Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief


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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.

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When I come across a wonderful story, I like to share it with you, and so I will tell you today about a Briton named Nicholas Winton. You probably don’t recognize his name because he told no one about his extraordinary deeds, not even his wife. It was only after she found a scrapbook, in the attic of their home in 1988, that the world began to learn of his courage and humanity defying Hitler on the eve of World War II.

Winton was a London stockbroker in December 1938 and about to go to Switzerland on a ski vacation when a friend, who was aiding refugees in the newly annexed Czechoslovakia, urged him to come to Prague.

There, Winton found huge numbers of refugees, who were trying to escape Hitler, living in “appalling conditions,” according to The New York Times obituary on July 2 that told of Winton’s life. There was little hope of escape for those on the run because other countries had closed their borders, especially to Jewish immigration, except for a unique effort that was mounted by Britain. Kindertransport was an attempt to rescue unaccompanied Jewish children up to the age of 17 if they had a host family willing to accept them. The Refugee Children’s Movement in Britain reached into Germany and Austria and according to The Times, some 10,000 children were saved before the war began.

There was no equivalent effort made in Czechoslovakia, despite the clear danger evidenced by such horrors as Kristallnacht — the “Night of Broken Glass” — that had shortly before Winton’s trip struck Jewish shops, homes and synagogues in Germany and Austria, As Winton said in a Times interview in 2001, “One saw the problem there, that a lot of these children were in danger, and you had to get them to what was called a safe haven, and there was no organization to do that.”

That is what Winton did: He created an operation that worked with furious speed, racing against the murderous rampage of the Nazi war machine. The modest stockbroker, albeit from a blue-blooded background, cleverly used every means at his disposal, including “dangers, bribes, forgery, secret contacts with the Gestapo, nine railroad trains, an avalanche of paperwork and a lot of money,” as described in the obit.

The volunteers called themselves the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Children’s Section and received aid from the Refugee Children’s Movement. They made appeals in newspaper ads, also church and synagogue bulletins, for host families and money in Britain, and in Prague “cultivated the chief of the Gestapo, Karl Bömelburg — they called him ‘the criminal rat’ after his inspector’s rank of kriminalrat — and arranged for forged transit papers and bribes to be passed to key Nazi and Czech railway officials, who threatened to halt trains or seize the children unless they were paid off,” according to The Times. As word spread and desperate parents brought their children to a rented storefront office, the long lines attracted Gestapo attention. “Perilous confrontations were resolved with bribes,” according to The Times. When the money ran out, Winton used his own.

Can you imagine the searing pain involved with giving up your children to strangers? “Winton’s Children” numbered 669 lives saved. The survivors include the film director Karel Reisz — “Saturday Night and “Sunday Morning” (1960), “Isadora” (1968) and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” (1981) — and other celebrities. Today there are some 6,000 descendants.

Winton was a most reluctant hero, not wishing to have his wife, Grete Gjelstrup, a Dane he married in 1948, tell anyone. She gave the scrapbook to a Holocaust historian, and then newspaper articles, books, television programs and movies ensued. He was showered with honors, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, astonished all the while at the fuss being made.

Sir Nicholas Winton was the son of a merchant banker of German-Jewish origin who had converted to Christianity. He had grown up in a safe and comfortable world of privilege, yet readily risked it all to help others in dire peril. He would serve as a Royal Air Force officer in the war, and later worked for refugee organizations and a charity that assisted the elderly. For all his exceptional efforts, he was richly rewarded with a long life. He died last week at the age of 106.

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The first half of 2015 ended locally with a fun and singular lineup of cultural events. Stellar activities this past weekend began with a distinguished gala under a tent at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. In a tribute to the Great Gatsby-era, the elegantly dressed guests at the fundraiser celebrated with a look back at the Roaring ‘20s and F. Scott Fitzgerald, even as they basked in the prominence of the Long Island Museum, with its director, Neil Watson, looking forward to cultural and historic successes to come. Dancing and dining combined with renewed friendships and endless conversation made for a lovely evening.

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon and an ArTalk, sponsored by Gallery North of Setauket, on famed local artist Christian White. In two parts, the event started at the Gallery with a viewing of some of White’s latest works, entitled “Christian White: Fifty Years of Art.” White, who is 65, began showing his art at Gallery North, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, at a young age.

That is not surprising. The great-grandson of Stanford White, the renowned New York City architect who designed Washington Square Arch in lower Manhattan, among many other landmarks; the grandson of Lawrence White, also a prominent architect; and the son of noted sculptor and St. James resident Robert White; he carries an abundant supply of artistic genes, both on his paternal and maternal sides. His maternal grandfather was the famed Dutch artist Joep Nicolas, with whom White studied welding, stained glass and mosaics as a youngster in Holland. His mother, Claire Nicolas White is a popular and prolific author. And the creative genes continue in his children.

Then the event moved over to the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics on the Stony Brook University campus, where the Iconic Wall was viewed and explained by its creator, Christian White. The brainchild of Nina Douglas, helped by Anthony Phillips, the limestone wall features ancient and modern equations in math and physics spread over an area of 465 square feet. It is a gravity-defying marriage of art and science in the sparkling Simons building, which encourages innovation and collaboration as its mission. In the Center, there followed a talk by Franklin Perrell, the former senior curator at the excellent Nassau County Museum of Art, about the art world in which Christian White grew up and has worked over these past 50 years.

We then went on to an outpouring of love at Theater Three in Port Jefferson Village. Called “A Tale of Two Mayors,” the evening featured singing by some of the talented performers of the theater group interspersed with talks by prominent members of the community, including Dr. Philias Garant, all honoring Mayors Jeanne Garant and Margot Garant. Mother and daughter, these two women have given boundless energy and creativity to village government, making a formidable political dynasty in the process. The event was, in part, a fundraiser for the restoration of the Rocket Ship Park in lower Port, but in its entirety, a show of appreciation for the work of these two talented and committed women. Their lives were profiled and serenaded throughout the two hours of packed theater. It was as if the village were offering the Garants a valentine in June.

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Curiosity won and I arranged to travel into New York City on the new Sea Jitney last Friday afternoon. The ferry, with a capacity of some 150 people, runs between Highlands, N.J., near Sandy Hook, picks up the bulk of its passengers at the 35th Street terminal on the East River, then sails to the Port Jefferson dock, a two-hour ride. I took the ride in reverse, using the new water route to get into Manhattan.

Here is what I can tell you about the trip.

Port-Jeff-4th-of-JulywIt is a beautiful and serene cruise down Long Island Sound. I stood at the rail on the upper deck, watching the lush green bluffs of the Island silently slip by, thinking that the view of the land from the water probably hadn’t changed much since the Indians paddled their canoes along the waterway. The day was cool, the air smelled of salt water and the boat barely rocked as it hugged the North Shore and powered along, escorted by an occasional seagull. I could have been anywhere, I suppose, on any river cruise, until we reached Queens and the boat traffic became heavier, with barges, tugs, tankers and fishing boats plying the waters.

We began seeing the many bridges that herald the approaching port. Although I was born and grew up in Manhattan, I had never seen this perspective of the borough before. The bridges are the sentinels as the distant skyline, with its high-rise buildings, announces the coming metropolis.

We slid through Hell Gate, the place where waters from the Sound and the East River meet, then started downtown. There were all the east side landmarks, from the East River Drive and the Triborough Bridge — known officially as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge — on the northern end to the unmistakable outline of the United Nations Plaza, followed shortly by the canopy of the 35th Street dock.

Without much ado, the captain neatly nosed the ferry to the pier, and I was walking down the gangplank and into the crowds and energy of Friday evening city life. The docks were filled with people waiting for other ferries, and helicopters were landing and taking off from the adjoining heliport. Red and blue buses were allegedly taking people across town for free, although I didn’t immediately see them in the crowded streets.

Municipal green and yellow buses were carrying people uptown and downtown.

The abrupt change from the serenity of the water to the cacophony and crowds of the New York City street scene was something of a shock but one that was short lived as we melted into the mass of humanity and went on our way.

The ferry is a stress-free way of traveling to and from the city, and I can hardly wait to take it again — just for the pleasure of being on the water in such a beautiful place.

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Teddy will be 10 years old this week. Who is Teddy? That’s an interesting question that we have frequently debated over the years. Ostensibly Teddy is a dog, a gorgeous golden retriever, on the large and hairy side.

But we who live with him know differently. While he masquerades as a dog, trotting around the house drinking and eating from his dog bowls and otherwise sleeping and greeting, we know he is much too wise to be a dog. I’ve not been a believer in reincarnation particularly, but if there is such a process, Teddy is the real deal.

We’ve speculated on which of our ancestors he might be, and we’ve not come up with a certain identity. But there is no question regarding his intelligence. For example, when we are sitting in the living room and talking, he will curl up in the center of the room and join the conversation. Really. To the extent that he is able, he communicates with throaty and moaning sounds up and down the human scale. When he wants to go out, he will come over to where I am reading and try to look me in the eye. If I refuse to meet his gaze, he will plop his head across the newspaper or book I am holding, forcing me to acknowledge his presence.

When I do, he will jerk his head in the direction of the front door repeatedly until I get up to get the leash.

Then he will bound toward the door while uttering a series of falsetto sounds clearly expressing his joy.

OK, so that’s not so brilliant. Every dog knows how to communicate its biological needs to its walker. But consider this. It’s raining, dark and late. I’m standing in front of him, leash in hand, asking encouragingly, “Want to go out?” No response. “Want to go out?” I ask again. Unmoving, he will shake his head from side to side. He has mastered the body language for “no.” He can also spell. If the time is right for his next outing and I interrupt the conversation with my family by asking if anyone wants to take him o-u-t, he will jump up and rush toward the door with the ritual histrionics.

Goldens do have the most expressive brown eyes. Sometimes, when I have something on my mind and no one else is around to overhear my monologue, I will talk to Teddy and he will fix his limpid eyes on me all the while. Now he may just be thinking, “What on earth is she carrying on about?” hoping that, if he stays still long enough, in the end I will give him a dog cookie. But that’s the wonderful thing about dogs: They never seem to have pejorative thought about the people who care for them. One of their greatest attributes is that they can’t repeat what you tell them. They can only listen sympathetically. We should all be so smart.

Teddy loves broccoli and kale, especially when prepared with some garlic. He also eats yellow and red peppers, spinach, mushrooms and onions, all with gusto. He does not eat tomatoes nor bananas.

Teddy bears his age with grace. In human years, he is in his 70s, and his hips give testimony. He has some distinguished white hairs among the gold around his muzzle, and he definitely likes to sleep a little later in the mornings. He has developed an impressive snore. Our daily walks are a stately event. No longer do I have to keep him on the leash for fear he will dash off to the nearby beach or visit his friends in the adjoining yards. He is content to walk at a moderate pace beside me — most of the time. When a rabbit crosses our path, he will look at it almost quizzically, as if wondering why he used to get all steamed up chasing a bunny.

A cat? Not so much. He will still go off in pursuit of one — for at least 50 feet — and then return to my side looking mildly embarrassed.

He needn’t be because one of his endearing traits is his playfulness. I never scold him for being a dog, even a dog in disguise. And I appreciate that, even if he is past retirement age, he still works at his job. He knows that his job is to guard the house, and if anyone should drive up in a car he doesn’t recognize, he will let loose with a series of ferocious baritone barks. That is, if he hasn’t slipped downstairs for a civilized afternoon nap. Happy Birthday, Teddy.

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This is the time of year when many people travel. Vacations from school schedules, more comfortable weather, package deals and the urge to get away from the familiar and learn something about how others live, all conspire to encourage us to hit the road, or the rivers and seas or the air and go somewhere. And finally there is good news for the solo travelers among us. Party of one is no longer as expensive and difficult to book as it has been.

According to a recent New York Times article, one in four travelers on overseas vacations went alone last year, up from 15 percent in 2013 based on the latest Visa Global Travel Intentions Study. With the numbers increasing, travel companies are paying attention. Companies that have long been in business are finally offering guided trips for singles and at accessible prices.

Solo travelers are not necessarily singles who are looking for other singles but rather more often marrieds or those in committed relationships who, for one reason or another, might be traveling alone. Sometimes a couple owns a business together, and only one can leave at a time. Or perhaps a couple might be caretakers for an elderly person or one with special needs and can only get away individually. Sometimes trips have a singular theme, like tennis or rappelling, that doesn’t appeal to the partner. Then there is the familiar situation where one member yearns to travel and the other dislikes leaving the comforts and predictability of home for the uncertainty of the road. Traveling solo may save that relationship.

Among first-time travelers, The Times tells us, solo travel has jumped to 37 percent from 16 percent in 2013. This change alone has got to offer encouragement for the widow or widower who hankers to go off on a trip but is intimidated by the prospect of being without a companion. And guided tours among solo travelers are up almost 300 percent since 2013.

Look at some details of contemporary living. Over half of American adults are single. Does that surprise you? It certainly excites travel companies serving that market. As recently as 2012, one in five American adults had never married. Compare that with the one in 10 of 1960. And that is not just the trend for Americans. Other countries, like the United Kingdom, are not far behind. Further, among Americans 45 or older who traveled solo, 53 percent are married while 39 percent are single or divorced, according to AARP.

Some companies are reducing or doing away altogether with the despised single supplements. To mention names, Tom Harper River Journeys, a river cruise company near Boston, offered the information that in 2016, it would have a ship with supplement-free staterooms. The Majestic Line, a small-ship cruising company in Britain, announced that two of seven en-suite cabins on a new ship would be for singles without additional supplements. Holland America, of Seattle, is planning to add 12 new ocean-view cabins for singles on a ship coming in 2016. Companies such as Zegrahm Expeditions and Tauck are offering some relief to those saddled with single supplements, Then there is Solos Vacations, the American arm of one of the oldest British companies, Solos Holidays, whose attendees average 55 years of age.

Here is another comforting statistic from AARP: More than 80 percent of people 45 and older who have traveled solo plan to do so again within the next 12 months. That’s close to a unanimous endorsement. I would certainly be in that 80 percent. While I have never planned an entire trip alone, I have been on parts of a trip unaccompanied and have discovered what I really already knew: That the world is filled with people and that most who travel are interested in meeting and chatting with others similarly inclined.

There are some advantages to being alone. People might be hesitant to engage in conversation with two or more people, but they will readily do so with someone clearly alone who might initiate some chatter about the weather, the food, the accommodations or any other common experience. And that exchange might even lead to getting a cab together at the final destination or having beneficially shared time.

It is getting easier and cheaper to travel alone at last.

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My mother adamantly refused to let the pediatrician remove my tonsils several decades ago. She certainly respected his expertise, having chosen him carefully after an extended search when she knew she was pregnant. But she was not going to agree with his recommended course of action despite my chronic tonsillitis.

“Do you have clinical evidence that children who have had their tonsils removed get sick less often?” she demanded of him. “No,” he responded slowly, “only anecdotal evidence. You know the tonsils have no known function and are not necessary, and hers are very large.” “Hmmph,” was my mother’s rejoinder, “not known to you doctors.” So, as you might expect, I grew up with my tonsils and still have them to this day. They are large enough to inspire each new physician who looks in my throat to exclaim over both their size and their existence in a member of my generation, but whatever role they may play in the human body, they are still playing in mine.

My mother and my father had two strongly-held beliefs: First that there were no superfluous parts to the miraculous human body and, second, that optional surgery was not an option. I am sure they were encouraged in those beliefs by the death of an only child of dear friends during an optional tonsillectomy.

Do I know if they were right? All I can offer is that history shows the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That is why I felt a burst of glee when I came across a recent article in The New York Times Science section headlined, “Saving the Appendix.” They stopped removing tonsils as simply a matter of course many years ago, but here was further affirmation of the parental dicta.

“Five small studies from Europe, involving a total of 1000 patients, indicate that antibiotics can cure some patients with appendicitis; about 70 percent of those who took the pills did not require surgery,” according to Gina Kolata, author of the article. As well, patients who had an appendectomy after first trying antibiotics did not face any more complications than those who went directly to surgery. This, of course, flies in the face of traditional exhortations about rushing to remove the inflamed appendix before it bursts, potentially with dangerous results.

While these studies suggest that surgery can be avoided altogether in treating appendicitis, a large-scale clinical trial must be held for verification — and one is in the planning. When patients who had already had an appendectomy were asked if they would have been willing to try antibiotics first, nearly three-quarters responded “yes.”

The appendix is “a tiny, worm-shaped tube that hangs off the right side of the colon,” Kolata said, and no one knows what it does or why it can suddenly act up. Nor does anyone know why it also can get better on its own, even without antibiotics. And antibiotics actually have been used in the past to treat an inflamed appendix.

According to The Times, during the Cold War in the 1950s, when American sailors spent at least six months on nuclear submarines that were prohibited from surfacing, patients with appendicitis were given antibiotics and no deaths or complications were reported.

To use antibiotics would, of course, eliminate the need for surgery and hospitalization where appendicitis is diagnosed, which would be both cheaper and safer. But even if it revolutionized traditional treatment, using antibiotics would not immediately answer key questions: Would the appendicitis recur? If so, how often? How much antibiotics would be required? How would the drug best be administered?

Presently, doctors don’t usually tell their patients about the antibiotics option, citing the above unanswered questions as a reason. Also we know and, for the most part, approve that medicine is a highly conservative profession, avoiding the trendy but insufficiently tested. It is hard “to go away from a 30-minute operation that cures them for the rest of their lives,” said Dr. Giana Davidson, a University of Washington general surgeon quoted in the article.

But patients are finding out on their own and some ask for this nonsurgical alternative, thanks in part to information gleaned from the Internet.