over to my tire place and had them order two new Michelins to match the other two they sold me two years ago.

"It was actually three years ago, sir," the tire manager corrected me. When I looked at him skeptically he pointed to the screen and said, "I have it right here in the computer. You put almost 45,000 miles on those babies. So to need only two, considering the roads 'round here, is not that bad."

The bad news again, I thought, or was it the good news? "Though I'd recommend your getting four."

Of course. Why not five? I probably could use a new spare even though I never used it. Just being driven around in the trunk for 45,000 miles would wear out a spare.

"Whatever," I said, fully beaten down.

Two days later when I returned to the tire dealer, worrying all the way about the transmission fluid hemorrhaging through the housing, the tires were there and in an hour were balanced, installed, and the wheels were aligned.

"Good you could do the alignment without having to drop . . ." I stopped myself from concluding the thought. Rona's jabbing me in the ribs helped.

And then back at the VW service yesterday, with the $10 part in hand, they gave us a loaner--"Why don't the two of you drive over to Frosty's. It's early and they should still have a selection of their donuts left. I love their glazed twists."

"They're his favorites," Rona said, "Though I like the chocolate cream myself."

"How long did you say it will take?" I asked, all business, though the thought of a couple of twists was appealing.

"I'll call in a couple of hours to let you know how things are going. In the meantime, have fun in Brunswick."

Forsty's actually had a fullish assortment of their donuts left and by the third one, with sugar and caffeine rushing through my system, I was thinking more about having fun then what might be going on back at VW. Coffee was more on my mind than transmission fluid.

"I wonder why it costs so much?" I said under my breath, contradicting what I just said about being focused on fun.

"Anything made from oil," Rona said, "costs a fortune. Look at what's happening with Russia and the Middle East."

"You had to remind me of that? Here I was trying to have fun and . . ."

"You're the one who muttered about why it costs so much. And you weren't talking about donuts."

"Touché," I said, trying to sound as bouncy as the VW service manager, "Let's go antiquing."

Two hours later, antiqued-out, we still hadn't heard from VW.

"Maybe call them?" I suggested to Rona.

She dialed them up. "What? What are you saying?" Now she was the one sounding all agitated. "The axel bolt? What does the axel have to do with the transmission? And why am I asking you that? I don't even know what a transmission does. For all I know it's connected to the axel and . . ."

"And when you dropped the engine," I shouted as a non sequitur into Rona's cell phone, which she promptly yanked away from me.

"OK. We'll be there in 15, 20 minutes. Then you'll explain everything." She snapped the phone shut.

Driving over, I said we needed to be ready for sticker shock. Rona had reported that when the mechanic did whatever needed to be done to the axel bolt the "thread came off with the bolt."

"Which means they'll probably have to replace the entire transmission housing."

"What's that?"

"I have no idea," I confessed. "It's the thing they told us was wet from whatever was leaking. I'm just assuming that . . ."

"You assumed they'd have to drop the engine to fix the tires. So what do you know?"

"Just that at least they gave us a brand new car for a loaner. Last time they gave us a clunker. Since it will take a week to get the new transmission parts and three days labor to install them, at least we'll have a good car to drive around in."

"Only three days of labor? I would have thought no less than five." Rona was making fun of me.

"Could be," I said, more than half serious.

When we got back to VW Rona noticed a car just like ours being washed. "They wouldn't be washing it," I said, "They told you they still have a lot of work to do to fix it. It must be one just like ours. Like you said, they'll be keeping ours a week or more and wouldn't be washing it until they replace the transmission."

"But that's a gray Passat wagon with New York plates--E*U*F* . . ."

"That must be us!" I almost jumped for joy. "Somehow while we were driving over they must have finished it."

"Or jiggered it together temporally so they can get their loaner back. I'm not driving around for a week with a patched-together car."

"I'm with you," I said. "Let's go inside and see what's-what."

What-was-what is that somehow the mechanic, in the last 15 minutes, figured out how to repair it permanently, assuming anything having to do with cars is permanent.

Not trusting, Rona said, "You're not sending us off with a car that's not fixed properly, are you?"

The manager leaned forward across the counter and whispered, "We'd never do that. It would be illegal. And you could sue VW for a fortune. And win," he winked, as if he was offering to represent us in a slam-dunk liability lawsuit.

"And the best thing," he said to me, now pulled back up to his full height, "the best thing is we didn't even need to drop the engine."

He and Rona rocked with laughter. They thought that was about the funniest thing they had heard all week.

The bill came to $248, ten dollars of it for the part. The rest labor. Not bad news.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,