Between you and me

If a man and a woman are seen together having lunch, the inevitable gossip ensues. The two of them may be colleagues or they may simply be friends. But rumors start. Does this always happen? Not always, of course, but often enough to discourage pairing off for an exchange of ideas or career advice perhaps in business. Now, with sexual harassment in the news, there is added pressure for the sexes to go their separate ways lest any movement or words be misunderstood between them. What nonsense.

Please be assured that I am as passionately against sexual harassment as anyone on the planet. Wherever it may be found, it should be exposed and halted. But the pendulum, I believe, may be swinging too far in the other direction. Recently Vice President Mike Pence mentioned that he doesn’t eat alone with a woman who is not his wife. Recent polls indicate that a majority of employees of both sexes feel it is inappropriate to have a drink or dinner together and, although less so, it may also be inappropriate for lunch. Even driving together in a car can be looked at askance.

This wariness, although perhaps helpful in avoiding situations of sexual harassment, is a loser for both sexes, especially in the workplace. For men, who are apparently unsure where the boundaries are for a touch on the arm or an innocent compliment on a colleague’s dress, there is the loss of diversity. Women can have different sensibilities and can offer different perspectives than men, to the benefit of both. A recent advertisement featuring a woman has just been yanked by a major company because it may be misinterpreted as racist. My guess is that no woman executive of that company saw the ad before it went public.

For women, the loss is perhaps greater. Since most of the leadership of companies and institutions is still made up of men, the mentorship and sponsorship of female employees is at least as vital, or even more so, than for male junior-level employees. But if a woman cannot enjoy a close professional working relationship with such a sponsor, she is often blocked from moving up in the ranks.

I am reminded of my own business life and the people who helped me advance. Yes, there were a couple of women mentors who were willing to share their skills with me and promote my status, but there were more men along the way who selected me for advancement. One local businessman volunteered important advice to me at a critical time in the early years of the newspaper. Another energetically proposed me as a candidate for president of the New York Press Association, a position for which I will always be grateful. Another supported my intuition at a decisive juncture, I’m sure I don’t know why, but it worked out well. Several others helped me with various financial matters.

Did I meet with them alone for lunch or dinner or, heavens, for a drink? You bet I did. How else to get private time for critical conversation? Meetings in the office are routinely interrupted or overheard. Did I ever meet alone with anyone of the opposite sex in his bedroom? You can put money on the answer being “no”! There are lines one doesn’t cross, no matter what generation one belongs to, and they really are not so difficult to decipher.

Are work colleagues ever sexually attracted to each other? As long as there are men and women, there can be attraction between them. But so what? That’s the way the two sexes were put forth. Presumably we adults know all about that and can conduct ourselves accordingly. Or, to return to square one, we can avoid each other completely.

We women have a great deal we can offer men and vice versa. It would be so foolish to limit our contacts to only half the population. And besides, it wouldn’t nearly be as much fun.

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In the last few weeks we have been subjected to a constant bombardment of tragic news. The horrific mass killings in Las Vegas is just the latest. We have lived through reports of the sequential hurricanes that have killed, maimed and destroyed lives and property in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. We have agonized for the men, women and children caught in the Mexican earthquakes. And this latest horror of crowd homicide is the worst because it is not a paroxysm of the natural world, something we have to accept, but the act of a crazed human against hundreds of other innocent humans. Imagine the concertgoers’ happy anticipation for an evening of music under the stars with lovers or family only to be killed by a sniper’s bullets. And why?

We ran away from news of the carnage the other night and took refuge in art. The glorious embrace of Giacomo Puccini and his soaring arias of “La Bohème,” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, welcomed us.

Puccini, you may well know, is considered one of the two most famous Italian opera composers of the 19th century, the other being Giuseppe Verdi. What I didn’t know is that he was the offspring of a musical dynasty in Lucca that included his father and the fathers preceding them as far back as his great-great-grandfather. All of these ancestors studied music at Bologna, wrote music for the church and, aided by their genes and family connections, were distinguished in their time.

Puccini’s first opera, “Le Villi,” premiering in 1884, when he was 26, was well enough received, and his subsequent “Manon Lescaut” was a triumph. His personal life, however, was as riveting as his librettos. He eloped with his married, former piano student at the risk of being shunned. They did eventually marry, after another husband killed her womanizing husband. By coincidence, Puccini’s opera premiered the same week as Verdi’s last opera, “Falstaff,” and talk began of Puccini being the natural heir to Verdi. At least that was what George Bernard Shaw is reported to have said.

Puccini’s next three operas are among the most popular and most often produced: “La Bohème,” “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly.”

When “La Bohème” premiered in Turin in 1896, Arturo Toscanini conducted it, and it was immediately popular. The story is of four young artists, all starving and freezing as they work in a garret in Paris and experience the pleasures and pains of young love. The opera is at turns joyful with the energy of youth and tragic with the premature death from tuberculosis of Mimi, the seamstress, and Rodolfo’s love. As a young man in Milan, Puccini lived the life he wrote about, once sharing a single herring with three others, as portrayed in the opera.

Puccini almost died in a car accident before finishing “Madama Butterfly” but then went on to complete what is now one of the most loved operas in the world. “Tosca” followed; then “La Fanciulla del West,” a plot set in America; “La Rondine;” and a three-act opera, including “Gianni Schicchi,” which contains my favorite aria, “O mio babbino caro.” “Turandot” was his final opera, finished after his death by his associates from his sketches, and offering the memorable, “Nessun dorma.”

Publicity about his personal life continued when his wife accused their maid of having an affair with Puccini, who was known to wander off the reservation. The maid then committed suicide, and an autopsy revealed that she had died a virgin. Puccini’s wife was accused of slander, found guilty and sentenced to five months in jail; but a payment by Puccini spared her that experience.

Ultimately 11 of Puccini’s operas are among the 200 most performed operas in the world, and the abovementioned three are in the top 10. Only Verdi and Mozart have had more operas performed. By his death in 1924, Puccini had earned $4 million from his works.

I hope this excursion in art has helped you, as it did me, to escape at least briefly from the omnipresent bad news.

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Watching the 10-part Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS TV series, “The Vietnam War,” brought us back to the terrible ’60s. That decade began calmly enough; my husband had volunteered to be a physician in the service in 1963, through a little known program called the Berry Plan. I was thrilled at the prospect that we would get to travel.

Four years later, the United States was immersed in a brutal war in a place called Vietnam, on the other side of the world.

We were sent to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, where my husband became the chief of ophthalmology. Those injured, especially pilots, were flown in from ’Nam, refueling in the Philippines, and were in the operating room within the day. My husband would put their faces back together and try to save their eyes. The war was only 24 hours away from us, and we lived always on edge. We were further aware of the dangers and horror of the war the pilots in particular faced, because we were housed in the middle of their section on the base. Some served two and three tours, leaving their wives and children behind frantic with worry.

We returned home to New York City for a visit and were puzzled by the disconnect between the military and civilians. What was a desperate existence on the one hand was a seemingly unaffected population on the other. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson had promised the nation a life with guns and butter, and indeed that was what we saw. When we tried to tell friends what was going on, they seemed surprised, even annoyed by the fuss we were making. Stunned, we returned to base.

Which was the real world?

Then the domino effect theory, should Vietnam fall, began to be questioned. The gap between words and actions of government officials started to emerge. We were the innocents, believing that our president would never lie to us. We became, thanks to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, caught up in a quantified body count to measure our successes. We wondered why it mattered how many of the enemy was killed if even one American died. Why were we there? The anti-war movement took hold, led by college students across America, labeled as communist-inspired and fiercely resisted by the Johnson administration. Mourning and anti-war protests were tearing the country apart.

My husband and I left the military in 1969, years sooner than the fighting men left Vietnam.

And some five years ago, I returned to Vietnam on a tour to see the country and try to make sense of what had happened there. I was overwhelmed. The weather was insufferably humid and hot, and I thought of the heavy backpacks the fighters had to carry as they moved through the jungle. The Vietnamese in the south, where our tour started, refer to the war as the American War in their museums and in conversation. Of course they do, I realized. They were unfailingly kind to us, welcoming us and, I suppose, our hard currency. In the north, near Hanoi, the older citizens were coldly polite. Most of the population was born after the war but, for the most part, those young people never knew their fathers. They were killed. And the country? The country was beautiful, with its mountains, rice paddies and deltas, scenic and peaceful.

We had known nothing of the history of Vietnam before the nation entered the war. The Vietnamese people had struggled against Chinese occupation for more than 1,000 years, followed by the French. The Vietnamese weren’t ideological communists; they just wanted their homeland to be free. And the Chinese entered the war not to spread communism but to keep us from their borders.

We learned finally but it cost us more than 58,000 American lives, untold wounded and an unimaginable amount of money. Have we learned enough to apply the lessons to Afghanistan and Iraq and to North Korea? We have learned never again to regard our leaders with trust.

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This past week, we went “shufflin’ off to Buffalo.” Bet you don’t know where that expression came from. I certainly didn’t know that “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” is a song from Act II of the 1933 movie, “42nd Street,” and that it was a railroad saying even earlier. All I had to say was that I was going to Buffalo, and the response was immediate: “Shufflin’ off?” I was asked.

The second reaction was also the same. “Better bring your long underwear,” I was urged. “And a shovel. Is it snowing there yet?” Well, I’m going to tell you that Buffalo gets a bum rap. First of all, it was 82 degrees in the afternoon when it was only 80 degrees on Long Island. Fortunately I had passed on the suggested long underwear. I did bring a pair of shorts, but I did not wear them because I didn’t see anyone wearing shorts in the city. When I am traveling, I’m a big believer in the “When in Rome” adage.

Actually the city looked quite pleasant to me, larger than I had imagined, clean and with a fair share of tall buildings. The population of more than 250,000 residents makes it the second largest city in the state. I understand that Buffalo, like a number of rust-belt cities, has undergone quite a face-lift.

Admittedly I did not see much of it since I was there for the fall meeting of the New York Press Association, and that meant I was locked into the hotel site where the workshops were held. But we did have a chance to look around a bit when we went out to the Anchor Bar, where Buffalo chicken wings were allegedly invented. It’s a pleasant and good-sized sports bar, and most people at the tables were, sure enough, having chicken wings with blue-cheese dip and cut-up celery sticks on the side, although one lady was eating a good-looking dish of shrimp scampi. She must have been a native.

In the way of cultural attractions, the city has an art museum, a science museum, a theater district, multiple art galleries, and the historic Martin House that was recommended for viewing. Buffalo was once the scene of considerable wealth from the auto industry, where Pierce-Arrow automobiles were manufactured, also the railroads and the Erie Canal. As a result there are a number of urban mansions. It also has a river walk on Lake Erie that houses several eateries. Food, in fact, is big. And people we met, in restaurants, the hotel and on the streets were friendly and unhurried — such a change of pace for a native New Yorker like me or even someone born and bred on Long Island. It always helps when the weather is beautiful, which it was for our entire stay.

The Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum was enough to make lovers of antique automobiles cry for joy. The museum, which is large and planning to get larger, also has antique bikes and motorcycles, all in seemingly shiny new condition. And it even houses a filling station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a remarkable piece of architecture.

It was an eight-hour drive from Bridgeport, where the ferry docked, to Buffalo, and that does not count the stops. The roads are excellent, the roadside trees just beginning to suggest autumnal colors, and we spent one night on the way up in Canandaigua, about an hour and a half from Buffalo.

In the heart of the beautiful Finger Lakes region, the area is deservedly famous for its Riesling wines, which I confess to having tasted. The village, its name derived from the Seneca tribe, was the scene of the Susan B. Anthony trial in which she was accused of voting illegally in 1873, since women were not then allowed to vote. She was found guilty and fined $100 with costs, which she did not pay.

Colleagues were surprised that we drove to Buffalo rather than just flying there, but I remembered from a previous trip many years ago, when I was a high school student, that the Mohawk Valley and upper New York state are truly lovely destinations. This trip confirmed that memory.

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When we went to a Japanese tea ceremony, known as chado, it was an immersion in Japanese culture. We had an enjoyable and instructive time at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University even if it was for only 30 minutes this past Sunday afternoon. By reservation, the center offers an authentic experience in a charming bamboo teahouse on the first floor, hosted by a kimono-clad lady who holds such sessions for a maximum of four people at a time.

We arrived early, signed in and waited until the session before ours ended. The hostess then welcomed us with a bow, which we returned, and she explained that the design of two doors, a low one and a higher one, in the teahouse was deliberate. The guests, by bending to enter through the lower or “crawling in” door, were assured that all were of equal importance. None was to be considered more worthy. She then pointed out that because the sliding door was open slightly, it meant that the guests should enter. Had it been closed, we were to wait.

We left our shoes outside the little house and sat on one of the four low stools placed inside for us on the tatami mats. The hostess then entered through the higher door and began preparations. Her movements were deliberate and scripted into a traditional procedure, called temae. She was following a centuries-old ritual of making and serving the powdered green tea called matcha.

As the tea ceremony developed in Japan and was practiced by the monks, it was influenced by Zen Buddhism and embraced by the samurai or warrior class. The quiet ambience, the spare furnishings inside the teahouse, the unhurried and predictable movements of the hostess, the decorative scrolls emphasizing virtues like harmony, respect, purity and tranquility, helped calm the mind and push away fear before battle. Even the sound of water slowly boiling for the tea was soothing. The little bamboo teahouse was constructed in the midst of the modern Wang Center, yet we could leave behind our busy thoughts and worldly concerns with our shoes and purses as we entered this special space.

Speaking quietly to us, the hostess explained the equipment to make the tea: bowls, the green tea powder that was not artificially colored but naturally bright green, the delicate whisk carved from bamboo to mix the powder with the hot water in the bowls, the tea caddy, the scoops — the smaller one to measure out the powder, the larger to bring the water to the pot.

Each tool was beautifully and simply crafted from the unadorned wood. She gave us a fruit candy first, then handed each of us a bowl with tea, pointing out that the sweet was intended to offset the bitterness of the tea or perhaps emphasize them both.

There was a simple mindfulness to the whole process. We were there with her, in the moment, watching her mix the tea, wipe clean each bowl before we drank, then again afterward, with the hot water and special cloth she kept in the belt of her kimono for that purpose. Nothing else intruded. The effect was almost hypnotic.

And then it was over. We left the bamboo teahouse, put on our shoes, shouldered our purses and re-entered the outside world. It was a quiet interlude in an otherwise busy and hectic day. A nice cup of tea will always call me back.

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If you have had a particularly nasty fight with your spouse or best friend today, consider this. How well did each of you sleep last night?

It may not come as a surprise that a good night’s sleep makes one feel calm and good natured the next morning. But how many of us consider the ramifications of poor or too little sleep one night on our behavior and relationships the next day? We may feel out of sorts, perhaps below our awareness radar, and that can lead to more difficult and even acrimonious interactions with those at work, in our daily routines and especially with our spouses. Even worse, it may affect our health.

A study at Ohio State University of 43 couples and how their bickering could influence their health tracked the subjects spouses most often argue over: managing money, spending family time together or an in-law intruding on their lives. According to an article in The New York Times Science section, “Relationship Problems? Try Getting More Sleep” by Tara Parker-Pope, Sept. 4, the study revealed that some couples argue calmly, even constructively, while others were “hostile and negative.”

The difference? The hostile couples were likely not getting enough sleep, usually less than at least seven hours. So before you give up on a relationship, consider the sleep factor. With enough sleep, you will still have disagreements, but the tone of the conflicts will probably be more patient.

The Ohio State study goes further. It purports to measure how marital discord together with sleep deprivation can negatively affect a person’s health. The way the university measured for this possible toxic effect was by taking blood samples from both members of the couple before and after an argument. The samples measured the level of inflammation in the body because inflammatory proteins have been linked with heart disease, cancer and other health problems. The results showed that “marital discord is more toxic to your body when you haven’t gotten enough sleep.”

Interestingly, when one member of the couple got adequate sleep, it mitigated the negative tone of the conflict, even if the other member was sleep deprived. So that suggests “a half-a-loaf is better than none” conclusion.

The article goes on to reveal that some 25 percent of couples sleep in separate beds, presumably in order to get more undisturbed rest. “And when one relationship partner doesn’t sleep well, his or her partner is more likely to report poor health and well-being.”

In conclusion: “The lesson, say the study authors, is that before concluding a relationship is in trouble, couples who regularly experience conflict should take stock not only of the relationship and how they are managing conflict, but also of their sleep habits.” The study was published in the May edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, hardly most people’s bedtime reading but offering an article to better understand the universal need in a marriage for adequate sleep.

In addition to all the authoritative information above, I can offer another nugget in the advice for marrieds department. Mine is anecdotal, not academic. Disagreements don’t go well if one or both members of a couple are hungry. Hunger starts out as insidious rather than full blown, and so it is often hard to identify the mood change when in the midst of a difficult discussion or even in an idyllic setting. But hunger can forcibly affect one’s outlook and certainly one’s patience.

I found this to be particularly true with my husband. (I’m not making a gender specific allegation here, just sayin’.) We could be having a perfectly lovely time at the zoo or some other outing, and for no apparent reason, he would begin to get cranky. The level of his crankiness would rise as we continued to stroll. Fortunately I eventually figured it out and began to carry protein bars in my pocket. At the right moment, I would pull two out and offer him one. Within merely a couple of minutes, all was again right with the world.

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the enormous energy of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm for a time, could be harnessed to serve later in some practical way, perhaps to light the city of Chicago during one of winter’s darkest weeks?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the unending rainfall brought by Harvey, in some places in Texas more than 50 inches already, could be captured, stored and brought to areas that are arid and desperate for water?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the disastrous effects and ruination caused by Harvey could somehow bring Americans back together, red states and blue states, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, forgetting their anger and moving compassionately together to help the tragic victims of our fourth largest city?

Wait, I think destructive Harvey has done just that.

Am I imagining, or did I hear one of our more bellicose representatives, from Long Island no less, promise to bury the hatchet and vote aid for the state of his longtime adversary, despite not having received such aid in our time of terrible need? And wasn’t he bragging about his empathy?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the unprecedented flooding caused by Harvey could incredibly make the prospect of nuclear war with Kim Jong-un secondary at the top of the news hour, beneath the fold on the front page of the daily newspaper and in the public consciousness?

Yes, it happened like that. Even President Trump disappeared from the news for a time. Harvey it seems, terrible as it is, can do strange things.

But the cost, in human agony, is catastrophic. Millions of people throughout the Gulf Coast have had their lives smashed, and that certainly is the main story for America this week. We have been glued to the television, watching the families with little more than the clothes on their backs, wading through the waist-high water to meet a rescuer in a rowboat, their homes behind them flooded to the windowsills. Where will they sleep? What will they eat? Will they have enough water? Did they remember to bring their medicines? Are their other loved ones somewhere safe?

So far, the number of wounded and dead has been low, certainly compared to the horrors of Katrina. But there are all sorts of wounds. Most of the people we see on the screen seem remarkably calm but are most likely in shock, trying to make sense of how their lives have violently changed. For some, their houses are totally gone, smashed and washed away in the floodwaters. For others, their homes will have to be razed to the ground because of mold and rebuilt — if there is money to do so. Unlike with Katrina, where some 50 percent of the homes were insured, it seems only around 20 percent in the Houston area have flood insurance. Businesses, restaurants, automobiles, jobs, whole neighborhoods are gone. Addresses mean nothing because streets are buried. Valuables and memorabilia of a lifetime have floated off. But most residents are “lucky”: They have escaped with their lives, their children in their arms.

The victims of Harvey have been grievously wounded. Our entire nation has been wounded.

We have, for now, lost a wide swath of the South, the ordinary, productive lives of the people who lived there and the many resources they gave us, from rice to oil and gas. After concerns for food and shelter are met for those rescued, there is the real threat of infectious disease, pollution and even the possibility of crime. And how will the affected states dispose of all the garbage Harvey will have left in its wake?

In some ways the rescue operation is a mini-Dunkirk. Good Samaritans, using all sorts of recreational vehicles, pickup trucks, fishing boats, motorized rubber dinghies and even Jet Skis, have rushed to help people trapped on roofs, in attics and in trees. The giant volunteer rescue effort, alongside official disaster responders, is a testament to the courage and basic decency of people throughout the country. 

No one was asked whom he or she voted for. America, there is hope.

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The eclipse has come and gone, and for me it lived up to its advanced billing. It was awesome. I can’t say I was prepared to be awed. In fact, since most “great” shows tend to be overhyped, especially with all the different platforms we now communicate on, from radio and TV to blogs, websites, mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter and the rest, they are over previewed and inevitably a letdown.

Not so last Monday’s eclipse. I happened to be taking a vacation day, and my family was visiting, so there were a number of us getting ready for the event. We weren’t particularly excited about what was predicted to happen. I think curious was a better description. None of us had secured the appropriate glasses in advance but fortunately a good friend put a pair in my hands at the last minute, and that made all the difference.

Without the glasses, we were told not to look at the sun for fear of damaging our retinas. The day dawned pleasantly enough, with blue sky and bright sun but, as the morning wore on, the light breeze that started the day disappeared altogether. We noted that fact because we have a little Hobie Cat that we use to get out on the water, and there wasn’t even enough wind to move that slender craft. As we sat around the patio, there was an air of expectancy around noon, although maybe I was just projecting. We heard no birdsong, saw no squirrels and thought the yard unusually quiet. By then the bright sun had yielded to what seemed like overhanging clouds, but there weren’t low clouds in the sky. By 1:30 p.m., there was perceptibly less light.

By 2:30, one by one we looked up at the sun through the protective glasses, and each of us emitted an involuntary noise. The moon, essentially a black disc, was moving west to east across the lower three-quarters of the sun. We could see it clearly, with no clouds in the way. The feeling was of watching something happening that was profoundly greater than any human activity. In fact, I had a similar sensation when I stood at the top of a mountain in Alaska and looked out over the hundreds of miles of landscape with not a human or a human structure in sight. I felt the utter insignificance of humans in the cosmos.

Just as predicted for the New York region, around 2:40 we saw the maximum area of sun occluded by the moon, and just around that time there was a fierce gust of wind that came from nowhere and shook the surrounding trees, with their lush summer leaves, into a frenzy. It was almost spooky. After a few minutes, the wind diminished and turned into a summer breeze.

We sat in a circle, passing the cardboard glasses from hand to hand, and continued to marvel at the sight of the moon blocking most of the sun. But the surface of the moon did not seem uniformly dense, rather appearing to let patches of light through parts of the disc — or so it appeared to me. Then, as the minutes ticked by and the moon moved off, it was almost with regret that we saw it leave. For those all-too-brief moments, we had witnessed what only the gods can see: the movement of the inner parts of the universe as some sort of well-regulated Swiss watch. It was a stately dance of the planets, predictable for its steps but thrilling on its cosmic scale.

Then it was over and, as one, we rose to take advantage of the newfound breeze and get in some late afternoon sailing. But somehow we weren’t quite the same. Yes, we know the basics: That the Earth revolves around the sun and the moon revolves around the Earth, a kind of merry-go-round within a merry-go-round. But to witness a tiny part of that movement, for even the shortest time, can only be described as leaving us in awe. 

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The Word Play Masters Invitational is based on the Washington Post’s Style Invitational column, in which readers are invited to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Past winners include:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an a–hole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

5. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

10. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s, like, a serious bummer.

11. Decafalon (n): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

12. Glibido: All talk and no action.

13. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

14. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

15. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at 3 a.m. and cannot be cast out.

16. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

The winners of another competition seeking alternative meanings for common words are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

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The hottest real estate in Japan these days is a bomb shelter, with a starting price from $19,000. When I heard that reported on the radio, I was instantly transported back to my first-grade class where, upon a signal, we covered our heads with our coats and slid under our desks. It was the Cold War: Stalin and the Soviets were the enemy, and we had drills to prepare for an atomic blast. One day, there were moviemakers at the school, before television became popular, and they recorded us taking cover for the newsreel that preceded the feature film in every movie theater. In fact, there were two feature films in those days, usually referred to as A and B movies, but first the viewers were treated to the news of the week. I was in the front row of my class, so I could be clearly seen on the screen crouching beneath my desk. But I never saw myself because my parents usually didn’t go to the movies. Neighbors told us that I was front and center.

Just as the movie seemed unreal to me, so did the Cold War and the atomic bomb from whose blast my raincoat was supposed to protect me. World War II had ended, and I grew up in the subsequent Cold War generation.

I heard people talking about building bomb shelters, but I couldn’t imagine having one since we lived in an apartment in the middle of the city. It did occur to me to wonder where we would find shelter in the event we needed to, and I think I questioned my parents about that once, but they didn’t seem to want to discuss the subject so it never came up again. My schoolmates may have been fearful, but we never talked about the bomb.

Then Stalin died, there was eventually detente with the Soviets, a popular novel appeared by Ian Fleming called “From Russia with Love,” we watched the touring Bolshoi Ballet at the old Metropolitan Opera House, something in my gut unclenched, and no one had atomic bomb drills anymore.

I hate the idea that children in Japan are now growing up under the shadow of a nuclear bomb threat. Those in South Korea are surely afraid and, for that matter, now those in Seattle. In fact, fear seems to be rearing its ugly head in the United States, a country ordinarily known for its optimism and “pursuit of happiness.”

For example, I would not like to be an immigrant here today and certainly not an illegal one. Those in that category must be living in fear day and night. I have no sympathy of course for illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes and are therefore most likely to be deported. But the idea that ICE representatives are patrolling the courthouses, looking for illegals, certainly creates an atmosphere of people being hunted. I would also not like to be an employer whose business depended on the seasonal help of immigrants. Industries like hospitality, restaurants and farming haven’t known if their legal immigrant workers would arrive. Without that extra help, many businesses cannot survive because there are not enough Americans willing to do those low-level jobs. Ditto for those with special needs who require aides at home.

On the other side of the ledger, our economic picture seems rosy. The stock market is setting new records almost every day, as corporations are being rewarded for making profits and the prospect of deregulation encourages investment. The unemployment rate is the lowest in some 20 years. Yet there is a great divide between financial and political happiness. Many of the same people happy with the economy are unhappy with the political picture, bemoaning the chaos in Washington, D.C.

As we have always done, we will soldier on with our domestic problems. We are doing less well reacting to the foreign challenges, fear prompting us to answer threats with threats.

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