Monday, November 30, 2015

Sneaking In.

When I was a kid visiting a parent in the hospital was not allowed. I don’t mean that as in visiting hours only, or accompanied by an adult. It was No Children, period. It was considered to be too unsettling for the patient to see their children; or so the patients were told. Of course that was a load of crap; the most unsettling thing for a parent when they are in the hospital is not seeing their children. And the children feel the same way. Somewhere around 1970 that all changed; and now hospitals are probably too full of visitors for anyone’s benefit. But that will have to be someone else’s story. My story takes place in 1960 when I was about 6 years old.

Everyone should have an Aunt; or two; like Aunt Sissy in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” It seems like childhood would be incomplete without someone like that in your life; an adult, but not subject to the usual rules. I was fortunate enough to have 2 such Aunts; my father’s sisters Gladys and Gloria. I've written about them before. They were just the right age to be Aunts; being my Dad's younger sisters. That's them with my grandmother "Nana" before I was born. 

In 1960 my mother began a series of illnesses which would color my childhood, and later on take her life. But not before she gave everyone a run for their money; and not until she was ready. Mom was tiny, but formidable. The point is that she was always in the hospital and I couldn't see her. My Aunts thought this was absurd, and so a plan was hatched, whereby we would be able to see our mom.

I remember the turquoise walls of the hospital; it seems like they painted all the health related buildings in that color. They may have called it turquoise, but I called it “puke green”. The plan was fairly simple; my brother and I would go up the stairs to the floor my mom was on. The only hitch was that at each floor the stairway entrance was directly opposite the head nurses station; making detection very likely.

I think it was Gladys who would emerge from the stairway and engage the head nurse in conversation, or question, as Gloria, my brother and I slipped past to the next flight of stairs. When we got to the next floor we would repeat the process until we got where we were headed. Once there Gladys had to do a prolonged version of diversion as Aunt Gloria quickly hustled us down the hallway to y mom’s room. Hey, sometimes we actually made it!

Other times we failed dismally. My brother could never get it right when we would pass each floor. The sequence went like this; Gloria would go first, and then call to one of us, who would then dash across the opening in a streak so as not to be seen. But my brother had a hard time with doing the quickstep and we got caught; and thrown out; more times than we got in. Ah, but you should of seen the glow on my mom’s face when we did.

Friday, November 27, 2015

White House Letter - 1965

I was a real patriotic little kid.* I actually used to watch the Presidential speeches and news conferences etc. And then I would critique them, in my own naive way. This often took the form of encouraging letters from me to the particular speaker. This response to me was written in 1965, by Bill Moyers, after I had written a comment to President Johnson concerning his War on Poverty. I had my own stationary and a typewriter, which made me as old as I wanted to be. I was actually 10 at the time. Sorry, Bill!

But as a result of this letter my parents took my brother and I on a trip into the Appalachian Region to show us the poverty that the President was alluding to in his speech. I had never seen such dire conditions before, and would not again, until on a family trip to Florida in 1969 down Routes 301 and 1 in North Carolina and Georgia. The sight of people living in tin can shacks by the side of the road is not one easily erased from my mind. Actually, the thought of it haunts me to this very day.

Those trips really made an impression upon me and I've always been grateful that my folks took the time and made the effort to make them. 

* I still am.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Bag of Chicken (2010)


Written On A Bag of Chicken

There will come a time when I can not hear
your voice, or
my favorite music.

And a time when I will no longer see
your face, or
my favorite views.

And there will come a time when I realize
that the two are
but one and the same.

Note: I write poetry and short verse on just about anything. Most of it gets trashed shortly after the writing. But this one survived. It was written in 2010 outside a fried chicken place in Cornelius, NC. At the time I wasn't sure if I was going to see 2011- never mind 2015! So, this was written for Sue.

I have reworked the poem by removing two words and bringing the meter into line throughout. It's 10/9 all the way through now without the burdensome extra words. Hey, I wrote it on a bag of chicken. You should see the one called "Written on a Bag of Chicken at 60 MPH!" It's a quick one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Uncle "I" and the Christmas Tree (1953)

This is one of those stories which I manage to work in every Christmas season. It speaks of tolerance and the only person I have ever known who loved me without condition. This day also has special significance, as it was always December 15th when we put up the Christmas tree each year. There was never any variation to this rule. The tree arrived on the 15th and was down before New Year’s.

I have always had a Christmas tree. My parents were a "mixed" marriage- my Dad was Irish Catholic and my Mom was Russian Jewish. I was raised in a home that had both a Christmas tree and Chanukah candles. Each year we would light the candles and place our spare change in a dish before it. On the eighth day we would count it up and write a check to the WOR Children’s Christmas Fund. This didn't seem strange to us- money from a Jewish holiday going to the Christmas Fund. Actually it made a lot of sense. It exemplified what the season is all about.

We also exchanged gifts on Christmas Day. And in our house there was no bigger fan of Christmas than my Uncle Irving.

Each year he took my brother and I to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmas Show. If you have never seen it you have been cheated. It is completely religious in its scope with the Three Wise Men crossing the stage following a star to Bethlehem, including real Camels and Donkeys on the stage! And the Manger- bathed in blue light-was always sure to make my Uncle cry. It was that beautiful. But it wasn't always like that with him.

My parents were married in 1950. They lived with my Grandma Marcus and her brother Irving, my Uncle I, in an apartment on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn until 1952. That’s when they got their first apartment together. It was in the same building on the 4th floor.

My Dad had always had a Christmas tree except for the last 2 years while living with my Mom and Grandma. This was going to be my Mom's first Christmas tree. Naturally, she was very excited and went downstairs to Apartment 3-B to invite Grandma, Uncle Irving and their maid, Mary, up to apartment 4-A to see it.

Irving wouldn’t go. He wouldn’t even budge. One flight up was one too many for him to stand before that “symbol of goyim idolatry.”

The following year saw the birth of my brother Mark. This was going to be his first Christmas and the excitement my parents felt was enormous. And; it turns out contagious.

As Christmas Eve approached Uncle Irving had still not come up to see the tree. That night Grandma and Mary went up to my parents to exchange gifts. Uncle Irving went reluctantly and at the insistence of my Grandmother.

The door opened and there stood the tree. There it was- the “goyim symbol” in all of its splendor. With big outdoor lights and a star at the top, dripping with tinsel and beckoning with its beauty, it mesmerized him. He drew near and felt the warmth and love of my parents coming from that tree. He saw the joy on my brother’s infant face. He turned away and walked out!

An hour or so later he came back, arms laden with toys for my brother and gifts for everyone. After that year- and for every year after until the end of his life- he was the first to ask, “When are we putting up the tree?”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mr. and Mrs. Watts - A Love Story

When Sue and I were first married we lived in Baltimore, Maryland just across the street on Clifton Avenue, from an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Watts. I don’t ever recall knowing their first names, as they each referred to one another as Mr. or Mrs. Watt in conversation. It was very quaint and unusual, just as they were.

This story concerns their courtship, and later on, marriage as it was relayed to me by them some 25 years ago. I believe I have the story remembered correctly.

The diminutive Mr. Watts, who was probably one of the shortest Marines ever admitted to the Corps, came home from the Second World War having survived the hand to hand combat that marked the Battle for Guadalcanal. He was a tough little guy, and still single at the age of 30. He took a job working for the railroad, first residing in Virginia, where his true love had originally been waiting out the war for him.

Mrs. Watts, I never did know her maiden name, was a nurse, and during the war had taken a job working up in Indianapolis. The photo above is of Union Station in Indianapolis, as it appeared in 1946. The two corresponded throughout the war and were anxious to see one another again. To that end, Mr. Watts secured a ticket for the trip to Union Station, where his love would be waiting. He had a mission on his mind, and love in his heart.

Mrs. Watts was busy on her end as well, making plans for the upcoming visit. She had been rooming at the YWCA, which of course did not permit men, so she sought out a hotel room. They had never “been together” before; those were her actual words to me; but somehow she felt that having a hotel room ready would not be a bad idea. To that end, she secured the Bridal Suite at the best hotel in town for the whopping price of $7 a night.

Mr. Watts arrived in Indianapolis by train, with the soon to be Mrs. Watts waiting for him at the station. They had dinner, a noontime meal, at the “best diner in town”, during which they began to discuss the events of the past few years and where they might be heading as a couple. That’s when he popped the question. I will let Mr. Watts take over from here and tell you about it. To do otherwise would only serve to diminish the story.

“I looked at Mrs. Watts and I said, ‘Look here Mrs. Watts’, only I didn’t call her Mrs. Watts yet, on account of we weren’t married. So I said, ‘Look here Mrs. Watts, you ain’t getting any younger and I ain’t getting any better lookin’, so what do you say we up and get hitched?’ Well sir, she about jumped right into my lap! And do you know she had a hotel room all set, kind of like she knew what I was going to ask before I even asked it.”

Well, Mr. and Mrs. Watts lived happily ever after, racking up at least 5 decades of marriage that I know of. I have always wondered if, when they said goodnight to one another, they called one other Mr. and Mrs. Watts. They moved away a few years after Sue and I married, and I am sure that they have both since passed on. No matter, wherever they are today, I know that they are still together. True love never dies.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Wedding Band(s)

Sue and I were married on July 4th, 1986. There is no doubt about that. It's stamped on the inside of my wedding band along with the words "Forever Yours." But the real story behind the date is kind of funny, as it wasn't done until sometime after the date shown on this receipt, which is sometime later that July.

The ring, the original one, had been purchased before the wedding and was delivered on time for the ceremony. Sue lovingly placed it on my finger when we exchanged vows. I have the pictures to prove it. And the ring is right there for all to see. It was hard getting used to wearing a ring, as I was never really into jewelry. For the most part, unless I was buying it overseas and wearing it home for re-sale, I considered it kind of a non essential item. So, when asked if the ring fit, I said yes. It was a size 7 and a half.

Sue and I proceeded to go on our honeymoon to Cancun. This photo shows me arriving in Cancun, with the band visible on my left hand. It wouldn't be there for long. On the third day of our honeymoon I had been swimming, while Sue had been up in the hotel room, or somewhere, but when she came back she noticed that I was playing with the ring, twirling it around the base of my finger. Naturally she asked me if the ring "fit okay?" And naturally, never having worn a ring before, aside from a high school ring, which I had long ago lost, I didn't know how it was supposed to feel. As if to prove my point I took my hand and went, "See, it fits fine." With that statement I made a bold sweeping motion with my arm and hand, as I flung them both forcefully towards the fine, white Caribbean sand. The ring flew from my fingers, instantly swallowed by the Sand God, Lostringus.

Sue and I stared at one another in disbelief. But we were both instantly on our hands and knees, scooping up sand by the handful from the immediate area in which I had sacrificed my ring. After a few minutes a small crowd had gathered to watch us. Some of the more enterprising Mexicans were on their hands and knees along with us, as I had offered $100 to anyone who found the ring first. This may have been short sighted on my part, after all, if the gringo is willing to pay $100, it must be worth more..


After about an hour of this we gave it up to the Sand God, packed up our chairs and went back to the hotel and out to dinner, a bit bummed out. Sue was sure that this was an omen, dooming our marriage, which by now was all of three days old. For my part, I was wracked with guilt for my stupid and grandiose gesture, which had given birth to this whole tragedy. But I never felt that the marriage was at stake. This photo was taken the following night. You will notice the absence of the wedding band on my left hand.

We got back to Maryland, where we were living at the time, and immediately went to see the jeweler, where I got a new ring, with the same date and inscription as the first one. Although there was some initial discussion as to whether or not this ring should be a nose ring, we quickly settled on the traditional finger style which I had lost in Mexico. Only this time we made it a size 7.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pete Seeger, PS 197 and Kindergarten - "If I Had a Hammer"


This post is for my Kindergarten teacher at PS 197 in Brooklyn,Mrs. Gerber. Read on and you will find out why.

Of all the songs we learned as kids, few have had as many obstacles thrown in its way as was the case with the iconic song “If I Had a Hammer.” Most folks will remember the song as being a smash hit for Peter, Paul and Mary in the late 1950’s. But the songs beginnings were steeped in controversy when the Weavers did their original version of it in 1949 at the Peekskill concert with Paul Robeson, and then when the song was published in the “Sing Out” collection of songs the following year. People actually cancelled their subscriptions over this song.

Pete Seeger had spent the war years working as a Merchant Mariner aboard cargo vessels. After the war; in 1948; he founded the folk group known as the Weavers. They did folk songs along the line of Woody Guthrie, along with some original compositions and other folk ballads from around the world.
 
Their first hit was a 45 RPM with “Tzena, Tzena”as the A side; a song much heralded at the time by Israeli soldiers; backed with “Goodnight Irene”, written by Leadbelly, on the B side. It was a hit on Decca Records, which couldn’t press the record fast enough to keep up with the demand.

By 1957 they were banned from most radio stations and all of TV. Seeger would not be seen on a major network again until 1968 when he appeared on the Smothers Brothers Show. It all began with “If I Had a Hammer.” The House of Un-American Activities; which they clearly were; was in the middle of its decade long sweep of the entertainment industry looking for subversives; or Communists, when they set their sights on The Weavers and Pete Seeger.

HUAC was not only aimed at the Hollywood crowd; they were also involved with policing the meaning of song lyrics such as “The Rock Island Line”; and later on even “Louie, Louie”. For “Louie, Louie” the FBI infamously spent over one year and 100 agents in order to come to the conclusion that they had no idea what the lyrics were; let alone what they meant. With “If I Had a Hammer” their job was much simpler.

The song speaks about a hammer; the Soviet Union used one in its flag. The song spoke about “the danger” and “the love between my brothers” all across this land. (Peter, Paul and Mary added and my sisters to the lyrics for their recording, in addition to some changes in the melody.) Surely these “brothers” were comrades in the sense that they were allied with communism. And, as if that weren’t enough, the HUAC committee was very concerned just what was meant by “freedom” and “justice”.  (You have to laugh when you think that hey actually had to ask that last question!)

Seeger was charged with 10 counts of Contempt of Congress in 1955; a badge which he wore proudly; and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His appeals went on in a court fight which lasted until 1962. And, although his career was interrupted, his fight was celebrated by his many loyal fans. In 1969 he launched the Clearwater Campaign to clean up the Hudson River in New York and was an activist until his death.

Here he is in 1956; already charged and being tried for Contempt; singing the song anyway. This is one of the earliest versions in which he sings “my brothers and my sisters.”


Now, here’s the part which will explain why this is dedicated to Mrs. Gerber;

We were actually singing this is Kindergarten at PS 197 in Brooklyn. It was 1959 and HUAC was still going and the blacklist had just been "broken" with Dalton Trumbo being listed as a screenwriter on "Spartacus". I have to wonder what risk the teacher was taking by using that song in class. New York's Feinberg Law of 1949 placed a security officer in charge of each school district. Their job was to know the politics of every teacher. Reading the wrong book could preclude your being hired. And voting the wrong way could get you fired.  

In 1955; only 4 years before my Kindergarten teacher sang this song with us; New York City teachers were required to inform upon their colleagues political views. Refusal meant dismissal. Of 40 teachers who were ordered to do so; 35 submitted and the remaining 5 were actually fired. In all, 60,000 public school teachers in NYC alone were investigated and 500 were forced to resign or were fired for political views. One actually committed suicide. That Mrs. Gerber sang this song with the class is a tribute to her individuality. The Board in charge of the Feinberg investigations remained in force for 2 more years; disbanding in 1961.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Tray

This story was first written as a “stand alone” and then incorporated into “It’s Only Me”; my 2009 attempt at an autobiography. I still like the story – which is true.

The tray pictured here belonged to Seth Herman's Grandma Bee Bee. She lived at 1900 Quentin Road in Brooklyn, N.Y. When I was in Junior High I thought nothing was classier than this tray- which was always filled with goodies like Bridge Mix and other delights we didn’t have in my home.

I’m not really sure of the year but it was around 1971 or so when Bee Bee passed away. I was offered a “souvenir” to remember her by- and I chose the tray. To me it epitomized an era of genteel living, when people had “company” on Saturday nights, or “guests” during the week for cards or Scrabble. TV came along and changed all that.

The real “meat” of this story involves the loss and later recovery of this tray- possibly with the aid of “cosmic” forces beyond our understanding or control.

The tray had been on top of a black steamer trunk which I used as a dresser in 1973 while living at 2132 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. Remember in July of 1973 I packed up and moved to Ohio where I ended up engaged to Monica and working in the paint factory.

In December of 1973 I left Ohio by car (a 1964 Ford Galaxy 500) for NY- trunk in tow. But the car didn’t make it and I was forced to abandon it on the side of Route 80 in Ohio within sight of an Arco station. Not being able to hitch with the trunk I carried it over to the service station and asked the owner if I could leave it there for a bit, intending to send for it later. The owner gave his consent and I lugged it up a ladder to the attic/storage area and continued to the airport and a flight to NY.

I mentioned to Seth that I had left the trunk at a service station in Ohio alongside Route 80. And then I don’t think I thought about it again except in a passing- “Gee, I wish I had my trunk back” kind of way.

So here it is, almost 2 years later at 2:30 in the morning and my front door bell rings back at 2132 Ocean Avenue. At the door is Seth with a black steamer trunk on his back going “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas!” It was my trunk!

Inside we opened the trunk and I started going through all the things I had missed in the previous 2 years. And the big surprise was that not only was the tray in there- but Seth, who had given me the tray to begin with, had no idea it was in there!

Eventually I got the whole story- he had been driving back to NY from school at Ohio State in Antioch and along Route 80 found himself outside of Cleveland when he remembered that I had lived near there a couple of years back. And then he remembered that I had left a trunk at a service station somewhere alongside Route 80.

Looking up he saw the sign for an Arco station at the next exit and got off. He went in and asked the guy if he had ever stored a trunk for some tall, skinny guy with shoulder length hair. The reply was something like- “Yeah, and if he doesn't come for it soon we’re throwing it out!” So he took it and drove through to Brooklyn and woke me up.

And that’s when he saw the tray!

We have pondered this little oddity between us over these many years. He didn't know it was an Arco station- he didn’t know exactly where on Route 80 I had left it- and only a brief whim caused him to stop and check it out. Was it Bee Bee calling out to get the tray? Or just one of those odd coincidences that make life the joy it sometimes can be?

Who knows; but while I no longer have the friend; I still have the tray!

Life would go on in this vein for 2 and a half years. The only change would be where I was living. In June of 1975 Mr. Rosenberg came down and knocked on our door; smiling ear to ear. "Boys," he said, "We've sold the house and we're moving to Florida."

And so the era of 2132 Ocean Avenue came to an end. It was time to find a new place to live. It was also the start of what I refer to as my "lost year."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pi Day. Understanding Pi. (.785)

At 9:26:53 AM/PM today the numbers will stack up to a representation of the factor Pi. While it is generally used to compute the areas of circles or the volumes of pipe, it has many other uses in space exploration, etc. This is partly a re-post from a few years ago; with some portions rewritten.

We all take Pi for granted. It’s loaded into our computers and calculators for us, and we use it in equations all the time without ever thinking of it beyond it formulaic utility. Some years ago, while working as an estimator of utilities, I found it necessary; or maybe desirable; to understand the exact meaning of Pi and how it worked in relation to the circle.

Having failed at the subject all through high school, and even before that, I had this “fear” of math brought on by my parent’s assertions that I was not able to understand the subject, coupled with a school system which was geared to teaching to the test, rather than teaching an understanding the subject at hand.Had they wanted to really engage my passion all they would have had to do was make the problems relevant to real life. 

For example, you are on a ship and headed in any given direction for 8 days at so many miles per hour. How far have you gone? That would have got me interested in math early on. And by high school, rather than teaching geometry and trigonometry to pass a test, using Nautical Astronomy as an example would have proven more effective at teaching not only both of those subjects, but given the student a true perspective of what mathematics is actually used for. Inadvertently, it would also have taught the subject; which was supposed to be the point.

What is Pi? 3.14159 is the most common answer. Then browse Wikipedia for what that means. Ask the “math” student in your family. The answers you get will all be concerned with the number rather than what it really means, or stands for. That was the purpose of charting it, as I did above, almost 30 years ago while estimating the volume of pipe necessary to hold a specific amount of water. I used a 6” pipe for the example, mostly because it was easily equated to decimal form, and I had a boatload of 6” pipe on hand. However, the resultant .785 factor will work with any size of circle for are, or pipe for volume.

I kept running into Pi while figuring things out, and then rechecking my figures. But, like most folks, I never really understood what it represented, apart from an arbitrary factor that worked. And I really wanted to know why it did. So, I did what Captain Ellison used to tell us at the Baltimore School of Navigation; “Draw it out!” Well, I did. And while putting some of my papers in order the other evening; I am actually doing that; I ran across this and decided to post it for posterity.

In short, while Pi represents the factor used to determine the area within a circle, by careful calculation; and drawing the problem out; it becomes apparent that Pi actually represents .785% of the area of any circle. Will this change the world as we know it? I hardly think so. But it is an example of the beauty and perfection of numbers. 

While I have rounded off the number to obtain this new factor, it should not pose any real problems for any calculations confined to construction, travel etc. Would I use it to build a spaceship and plan a trip to Mars? Hardly. But for the average needs of an estimator; or carpenter; this factor works out just fine.

I hope someone finds this useful and lets me know! Pi for now!

Note: Though I was able to find something about the factor .785 referenced on line; and one fellow even describes drawing a square with a circle inside the perimeters; I still find this explanation and diagram easier to follow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Father's Army Wallet

My father was a towering figure to me when I was a small fry. My perception of him changed over the years as I grew older; circumstances and reality ultimately prevailing. But when I was about 5 years old this pigskin wallet; which my father carried for 3 years while serving out his time at Fort Dix during the Korean War waiting for a Hardship Discharge; was to me the epitome of manhood. It was kept in his dresser drawer. As far as I was concerned, if only I could be a grown man and have a wallet like that I would never want for anything else in the way of self-esteem. The wallet was always promised to me. It was to be mine “when I grew up.”

So, when my father passed away in December of 2001 I came into possession of this treasured and revered shrine. I received it by mail from my father’s second wife; he remarried after my mother’s death in 1984. She was a loving companion to him for 16 years until he passed away, and I appreciated the gesture honoring this age old pact concerning the wallet.

Some things never live up to the memories attached thereof; but not so with this wallet. Rather, it contained all that I had remembered; plus some unexpected surprises, all of which left me even more confused than I already was about my relationship with my father; which, to say the least, was strained. In fact we had not spoken for almost a decade before he died. We never made that transition and put the past behind us. Neither one of us was capable of taking the first step towards reconciliation, I suppose, but that’s the truth. And that lack of a reconciliation made this wallet even more important. It serves as the only real "link" to my father.

Now, holding the wallet in my hand for the first time in over 40 years; since 1969 give or take; I opened the shrine and relived the excitement of being a child again, looking into my father’s world. The problem was, now I was older than he was when he had promised the wallet to me. Maybe this was going to be anti-climactic as the wallet had been in his dresser drawer for decades since I’d last seen it. So, I thought,what could be new?

Apparently; along with all of the things I remembered as having been in the wallet; my father had been adding stuff to it since I’d seen it last. I remember the Reserve ID card; I now even have one myself; and the crucifix and the penny were always like Sacred Relics to me. The crucifix comes from the Shrine of the Little Flower in Oak Park, Michigan. It was a gift to my father from his older brother Roy, who had served in the Navy during the Second World War. He used to go around the country while on leave, visiting all of the Catholic Shrines. The penny; dated 1950, the year in which my parents were wed; is the one my Mom carried in her shoe on their wedding day. I know this story to be true because I used to hold it in my hand and ask her about it. I never got tired of hearing that story.  

There are other things in the wallet which I remember well; the draft status cards, which run from 5-A to 3-R. The first indicates that he was eligible to be called for Korea, while the second one shows he is no longer available. There were also a few things which my Dad had added to the wallet; things which I found puzzling; given the nature of our non-relationship.

The first was an old Buffalo nickel with his birth year on it; 1931. I’d sent that to him in 1981 for his 50th birthday. At the time I was already out of the Navy and working for Military Sealift Command. We were so polarized that I never even stayed with my parents when in New York; about once or twice a year. Instead I stayed with my friends Mark and Lois in Belle Harbor. But yet I still sent the old man a birthday gift; one which he obviously treasured, though he never said a word to me about it. I had even wondered if he ever received it; but never asked. Finding that nickel was quite a surprise for me; did he keep it because I’d sent it? Or was it simply because it was a nickel? 

But the real showstopper was this letter; the contents of which were not extraordinary in any way; I had written many letters home which far outdid this one. It was one of the few not addressed to my Mom and maybe that’s why he kept it. I’ll never know. We hadn’t spoken to one another in a civil manner for years before we finally broke off contact altogether in the early 1990’s. The one exception was when he called to tell me that Nana; my grandmother; had passed away. He said he was calling out of obligation. I thanked him and we hung up. I never saw or spoke to him again after that.

Time is a funny thing. Sometimes we forgive; and maybe even forget. I don’t know whether or not I will ever reach that point in connection with my relationship to my father. It’s simply too complicated. Besides, he’s gone and the conversation would be kind of one sided. But I have to believe he must have liked something about me. Or else why would he have carried that letter?

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Accident (1993)

The following incident happened August 26th, 1993. It doesn’t seem so long ago; but it was. This was taken from a larger chapter about the time I spent in Maryland. Noticing the date I thought it was appropriate to post it; you might even find it interesting. I know I did…

One episode which sticks out from this period is my accident in the Cactoctin Mountains outside of Camp David, Maryland. This was in the summer of 1993. (The previous posting of this story had the date incorrectly listed as 1994.) The road there is one lane in either direction and I took a curve too wide; coming face to face with a fully loaded 20 ton dump truck. I remember thinking, “Oh, shit!” Then there was a shattering of glass and a twisting of metal. The sky was turning around and around as my truck, an S-10, reacted to the collision by doing several 360 degree spins. When everything stopped there was a deathly silence.

I was passing in and out of consciousness and at one point a sheet was placed over my face. I came to with my arms flailing and yelling, “I’m not dead- I’m not dead!” The sheet was lifted and a soothing voice informed me that the sheet was to protect my face while they removed the windshield. I was pinned by the steering wheel and my right leg was impaled by some sort of rod.

At one point when I was conscious I asked Trooper Updergraff to take charge of my pistol, which was under the front seat. I did not want it to fall into the wrong hands. It was registered in my name. I recall seeing the Firemen and Troopers playing with it before I passed out again.

Using the Jaws of Life and various saws it took an hour and a half to remove me from the wreck. The mountain was closed in both directions. Being outside of Camp David had its advantages. I had 3 helicopters trying to claim the jurisdiction to fly me to the hospital in Hagerstown. The Marines from Camp David claimed me; as did the National Guard; but in the end the Maryland State Troopers won.

Sue was summoned and raced the 60 miles to the hospital. She was pulled over for speeding on the way, but after explaining the situation the Trooper let her go.

When Sue got to the hospital I had already been scanned from head to toe. I had several broken ribs and a puncture wound to my right leg. They told me the puncture wound was not serious. I disagreed and after several hours I realized that staying there was going to be a problem. They refused to debride the puncture wound!

I told Sue to grab a wheelchair- we were going home. The doctors and nurses were furious and had lots of papers for me to sign about leaving against medical advice. I signed them all as Sue wheeled me out.

The next day I went to see Doctor Shaffer, my personal Physician. He agreed about the puncture wound and debrided it. You could hear my screams way out in the waiting area.

On Sunday I woke up and the wound was bad- it was going toward gangrene. I called Dr. Shaffer and he came to the house after church. He arrived without his bag and had to debride the wound again using a knife from my kitchen, which we sterilized with boiling water and alcohol. All in all I was lucky to be alive and was back on my feet in a week or so.

Now, back to the gun; it was approaching 16 weeks after the accident, which happened in August, when I began to try and retrieve my pistol. This was not easy. Apparently my weapon had disappeared. In addition there was no record of it having been turned over to Trooper Updergraff or its' being received at the Property Clerks Office. This was going to be tricky.

On the one hand I did not want the weapon floating around and turning up after use in a crime. On the other hand I did not want to engage in a battle of wits with the State Police. But my real fear was that the pistol was going to be used as a “drop” gun by a police officer. A “drop” gun is a stolen or unregistered weapon that is “dropped” at the scene by an officer after a shooting. This gives the officer a cover story if the shooting was not “clean.” I could also picture myself being charged at some later date with a homicide if the weapon had been sold and was on the street. In short, if I could not recover the weapon I wanted a receipt.

I was informed by the State Prosecutors Office that receipts were not issued for lost property. I reiterated my position to no avail. I called Trooper Updergraff and explained my concerns. He threatened me with arrest and incarceration pending trial. This is when I started thinking... and so, accordingly, I went to the library.

Looking up the State Statutes on Weapons Charges I found one that I could live with and which would also serve as a receipt for the pistol. I called Trooper Updergraff and had him meet me in the woods behind Rick Stine's. I demanded to be cited for “carrying a handgun in a vehicle against the Peace and Dignity of the State.” It was like a traffic ticket and though it carried a penalty of 1 year and a $1,000 fine it was never enforced. Trooper Upergraff was not pleased and so he gave me a ticket for crossing the centerline as well as the weapons citation. Court was scheduled for January.

I arrived at Court early and, as usual, without counsel. The Prosecutor and Trooper Updergraff were waiting for me and we arrived at an agreement. I would plead guilty, pay a small fine and serve no time. I would also formally forfeit the weapon to the State, but this was not to infringe upon my right to Possess Arms in the future. It was a misdemeanor. I would also agree to not ask the State to produce the physical evidence. With supreme confidence we entered the Courtroom.

The Judge was in a foul mood and gave me 30 days! This was after he bullied me about not having a lawyer. We were clearly not getting along! Trooper Updergraff and the Prosecutor both approached the Judge and then summoned me to join them. It was agreed by all that the 30 days would be suspended and I would pay a $300 fine. I would also do 18 months Unsupervised Probation. I also agreed to a forfeiture of the weapon without future infringements upon my rights to purchase firearms.

This was acceptable to all parties and the case was closed. I now had my de facto receipt. This deal would never have been accomplished had I used Counsel. The next 18 months passed uneventfully, during which time I even bought a new pistol to replace the one which had been stolen.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thanksgiving Day Reflection

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! This is a photo I took when I was 12 years old at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1966. The balloon is Bullwinkle the Moose of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" fame.

I went to meet my Uncle Irving that day and watch the parade. It was the first time that I went to see it. I remember the joy on his face when the balloons went by,how he lit up as the marching bands passed. And when Santa came by at the end of the Parade, my Uncle glowed! This was always amazing to me because he was Jewish to the core.

Thanksgiving was always a time when he would come over and have dinner with us. He lived alone in Manhattan and really had nowhere to go. He was always at our house anyway. He was my refuge and I loved him for it, but on holidays we were his refuge.

Here he is, in white shirt and tie,(he even went to the beach like that. We would get lockers at Curley's on the boardwalk at Rockaway so he could change clothes and shower.) My Mom is standing and ready to serve dinner. I am in the foreground and my brother Mark is to the left of me. The turkey is ready and my Dad took the picture. My Dad always did the turkey and the stuffing, which he loaded with pepper. Then he would do the carving and we would eat.

The years have passed quickly and sometimes all that remains are the photos and memories. So as I give Thanks today I will be remembering the words of Paul Simon in "Old Friends/Bookends."

"Time it was, and what a time it was, it was a time.
A time of innocence, a time of confidence.
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you."

And it's true, life passes quickly, we wind up looking at old photographs even as new ones are being taken. And someday someone will look back at us and remember. And that's a good reason to give Thanks.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Heart and Mind- Partners or Necessary Advesaries?




The statement was made on the radio recently that if the heart and mind are not in lockstep then you cannot accomplish anything due to internal conflict. I disagree and have examined my reasoning and have stated my reasoning below. I appreciate any feedback on this- ie: flaws in my logic etc. I will print the responses if you allow me.

Postulate: That the Heart and the Mind need be connected and in lockstep in feeling and thought in order to achieve coherent or productive thoughts and actions. (ie: results)

Theorem: That a disconnect of heart and mind leads to inaction and internal conflict resulting in non productivity or worse, a wrong course of action, or, even inaction.

Proof: (actually- a disproof of the Postulate and Theorem)

The heart and mind are separated for a reason. One keeps the other in check and allows us to explore the Theorem in an objective manner.

Each acts as a conscience to the other in order to "check" bad behavior or reckless actions based on wrong thinking.

For example: Raising kids- you just know that you want to kill that kid- in your heart you know it is the right thing to do- but your mind tells you no- it is wrong and keeps your heart in check.

Conversely: You love the child and know, in your mind, the child needs to be disciplined. Your heart breaks as you do what is necessary to rear your child properly, though your intellect tells you that you are acting in a responsible fashion.

If your mind and heart were ever in lockstep there would be no checks or balances on your own behavior or actions. Everything you say and do would be deemed, in your heart and mind to be permissible- indeed, necessary.

History is full of instances of this sort- and all were basically intolerant at best , and horrific in their worst incarnations.

Conclusion: The Theorem is wrong. Mind and heart together would preclude any real self examination since the conclusion would already be drawn that your actions are correct. You cannot lose an argument with yourself when your heart and mind are joined.

I suppose that if your heart and mind were united on a good thing- that would be an exception- but who can say that they can be trusted to label something good without any internal self examination of the motives and principles involved in making a decision when it affects others? And isn't self examination, by necessity, a division of heart and mind?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Uncle "I" and the Tree.

I have always had a Christmas tree. My parents were a "mixed" marraige- my Dad was Irish Catholic and my Mom was Russian Jewish. I was raised in a home that had both a Christmas tree and Chanukah candles. Each year we would light the candles and place our spare change in a dish before it. On the eighth day we would count it up and write a check to the WOR Childrens Christmas Fund. This didn't seem strange to us- money from a Jewish hoilday going to the Christmas Fund. Actually it made a lot of sense. It exemplified what the season is all about.

We also exchanged gifts on Christmas Day. And in our house there was no bigger fan of Christmas than my Uncle Irving.

Each year he took my brother and I to Radio City Music Hall to see the Christmmas Show. If you have never seen it you have been cheated. It is completely religous in it's scope with the Three Wise Men crossing the stage following a star to Bethlehem, including real Camels and Donkeys on the stage! And the Manger- bathed in blue light-was always sure to make my Uncle cry. It was that beautiful. But it wasn't always like that with him.

My parents were married in 1950. They lived with my Grandma Marcus and her brother Irving, my Uncle I, in an apartment on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn until 1952. That’s when they got their first apartment together. It was in the same building on the 4th floor.

My Dad had always had a Christmas tree except for the last 2 years while living with my Mom and Grandma. This was going to be my Mom's first Christmas tree. Naturally, she was very excited and went downstairs to Apartment 3-B to invite Grandma, Uncle Irving and their maid, Mary, up to apartment 4-A to see it.

Irving wouldn’t go. Wouldn’t budge. One flight up was one too many for him to stand before that “symbol of goyim idolatry.”

The following year saw the birth of my brother Mark. This was going to be his first Christmas and the excitement my parents felt was enormous. And contagious.

As Christmas Eve approached Uncle Irving had still not come up to see the tree. That night Grandma and Mary went up to my parents to exchange gifts. Uncle Irving went reluctantly and at the insistence of my Grandmother.

The door opened and there stood the tree. There it was- the “goyim symbol” in all of its splendor. With big outdoor lights and a star at the top, dripping with tinsel and beckoning with its beauty, it mesmerized him. He drew near and felt the warmth and love of my parents coming from that tree. He saw the joy on my brother’s infant face. He turned away and walked out!

An hour or so later he came back, arms laden with toys for my brother and gifts for everyone. After that year- and for every year after until the end of his life- he was the first to ask, “When are we putting up the tree?”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

World War One - My Grandfather's Story

Today marks the day in 1914 when Archduke Ferdinand, of Austria, and his wife Sophia, were assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian Nationalist, triggering the outbreak of the First World War. Coincidentally, it is also the anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles which formally ended the war five years later. The Armistice had been signed in November of 1918 but it took until June 28th, 1919 to iron out all the details.

Like millions of others all over the world, the assassination of the Archduke would have a lasting impact on the Williams family. Growing up in the 1950's and 1960's, my family never talked much about my Grandfather's experience in the War. As a matter of fact, I never even met the man. He passed away about 8 years before I made my entrance into the world. So, naturally, I have been fascinated by him my entire life.

Recently I began looking into his wartime service to see where he went when he joined the Army and the 27th Division in the spring of 1917. The story is still missing several pieces but this is a brief account of what I have discovered so far by using photos provided to me by my favorite Aunt Gloria.

He was in the 27th Division of the NY 107th US Infantry, under the command of Major General John F. O'Ryan. This was their insignia, composed of the letters NY in an arched fashion to closely resemble the constellation Orion, a play on the majors last name. It is also the brightest constellation and contains the brightest star in the sky, Orion. They became known as the "Orion Division."

The 27th trained at Camp Wadsworth in South Carolina through the winter of 1917-18. While there they published a weekly paper called "The Gas Attack" and later this name was changed to "The Gas Attack of the NY Division". The first issue was published in November of 1917 and the last was on May 4th, 1918 as they were about to transfer to Norfolk. Another issue was put out in France at Christmastime 1918, after the war was over. Another was issued right before the Division came home to a huge parade in NY in March 1919.

In Spartanburg there were two colleges and the one most favored for dances etc was the Converse College for Girls. There are quite a few photos on line of soldiers on leave in Spartanburg during that time. I keep looking for my Grandfather.

This is a photo of Major General John F. O'Ryan. He is shown standing on a snow bank at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg. My Grandfather must have recognized him and took the photo. They were at Spartanburg from Nov 1917 through May 4th 1918 when they shifted to Norfolk for deployment to England.

Interesting side note; Spartanburg was the only place in South Carolina that did not welcome the Northern Divisions. (See the NY Times Article dated August 31st, 1917.) It concerns the Mayor of Spartanburg and his venomous attack upon the presence of "Yankee" troops. Apparently, there was also an African-American Division there at the same time. Captain N.B. Marshall, an African American of the NY Bar Association was called a "dirty nigger" and thrown from a street car in one instance. When Frank De Broit, an African-American private, attempted to buy a newspaper in a hotel lobby, with the permission of his Lt., a man named Europe, he was knocked to the ground by the hotel clerk. About fifty members of the NY 27th Division jumped in, hell bent on murdering the hotel clerk when they heard the command, ""Attention!" called out by Lt. Europe, who then ordered the men to cease their action and file out peacefully two by two.(He was, apparently, an early version of Martin Luther King.)

Major O'Ryan wrote a book about the whole experience, from Spartanburg to France and then coming home again in 1919. It's called "The Story of the 27th Division" and can be found online and read for free. You can even download it as a PDF file. http://www.archive.org/details/storyof27thdivis02oryauoft

Once in England they trained jointly with the British troops and appear to have crossed the Channel at Dover to France and marched down South towards Paris. On the way he would have taken the photo of the "Ponts de la Soissons" which is the Bridge at Soissons. From there they would likely have gone on South to Paris to group up before starting the final offensive of the war, referred to as the Muese-Argonne campaign and included the Second Battle of Verdun. Verdun is on the west bank of the Muese River. This is where he allegedly stole the keys to the city and a mandolin, which my step-mother, Alice, still has in her kitchen. The campaign lasted from September 1, 1918 through November 11th when the Armistice was called.

On Sept 29, 1918 the 27th Division, under command of Maj. General O'Ryan, along with the 30th Division, and the British units (under command of General Haig) jointly "cracked" the St. Quentin Tunnel Complex which ran parallel to the Hindenburg Line for a distance of about 4 miles North to South, and was used for resupply of the German forces there.

Forming a "pincher" and advancing eastward, the combined forces broke through the Hindenburg Line, which the combined French and British forces had been unable to do for 3 years. The 27th crossed through Guillemont and Quennemont Farms just West of the line. There were 227 officers and men of the 27th killed that day and another 688 wounded.

This means that they likely did not go to Paris upon arrival "in country", but rather, that after they cross trained with the British they headed to St. Quentin, which is North of both Paris and Verdun.

After the action at St. Quentin they continued on with the British 4th Army under the command of Major Rawlinson through most of October on their way to the Selle River south of the fighting at LeCateau.From there they would have moved on to the Second Battle of Verdun. He was wounded by artillery sometime during all of this, as a result of which he had a metal plate in his head for the rest of his life. He was also gassed. I am still, at this writing, trying to find out where and when he was wounded. It would appear, by the mere existence of the photograhs, that he was wounded late in the war, most likely right before the Armistice in November. After Verdun the 27th "hunkered down" through March of 1919 when they were sent home.

This is a photo of the entire 27th Division taken in March of 1919, composed of all 10,000 officers and enlisted men just prior to leaving France. My Grandfather is most likely in this photo, but it's kind of like "Where's Waldo." And war is like that, millions of men, whose names often go unrecorded in the greater annals of history, do the the heavy fighting, and pay the heavy price, while the select few garner the recognition of their sacrifices.

When he returned from the "Great War", as it was referred to at the time, he went on to become a Police Officer in New York City. When he died, at the all too young age of 43 years old, leaving a wife and 5 children behind, he became a belated casualty of that war.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Happy Veteran's Day - My Family Gallery

This is my paternal grandfather William Shone Williams, Private US Army in World War One. He arrived here in the US from Wales in 1906 when he was about 3 years old. Here he is during basic training at Spartanburg in 1918. He was just in time for the last push and was wounded sometime after the action  at the tunnels of St. Quentin just parallel to the Hindenburg Line. He was a "stringer" which is the guy who runs the lines fro the communications they were using back then. He was wounded shortly after that, suffering a head wound requiring a metal plate which plagued him until his premature death at age 43. He was a New York City Police Officer at the time of his passing.

This is my maternal grandfather Pincus Max Marcus who arrived in America in 1911 and left to fight in the Allenby Brigade in Palestine on the Ottoman front in 1916, even before the Americans  officially joined the war in 1917. He served with Distinction in the Kings Fusiliers, 38th through 42nd Regiments and, along with his brother Jack, was awarded the French Medal of Legion with Palms. When the war was over he had to re-enter the United States through Canada via Scotland. He went on to make and lose several fortunes before his death in the 1970's. 

World War Two came and my father's brother,Uncle Roy, served in the Navy as a Machinist Mate. He was awarded a Navy Cross for action in the  North Atlantic. After the war he went on to become a Captain and commanded his own ship.

On my mother's side her brother Walter Marcus was training for the infantry in Alabama when the war came to an end. He was always very candid about being glad he didn't have to go. But he was ready. He went on to a career as a professional gambler and lived in Las Vegas, Nevada. 


Here's my Dad who had already done time in the Naval Reserve, diving on the submarine USS Torsk out of Connecticut in the late 1940's. He felt very put upon when the Korean War broke out and he was called back up for active service in the Army! This explains the unhappy expression he wears in the photograph.

And here I am in the late 1970's, doing my bit taking bearings on the USS Milwaukee in Panama. You can tell that I was facing danger at every turn just by the expression on my face. 

The point is that, in war or peace, the veteran has always been there. Even when they may not have agreed with the policies with which they were tasked; they were there. And that willingness to serve, in itself, is a testament to our system.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Great Blackout-1965

I was 11 years old and my Mom was getting dinner ready at about 5:25 when the radio station (WABC- 770 AM) went dead for a minute and then came back on. There was a "blackout" of all electrical power on the entire Eastern Seaboard!

Coming only 2 years after JFK's assassination and amid the height of the Cold War no one knew what was really happening. The trains stopped running, traffic signals ceased and traffic became one big gridlock.

We waited and waited for our lights to go out too, but nothing happened! There was an underground transformer beneath Avenue R between East 13th and 14th Streets. This was what kept us in lights. I don't really understand how it worked but it did.

My Dad got home about 7:30 or 8 PM. I'm not sure if he drove or walked. But after he had eaten we took a stroll through the neighborhood. There were policeman directing traffic with flashlights and Auxilary Policeman assisiting where needed. There was no crime, no looting, no panic.

It was the first time I had ever seen the surrounding neighborhood plunged into darkness and it reminded me of all the stories my Mom told about the Blackouts and Air Raid Drills during World War Two.

The neighbors in our apartment building had their doors all opened to the hallway and everyone was wandering from apartment to apartment. There was concern, but no fear. Mr. and Mrs. Gold, who had fled Nazi Germany, went around the building with John, the German Superintendant and his wife Katie, seeing to it that all the elderly were okay. This was a beautiful thing as John had been a German soldier during the war. And now he and his wife were looking after a building full of Jews.

The whole event was indicative of the times. We had not yet been split asunder by the events of Vietnam, which had just started heating up with the draft. We were a couple of years away from the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Civility still reigned to some extent.

I often look back to that night. The fear, the suspicions, the uncertainty never hit me. I was safe with my family and my stomach was full. Hell, we even had lights!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Four Fathers - A Rogues Gallery

This is me, Robert S. Williams in 1987 when I was a new father.


This is my Dad, William L. Williams, when he was 17 years old.


This is my Grandfather, William Shone Williams in 1921. He had 6 kids!


And this is my Great Grandfather, Isaac Williams in the mid 1880's in Wales.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"The Lonely Sea" by Alistair MacLean


"The Lonely Sea" is a collection of stories by Alistair MacLean. In this collection of stories you will find all his usual charm and sometimes even tension, as he spins yarn after yarn. For a lover of the sea like myself this book is a gift. For lovers of the English languauge it is a rare treat. His inimitable style is in rare form here- these are the sentences your English teacher told you were so wrong, but when reading them you can see that they are perfect. It's all in his punctuation.

Mr.MacLean saw heavy action in the Second World War, serving in the Royal Navy in both the European and Pacific theaters of action. This experience undoubtedly is what lends reality to his ability to chronicle life at sea.

Several of his novels were made into sucessful movies during the 1960's and his books have been read by millions worldwide. But I have always loved his short stories best.

Printing this following story, "The Gold Watch" is the only adequate way for me to even attempt a review of this book. Long one of my favorite authors, Mr. MacLean outdoes even himself here. It would be impossible for anyone but Mr. MacLean to have written it.

So here it is - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

"The Gold Watch" by Alistair MacLean

His watch was the pride of our captain’s life. It was of massive construction, being no less than 3 inches in diameter; it was made of solid gold; it was beautifully engraved with cabalistic designs of extraordinary intricacy; and finally, it was attached to a chain, whose dimensions, with regard to both length and circumference, had to be seen to be believed. The chain also, needless to say, was made of gold. Anyone who had the temerity to doubt this last fact, was handed the chain and coldly asked to observe for himself that it was stamped on every link.

In addition to the aforementioned merits, the watch, our captain claimed, was completely moisture proof. We had, on several occasions, urged him to prove his words by submerging the subject of discussion in a basin of water, but on each occasion, the captain’s reply, uttered in a very injured tone, was to the same effect, namely, that if we did not believe his statement, he was not going to stoop to demonstrate it’s truth to us. From this, we could only conclude that the captain, like ourselves, had his doubts as to his watch’s ability to defy the ravages of water. It was indeed, we knew, a very, very sore point with our captain, one which he longed, with all his heart and soul, to prove, but lacked the courage to put it to the final test.

Usually, this watch was hidden from the plebian gaze- and fingers- in a locked case, which in its turn, lay in a locked drawer in the captain’s cabin. But today, it reposed in the captain’s waistcoat pocket, while the chain, such was its length, seemed almost to girdle the area of the captain’s maximum circumference. Waistcoats are very uncommon with “whites”, and it was maliciously rumored that the captain had had his specially made for the purpose of accommodating and displaying the watch and its accessories. Be that as it may, here was our captain, this blistering June afternoon, going ashore for his last interview with his Basrah agents, wearing a genial smile on his face, and, about two feet further south, his beloved time keeper.

When he came back a bare two hours later, his launch nosing its way through the date laden lighters surrounding our vessel which was anchored in mid-river, his genial expression was no longer there. Neither was his watch, and our deduction, that the latter accounted for the former, proved to be correct. Having solicitously helped the red faced, perspiring captain on board, we waited patiently.

He was, at first, incoherent with rage, with his clearly visible, ever mounting blood pressure, we feared an apoplectic stroke. Fortunately for him, he at last recovered the power of speech, and this undoubtedly relieved, to a great extent, his almost over powering feelings. He was very bitter. His language, in addition, was shocking, but we had to admit that he had full justification for it.

He had, apparently, been walking peacefully back to the ship from his agents, with malice in his heart towards none, but nevertheless, taking due and proper precautions for the safe guarding of wallet and watch, when among the riff raff of the street bazaars. Once clear of them, he had dropped these precautions, deeming them needless, and, at the entrance to the docks, he had had to push his way through a group of Arab sailors, whom he, in his great and regrettable ignorance, had thought to be as honest as himself. (His bitterness, at this juncture, was truly remarkable) Suddenly, he had been jostled in the rear with great violence, and on turning to remonstrate with the discourteous one, had not felt his watch and chain being slipped from their moorings, with that dexterity and efficiency which bespoke of long and arduous practice, so that, when about to resume his journey, he found his watch no longer there.

At this point he again lost the power of speech, and to our fearful and dreading eyes, his entire disintegration appeared not only probable, but imminent. Recovering himself with a masterly effort, however, he resumed his narrative. Although unable to espy the actual perpetrator of the theft, who had, with commendable discretion and alacrity, completely vanished, he had realized that the jostler must have been his confederate, and had pursued the said confederate for over half a mile, before being eluded by the Arab in a crowded thoroughfare. This, we realized, accounted for our captain’s complexion and superabundance of perspiration.

Here again, having once more relapsed into incoherency, he was left to his vengeful meditations, alternately muttering “My watch” and “the villain”, the former with a touching pathos, and the latter, preceded by some highly descriptive adjectives, with an extraordinary depth of feeling.

Thirty hours later found no appreciable dimunition in our captain’s just and righteous anger, although he could now speak like a rational being, albeit forcefully, concerning his grievous misfortunes of the previous afternoon. We had loaded our last case of dates just on sunset, and, early that morning, even as the first faint streak of grey in the eastern sky heralded the burning day, had gratefully cleared the malodorous port of Basrah. We were, by this time, fairly into the Gulf and proceeding serenely on our way, South by East, through the stifling tropical night, the darkness of which was but infinitesimally relived by the cold, unthinkably distant pinpoints of stars in the moonless night sky.
Our captain, whose outraged feelings evidently refused him the blessed solace of slumber, had recently come up to the bridge, which he was now ceaselessly pacing, very much after the manner of a caged leopard, all the time informing us as to the dire retribution which he intended meting out to the present illegal possessor of his watch, should he ever be fortunate enough to lay hands on him. The lascar Quartermaster, very zealous in our captain’s presence, was poring over the compass box, while in the bows, the lookout man was either thinking of his native village in far off Bombay, or had found sleep vastly easier to come by than our captain.

This last, was of course, pure conjecture, but it must have approximated very closely to the truth, for the first the lookout knew of the dhow lying dead in our path, was when a loud splintering crash, accompanied by even louder frenzied yells, informed him that our steel bows had smashed the unfortunate dhow to matchwood.

“Don’t say we’ve run down another of these bloody dhows,” groaned our captain wearily (it is a surprisingly common occurrence), ringing the engines down to Stop, and bellowing for a boat to be lowered with the utmost expedition. This was done, and then minutes later the lifeboat returned with the shivering, brine soaked crew of the erstwhile dhow; the captain, duty bound, went down on deck to inspect them, as they came on board.

The rope ladder twitched, and as the first luckless victim- how luckless, he did not then completely realize- appeared over the side, the captain’s jaw dropped fully two inches, and he stood as if transfixed.

“That’s the gentleman I chased yesterday,” he ejaculated joyfully (“gentleman”, as will be readily understood, is employed euphemistically) then stopped, staring, with rapidly glazing eyes, at the second apparition, who had just then topped the railing. Dependent from this, the second, “gentleman’s” undeniably filthy neck, and reaching to his waist, was a most unusual ornament for an impoverished Arab- no less an object than our captain’s purloined watch and chain, thus miraculously restored to him, by the joyful caprices of Fortune.

With drawn breath, and with sincere pity in our hearts, we waited for the heavens to fall, for the captain to execute the oft repeated, blood thirsty promises, for, in short, the instant and complete annihilation of the Arabs (four in all) who were regarding the captain with the utmost trepidation, which they were at no pains to conceal.

To our small astonishment- and it may be added, relief- the expected Arab massacre failed to materialize. Instead, stepping quietly forward and lovingly removing his watch and chain from the neck of the cringing, violently shivering Arab, the captain, in a strangely gentle tone, in which there seemed, to us, to be a barely repressed inflection of triumph, merely said, “Take these men below and give them something warm to eat; we’ll hand them over to the Bahrain police, in the morning.”

We were astounded. We were amazed. We were utterly and completely dumbfounded.
Our modest comprehension could not grasp it. What, we asked ourselves, wonderingly, was the reason for this incredible change of front? We were not left long in ignorance.

Swinging round on us, and brandishing his watch on high, the captain shouted: “See!- er, I mean, hear!” We heard. The clamorous tick tock, tick tock of his watch would have put any self respecting alarm clock to shame.

“Waterproof!” he cried exultingly. “Waterproof, you blasted unbelievers! Waterproof!”

It was, I believe, the supreme moment of our captain’s life.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"Humans of New York - Stories" by Brandon Stanton (2015)

Here’s a book about New Yorkers told through photographs. Each photo is accompanied by a story about the subject. These snapshots of life go beyond the visual. Beyond every picture telling a story; or even that each photo is worth a thousand words; there is a truth which only words can communicate.

Sometimes the words serve to bolster the story; but at other times they are seemingly at odds with what you see. That’s what makes this book so compelling; each page is a new adventure into the life of someone.

Look around you on the subway; we know these people. Actually, we are these people.