Between you and me

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The Cold War is back in Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Bridge of Spies.” Starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, the movie is based on a true story that I well remember for I am a child of the Cold War era during which the United States and the Soviet Union had been competing over who could amass the most lethal cache of nuclear weapons. I was 6 years old and in first grade when a movie company producing news segments that routinely preceded the featured film in theaters came to my school. This was before television. They filmed my class doing a “duck and cover” in which we pulled our raincoats over our heads and scrambled under our desktops. This action was to protect us from the effects of an atom bomb, should one be dropped on New York City by the Soviets, and the news short was shown in local theaters. I was the child in the front.

With my life as sort of bookends of that era, I crossed into East Berlin in 1989, six weeks before the Berlin Wall was torn down. I was visiting a friend whose husband was on sabbatical in West Berlin at the time, and she booked us on a bus that regularly took tourists to view the museums behind the Iron Curtain. It happened to be the weekend of the 40th anniversary of the East German state, called the German Democratic Republic, and Soviet Union general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was joining East German leader Erich Honecker for the celebrations. Stuck behind the Wall for security reasons, we witnessed torchlight parades through the streets from the bus for hours before we were able to return to the West. The woman in the seat ahead of us audibly thanked God and wanted to kiss the ground when we did.

It was an inside look at the crumbling buildings, the cameras, dogs, challenging border guards and tensions that existed in East Berlin, which my gut still recalls because it clenched at the sight and atmosphere realistically portrayed in East Berlin by Spielberg

I feel fortunate to have had that experience because we who so automatically enjoy all sorts of freedoms need to know what lacking them means to the citizenry of any country. People were killed trying to scale the Berlin Wall to escape, and “Bridge of Spies” recaptures that desperation even as it tells the story of how two Americans were freed.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in his last months at the White House when Francis Gary Powers was flying his U-2 spy plane over Soviet Union airspace and was shot down. That was in 1960, when coincidentally a Soviet KGB spy known as Rudolf Abel was serving a prison term in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. He had been nabbed by the FBI in what was termed the Hollow Nickel Case and was serving a 45-year sentence.

After Powers was captured the Soviets initiated a back-door effort to trade Powers for Abel, and the negotiator in that highly tense situation was, improbably, an insurance lawyer named James Donovan from Brooklyn, where Abel had lived and posed as an artist. It had to be someone without government ties, and Donovan was selected first to defend Abel in order to give him the right to a fair trial, according to the movie, and then to unofficially represent the United States in such an exchange.

With Cold War tensions high, Donovan was initially vilified for defending Abel, and death threats were made against him while his wife and children were threatened. But through a whole series of gutsy experiences, including giving up the coat off his back, Donovan was able to successfully trade Abel for two Americans: Powers and a Yale economics grad student who simply had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We who were alive then or have read about the U-2 incident know that the negotiations were ultimately successful. Powers and Abel were marched to the center of the Glienicke Bridge, which spans the narrows between West Berlin and Potsdam, and returned to the protection of their respective countries. The Yale grad student, Frederic Pryor, was simultaneously allowed to cross at Checkpoint Charlie. Yet even though the outcome is never in doubt, Spielberg manages to keep the film moving at a high frequency, largely by focusing on Donovan.

Written by the Coen brothers and Matt Charman, and distributed by Disney and 20th Century Fox, the film has already garnered considerable praise. So has Hanks in this Cold War epic.

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There were highlights in each city we visited in China, and I would like to share those with you in this last installment of my trip tagging along on my son’s speaking itinerary. We flew 16 hours to Shanghai, the gateway to that huge country. Someone likened Shanghai to New York and Beijing to Washington, D.C., because the Chinese federal government is in the latter city while the former is thought of as more of a cultural and fun place.

Shanghai is dazzling for its skyscrapers, night-lights akin to Times Square and history, particularly as displayed by its impressive 19th-century architecture along the Bund on the riverfront. The western powers, that forced China open then, built their customs houses and administrative headquarters there, and now those buildings are icons of success because Chinese in corporations and government offices people them. They look out across the Huangpu River on the newest and most luxurious section of the city, Pudong, which was originally swamps and slums but now houses the Shanghai World Financial Center in futuristic high-risers and the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower.

My favorite place in the city is the Shanghai Museum, with its four floors displaying cultural relics and artifacts from more than 5,000 years ago. The architecture of the building itself symbolizes “a round heaven and a square earth.” Most impressive are the bronze items, largely for cooking and wine, that speak to the sophistication of these people thousands of years ago. Inside the museum is a large atrium from which the floors above are visible The collections may represent antiquity but the escalators efficiently carrying visitors from floor to floor convey modernity. And typical of Chinese zeal for business, there is a small gift shop on every floor in addition to the main one at the entrance. Calligraphy, pottery, jade, sculptures and bronze reproductions offer the visitor take-home reproductions of the treasures exhibited in the museum.

Shanghai is also known for a humanitarian action taken between 1933-41. At that time the city welcomed 30,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. Despite orders from the Nazi leaders demanding the refugees be turned over by Japan, their allies who then occupied China, the Jews were not. But Mao expelled all Westerners after his victory in 1949.

Suzhou, a half-hour bullet train ride from Shanghai, is famous for its canals and gardens. An outstanding example we enjoyed was the Humble Administrator’s Garden, a 16th-century gem with small ponds, bridges and secluded pavilions.

Hangzhou, another short train ride from Shanghai in the other direction, was termed by Marco Polo, “the City of Heaven,” and surrounds beautiful West Lake. Every evening on the lake is a sight to behold. Called “Impression West Lake,” it is a water, light and animation show created by Zhang Yimou, who co-directed the 2008 Summer Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. The entire production appears to take place improbably atop the water.

Nanjing, a walled city on the banks of the Yangzi River and in front of Purple Mountain, was next, one-and-a-half hours farther by train. Often the capital of the country through the centuries and the site of Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum, the city is also known for the brutality perpetrated by the invading Japanese army in 1937. Up to 400,000 people are thought to have been killed during that time which is still angry subject matter between the two countries. However, that doesn’t prevent China today from using police cars made by Honda.

We then flew a couple of hours northeast to Changchun, which is well off the tourism path. Once the capital of the Japanese–controlled state of Manchukuo, known to those who have seen the 1987 movie, “The Last Emperor,” the city is the center of car production. From here we were driven six hours, over every type of roadway from wide new highway to bumpy and twisting dirt surfaces and through thousands of acres of undeveloped forests, to a spectacular volcanic mountain jutting up against the border with North Korea. Changbaishan has a crater lake in its midst at better than 8,000 feet and is reached via a roller-coaster drive. The circumference of the mountaintop is an easy 9 miles hike, but we were severely warned not to do so lest the neighboring border guards arrest us.

Last stop was Beijing, another airplane ride southwest. There we managed to walk through the three tourist musts: the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. These have been dramatically commercialized since my last visit 10 years earlier, but they still are worthy, as is this most ancient and modern country, of everyone’s bucket list.

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How is the food in China?” That is one of the most often-asked questions when people learn that I have just returned from my trip accompanying my son (see also last week’s column). The answer is the same as it would be here: It depends where you eat. As my son was invited to speak at a half-dozen medical centers, his hosts graciously provided some meals that we enjoyed, although we didn’t always know what we were eating. Yes, the food was somewhat different from that served in Chinese restaurants here. In China, vegetables can be eaten, especially greens, at every meal with abundant tofu. Some of the dishes I had not seen before, and also some of their delicious fruits were new to us. There were fewer heavy sauces, less fried foods, lots of fish and seafood and smaller portions of meat — pork, chicken and some beef — often in combination with vegetables. Depending on the region, there was varying emphasis on sweet or spice. Dumplings were a constant, and soup with noodles came at the end of the meal. Dishes were placed on a large Lazy Susan in the center of the table, and each person plucked morsels with chopsticks as the turntable rotated. There were almost never any dairy products; many Asians are lactose intolerant.

A treat for the Chinese, and therefore for us, was “hot pot.” We sat in a restaurant at a round table, in the center of which was a heating element topped by a pot divided into two compartments. One half was for herbs floating in a consommé, the other for “spicy” — and they mean it. The wait staff brought dishes ranging from fish to meat to vegetables and tofu, all cut into bite-sized pieces. We had prepared ourselves with small bowls of spices that we had chosen from perhaps two-dozen offerings on an adjoining side bar. As the liquid boiled, we dipped in our bits of fish or spinach, much as you would with fondue. But instead of coating the food, we were actually cooking it, for a few seconds or however long we wished, then dragging it through our bowl of spices on the way to our mouths.

During our trip of more than some 3,000 miles, we visited six cities and a dramatic near-9,000-foot volcanic mountain with a crater lake in the center. The cities were Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Changchun and Beijing, while Changbai Mountain is right on the border with North Korea. All had their special sights, and all had their stories. Throughout, the people were friendly and open, spontaneously answering a smile with one of their own, and interested in us. We knew they were curious because they stood in front of us and stared, something that is not frowned upon culturally. Some of those who spoke English came up to practice and to inquire where we were from and why we had come. The majority of tourists in China, especially this past year, are Chinese which speaks to the growing middle class; most of the rest are from other Asian countries.

We moved from place to place but only rarely saw the sun and blue sky. Pollution sits atop the country like a bathing cap on a swimmer’s head. As we rode on their bullet train, a high-speed marvel traveling at some 300 kilometers per hour (about 190 mph) from Shanghai to Hangzhou, we could understand why. Through the window, we could see tall buildings with a school in their midst and children playing in the schoolyard. Adjacent to the residences were a couple of factories with thick black smoke rising from their chimneys. Beside the factories were a number of farms, their produce neatly growing in rows carefully tended by the farmers. This pattern was repeated often. There appears to be no zoning; water has to be boiled or bottled for drinking; and agriculture is poisoned by the toxic air. The people and the government well realize the situation and they are trying to rectify matters. It is a price the population is paying for their incredible economic leap forward.

An American woman, living in Beijing who grew up in Northport, told us that she and her husband were staying only one more year because they feared for their baby’s health. Why were they there at all? Both of them were making such high salaries teaching English in the schools, and household help was so cheap.

China is a land of contrasts.

Final installment next week

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The last time I was in China was 10 years ago, so when one of my sons told me he had been invited to give a series of talks at different universities there and would welcome my company, I jumped at the chance to see how the country had changed. I had been impressed by the energy and the work ethic of the Chinese people as well as the ambitions of the government, and knew that in a decade there would have to be a difference. So I invite you in turn to come along with me now, and I will share my impressions as we travel in this beautiful, exotic and ancient land of contrasts.

What a difference! We landed in Shanghai at night, and my first sight was of the airport: broad glass sheets, soaring steel beams and ultramodern with its people and luggage movers. No one we met in the bustle of humanity spoke English, but we did manage to find an ATM and a sign with the appropriate picture and the word in English directing us to the taxis.

Getting to our hotel was another matter. We did not have the name written in Chinese, a flaw that resulted in a two-and-a-half hour cab ride before we found ourselves ready to fall into our beds. As cynical New Yorkers, we suspected the worst of the cabbie but we couldn’t be sure and, to our delight, the bellman at the entrance to our hotel forced the driver to take two-thirds of the amount on the meter when he learned we had come from the airport. It set the tone for the rest of our trip, for we found the Chinese people to be honorable throughout all our subsequent money transactions with them, although they expect to bargain. In any event, the lesson here is to get the name of every destination in Chinese for the driver, and especially to carry the name of one’s hotel in Chinese for the return trip. And cab fares, by the way, are quite reasonable.

The number of skyscrapers in Shanghai has indeed multiplied, and the architecture is imaginative and impressive. But at the same time that we marveled at the skyline the next morning, we noted the thick gray fog that covered the sky. This was the pollution we had been warned of, and it was to accompany us during all but a couple of days throughout our trip. Few people wore masks, we noted, as we ventured out, and I was immediately dazzled by the colors of the clothing worn by the pedestrians as they hurried along the streets. When I was last there, most people wore blue jackets, gray pants and sturdy shoes. Now the women in particular were dressed in bright shades of every color, matched with fashionable sandals, and they looked quite elegant and attractive. They also looked thin, the men as well. It wasn’t until we traveled well north that we saw a taller and sometimes stockier population.

The city was clean and free of litter, the result of cadres of people with large brooms whom we saw sweeping the walkways as we rode the red double-decker tour buses. I remembered the human cleaners from my last visit, but this time they were reinforced with mechanized sweepers that rode along the sidewalks and in the streets.

Where before there had been many bicycles and fewer cars, now there were traffic jams of legendary proportions and few bicycles. And after a couple of days, we realized that we never saw anyone in a wheelchair or on crutches and, unless the buildings were quite recent, there were no aids like elevators or depressed curbs for the disabled. We did see a few people in wheelchairs where there were westerners, like in Beijing. In a few of the cities we visited, Chinese tourists from perhaps more rural locations, stared at us or came up and asked to take pictures with us. This was all transacted with pantomime, of course. They seem especially to like red, the national color, and the day I wore a crimson blouse I was a popular iPhone target.

Many of the children we saw were in the care of their grandparents since both parents tend to work. And although the single child — the result of the one-child policy — was often a boy, I was happy to see a lot of young girls. This, too, was a noticeable change from my last visit. The surest way to break the ice on the street or in a museum or park, we found, was to interact with the children. We were rewarded by the adults with broad smiles.

Part II will be next week.

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“Take me out to the ballpark” was the theme for all of last week, as I took my youngest grandchild on what has become a family tradition. Traditions can be great fun, and this one started when my first grandchild was 11 years old, which is to say about nine years ago. I signed us up then for the Elderhostel intergenerational touring program. Elderhostel, a not-for-profit tour company with an educational bent, that has since changed its name to Road Scholar, began offering specialized programs of usually one week’s duration for a grandparent accompanied by a grandchild in addition to their many other tours. That sounded like a good way to get to know my grandchild without his parents and sibling present, even as we might both learn something new, and we attended the NASA offering in Houston. The experience was totally satisfying and the stage was set for the remaining grandchildren, hence the trip last week.

Now to go on this particular tour, called Baseball: From Little League to the Hall of Fame With Your Grandchild, it helps if you like baseball — a lot — which I do, because it’s pretty much total immersion. We drove to Lock Haven University, the program provider, which is located in rural western Pennsylvania. That was the starting point, and when we arrived we discovered that there were eight boys and 10 grandparents enrolled in the program. The asymmetry was due to the fact that both grandparents accompanied a couple of the children. The families came from a broad geographic cross section of the country: California, Wisconsin, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida were represented, as well as another Long Island family from Port Jefferson.

The grandchildren started with a rigorous baseball clinic led by the Lock Haven baseball coach, and over the ensuing days the grandparents and grandchildren came to enjoy each other. Although the ages of the children ranged from 10 to 14, and their heights were dramatically different, the coach was readily able to integrate them into a display of fielding, throwing and hitting. The kids proved to be already accomplished, and the grandparents — who were lined up on benches in the shade of the dugout like birds on a wire — had much to cheer.

As you would imagine, we saw a number of baseball games, from major league play to the minors, to Little League. We were given an insider tour of the new and beautiful Phillies ballpark, then watched as the home team beat the Toronto Blue Jays, a particularly sweet victory for those of us who root for the Yankees since they are in a tight division race with the Toronto team. The Blue Jays loss narrowly kept the Yankees in first place.

We also watched the Reading Fightin Phils, a farm team of the Phillies organization, play the Auburn Doubledays in Reading, Pa.; and, on another night, the Williamsport Crosscutters take on the Auburn team. We even got as far north as Cooperstown, where we spent an afternoon in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. We did all this traveling by bus, leaving our cars behind in Lock Haven. The hours in the bus were made more palatable by the beauty of the countryside, largely undeveloped long stretches of lush, green forests alternating with occasional farms, silos and corrals. There were also several movies shown on the bus — with baseball as their unifying theme, of course. I must say, they were good ones, including “A League of Their Own” and the Kevin Costner award-winner, “Field of Dreams.”

The tour ended at the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa., with grandparents watching play from perches on the steep hills or seated in the shaded partial stadium; and grandchildren sliding down the hills on flattened cardboard boxes in between innings. That evening, Johnny Wilson Sr., a former Negro League baseball player and also member of the Harlem Globetrotters, spoke to us about his experiences in professional sports.

At age 88 he has seen profound changes in sports throughout his career. A trim and elegant man, he dispassionately shared some of the prejudices in his early years that blocked his advancement and undoubtedly broke his heart along the way. But his stories, like our baseball tour, had a happy end.

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Good news. We are finally off the generator and back onto the electricity supplied routinely, but not to us these last nine days, by PSEG. Why have we been suffering while others around us have had electricity all this time? The answer has to do with supply and demand. Because there has been so much demand for contractors and carpenters as a result of the recent storm, we have had to wait our turn.

When the huge, stately tree that lived next to our driveway was snapped off at its roots by what the National Weather Service termed as straight-line wind — but not a tornado — it collapsed across our parking lot. The falling tree pulled down the lines and the tube that served as a conduit for the electrical wires on the rear of the building, too.

In effect it snapped the tube in two as if it were a matchstick. The electric company was not going to restore the lines that had been mounted outside the building until we were sure of the permanence of the wooden construction of our rear wall. And that required the approval of a contractor.

So we were hung up, waiting for help that wasn’t hurrying our way. Yes, we were kept in business by a big generator, powering our computers, Internet and phone lines but decidedly not our air conditioning. That required more energy than our generator could deliver. Perhaps you didn’t notice, those of you reading this, that there were a lot of beastly hot days during the last nine. We noticed. It was like the historically miserable sweatshop, I imagine. We kept going but it wasn’t pretty.

We would still be waiting but for a happy alternative. Yes, it required the approval of others, but that was fairly quickly forthcoming. We decided to trench the distance from the electric lines on the road, across the parking lot and into the basement. By doing so, we were able to avoid refastening the power lines to the back of our building.

Now we are no longer in a hurry for a contractor. More satisfying, too, is putting the electric lines underground, something we have been editorializing about for most of our almost-40 years of publishing. We can still lose power in future storms if lines are broken somewhere on the roads leading to our building, but not ever again if the problem is within our property.

In order to trench our way from the roadside electric lines to our building, we first had to get approval from PSEG, certifying that there were no other lines underground that we might be cutting into in the process. They call such on-site evaluation “marking,” and you have undoubtedly seen differently colored painted arrows and drawings on the roads that indicate where utility lines are or are not to go.

It took the better part of a day to do the trenching, lay in the lines, cover them with dirt and blacktop the ditch. PSEG was then summoned, and to their credit they arrived with three trucks that evening and
approved of the entire job.
We are set now to power on.

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It was a night to remember. The thunder cracked so loudly in the middle of the night above our house that I lost my hearing for a few seconds. I jumped out of bed, worried about the dog and his heavy weather anxieties. Sure enough, he was in great need of reassurance and affection. Once I had my hands on him, I was further stunned by the rain—or was it hail?—thudding against the windows. The power went out decisively, without any warning. It was surely a wild night out there, I decided, before falling back to sleep.

Little did I know how wild, until I started out my front door to an early morning meeting. Branches, twigs and leaves were strewn everywhere on the driveway and front lawn. Getting to work took five times as long as usual and involved strategic detours around downed trees and power lines. Traffic lights were out, and once again I marveled at the graciousness of local drivers, who allowed each other a turn at the intersections.

The sight at the newspaper building was worse than anything thrown at us by Hurricane Sandy. We were deeply grateful to have gotten off relatively lightly in terms of damage then. But Nature made up for it this time.

The parking lot was filled with the corpse of what had been a stately, leafy tree. In falling, it had ripped off part of the roof and the pipeline of electrical lines that normally go up the side of the building. The lines were everywhere, entwined in the limbs, and one side of the road leading to the building was entirely blocked by another giant fallen tree.

My first thought as I stood looking at the chaos was that it was Tuesday. Now might not mean much to the average resident, but Tuesdays and Wednesdays are our two busiest, most time-pressured days for preparing the newspapers for publication.

So what was the first thing I did? I got a cup a coffee from a shop that was still open. After that, in rapid succession, was getting a team together with electric saws, collaring an electrician to assure us that it was it safe to walk among the electrical lines on the ground, assessing the electrical damage to the building, finding a generator to put us back in production, getting the word out to our staff, first to stay away, and then to hurry in when the generator arrived.

They all came through the clogged roads, as you can see from the physical evidence of the newspaper you hold in your hands — unless you are reading this on our website. So here we are, with the office open for business as usual, as if nothing extraordinary had happened. To me, it’s a small miracle that we have timely editions this week. But then again, it’s something of a wee miracle every Thursday when a new paper comes out, the work of so many minds
and hands.

Heartfelt thanks to all who made the miracle happen. You are all champs.

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No. 1 son turned 50 this week, and while that may have been a shock to him, it was also a shock to me. After properly celebrating the occasion with the family, I am left with the astonishing thought that I have been a parent for 50 years.

What does it mean to be a parent?

For starters, I know that the single biggest difference in my life, and I suspect in most people’s lives, comes with having a child. Getting married isn’t such a dramatic change, especially today when dating for years before marriage has become more the norm. Accommodating another adult into one’s daily routine, if done incrementally and with someone of compatible outlook, isn’t all that jarring. But just put a newborn baby into the mix and any semblance of order and predictability goes right out the window. A newborn brings instant humility to the parents. Even downright terror.

One of the most appealing qualities in the man who eventually became my husband was his desire to have children. His eagerness matched my own. Now I know there are some who do not wish to procreate but, for us, the prospect of loving and raising children was as natural as taking the next breath. This is not a carefully thought-out ideology — it is, for many, just instinct.

So then why was I so terrified when we brought that little package of squirming baby home from the hospital and laid him in the middle of our king-size bed? It’s one thing to think about dishing out gobs of love in the abstract. It’s another when the love is commensurate with responsibility. I don’t believe I ever thought about having a child in quite these stark terms: I was directly responsible for the survival of another human being. And there he was, in need of an immediate diaper change.

I didn’t recognize the totality of my terror until I brought him to the pediatrician for his first-month checkup. The doctor weighed him and exclaimed that his healthy weight gain was “a result of his nursing.” Then the doctor measured him and carried on about his length. This kid was off the charts — he was destined to be center for the Knicks.

That was the doctor’s reaction. Mine was an intense relief that the baby was going to live. With no prior experience or exposure to infants, I was afraid that I would inadvertently cause his demise. And without realizing it, I had silently lived with that fear for a whole month. The sense of responsibility for another’s life can be overwhelming. It is certainly built into our architecture, to a greater or lesser degree, for the rest of our lives. Their pain is our pain. And alternately, their successes are our successes. Little did I know that the first month of a baby’s life is, in some ways, the easiest time with a child — except for the fatigue factor. All one has to do is diaper, bathe, feed and burp an average newborn before putting him or her down to sleep. The harder parts come later — and also the more satisfying ones.

Someone said to me, “Once a parent, always a parent.” That is a truism. Yes, children grow up, they learn and mature, they achieve and they marry, they may even go on to have children of their own. They are always our children, even if they are 50, or 47, or 46 — the ages of my three sons. And while I happily and consciously lifted the weight of responsibility for their lives off my shoulders and mentally placed it on theirs at the time of their majority, I am still and forever will be the parent. And nothing I have ever done in my life has given me greater satisfaction.

In the course of our lives, theirs and mine, they have become my helpmates and advisers, my playmates and my friends. They now share a sense of responsibility for my life. It goes both ways, this caring. But the relationship will always be asymmetrical. Someone else once said, “If children loved their parents as much as parents love their children, the human race would come to an end. The children would never leave home.”

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These stories have been taken from the Internet:

AT&T fired its president, John Walter, after nine months, saying he lacked intellectual leadership. He received a $26 million severance package. Perhaps it’s not Walter who’s lacking intelligence.

Police in Oakland, Calif., spent two hours attempting to subdue a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his home. After firing 10 tear-gas canisters, officers discovered that the man was standing beside them in the police line, shouting, “Please come out and give yourself up.”

An Illinois man, pretending to have a gun, kidnapped a motorist and forced him to drive to two different automated teller machines, wherein the kidnapper proceeded to withdraw money from his own bank accounts.

A man walked into a Kwik Stop in Topeka, Kan., and asked for all the money in the cash drawer. Apparently the take was small, so he tied up the store clerk and worked the counter himself for three hours until police showed up and grabbed him.

Police in Los Angeles had good luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn’t control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words “Give me all your money or I’ll shoot,” a man shouted, “That’s not what I said.”

A man spoke frantically into the phone, “My wife is pregnant and her contractions are only two minutes apart.”
“Is this her first child?” the doctor asked. “No,” the man shouted. “This is her husband.”

In Modesto, Calif., a man was arrested for trying to hold up a Bank of America branch without a weapon. He used a thumb and a finger to simulate a gun. Unfortunately, he failed to keep his hand in his pocket.

Last summer, down on Lake Isabella, located in the high desert an hour east of Bakersfield, Calif., some folks, new to boating, were having a problem. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get their brand new 22-foot boat to work properly. It was very sluggish in almost every maneuver, no matter how much power was applied. After about an hour of trying to make it go, they crept into a nearby marina, thinking someone there may be able to tell them what was wrong. A thorough topside check revealed everything in perfect working condition. The engine ran fine, the outdrive went up and down, and the propeller was the correct size and pitch. So, one of the marina guys jumped in the water to check underneath. He came up choking on water, he was laughing so hard. Under the boat, still strapped securely in place, was the trailer.

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Loss is upsetting. Leaving a favorite scarf behind in a restaurant cloakroom is annoying. We return to the restaurant and the silk scarf that we treasured from our trip to Thailand is no longer there. Losing one’s keys, or driver’s license or even passport is aggravating. Having to remake the keys on our ring is time consuming. Going to the DMV for a new license is beyond time consuming. And applying for a new passport, always just before we need one is the epitome of high stress. But on a relative scale, these are trivial losses.
There are other kinds of loss. We might lose our job. Our company, under economic pressures, may have eliminated our department, and there are not a lot of openings for our position in other places. Such a loss might herald serial losses to come. Without a job we might not be able to pay the rent and be forced to leave our apartment, and move back with parents. Or depending on our stage of life, we might not meet our mortgage obligations with dire consequences for our family home. Financial losses can sometimes trigger the loss of a relationship if the stress becomes too great. Marriages break up, families divide, lives take unexpected turns as a result of different kinds of loss. As we know too well, the loss of a treasured relationship can be caused by any number of factors.
Sometimes people lose their way. They may think they are set on a particular path but enough obstacles may cause them to rock back on their heels and try to figure out what to do next. They may even, for a time, lose their sense of self and have to figure out who they are and what they want right from square one again.
The ultimate loss is death. The death of a loved one is irreversible, and whatever we may feel about life after death for the deceased, that person is physically lost to those who continue living. If we have lost a friend, no longer will he or she be there to listen, to lend a hand, to give advice, to suggest fun trips or provide bottomless hospitality or just precious companionship. Those whom we have loved for a long time are no longer witness to our lives, to our triumphs and our sorrows. They seemed as much a part of our lives as our limbs, but now they are severed and will no longer walk with us into the future. It is hard to comprehend. It is even harder to bear. The heart hurts.
So what do we do in the face of such loss? We tighten the inner circle that existed around the loved one by holding each other close. We dwell on the wonderful attributes of the person who is no longer with us and use them as an inspiration for ourselves. We chuckle together over the shortcomings of that person because we don’t want to lose the humanness of our friend. Indeed we may have loved him or her as much for that person’s perceived failings as for the virtues. Nor do we want to lose the truthfulness of our memories.
The deceased lives on in our heads. We can talk with that person, however one sided the conversations, ask advice and reliably supply the answers because we knew that person so well. We can remember the endless times and places we have been together, the secrets we have shared, the many ways our horizons were broadened and our knowledge increased because of our common experiences and our relationship throughout our lives.
And we can move on. Our friend would want that, in fact, insist on it. When one dies, his or her story ends and is physically left behind at that place and time. But the stories of the living continue and sooner or later must be embraced.
Goodbye, dear friend. We will miss you for the rest of our lives. Thank you for all you have been and all you have given us. It has been a blessing to know you.