Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why Art French Looked Funny at Me*


Dear George,


I first saw Katja across the Morgan Hall lawn at the mixer during freshman orientation week at Antioch College in September 1955.  She was wearing a white dress, and she flitted to and fro throughout the crowd, engaging each new person she  met in animated talk.  Believe it or not, I fell in love with her that very moment and told myself that she was the girl I was destined to marry. 


I was painfully shy at this time (in contrast to my current state of being unpainfully shy), and I not only avoided contact with Katja, but with every other woman on campus.  I saw her from a distance from time to time during my freshman year, in the cafeteria or walking across campus.  One night I walked through the common room in South Hall, the women’s dorm, and she was playing the piano and looking melancholy.  Another time I went to a French surrealist play on campus, and she had a bit part as a nanny.  In my view, she stole the show.  Given my lack of action, I had by then decided that I would either marry Katja or an attractive blonde named Aurora (to whom I also had never spoken).


The next year I took my first coop job at Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.  My Uncle Karl arranged for me to live in a pharmacy student fraternity house, but I was very lonely nonetheless.  Two of my freshmen hallmates, Dave (“Newt”) Sears and Art French, had coop jobs in Milwaukee, and I took a Greyhound bus down to visit them on a cold January weekend.  A third Antioch student was also working at Milwaukee Sanitarium, and, miracle of miracles, it was Katja.  She hung out every day with Newt and Art, and consequently I got to meet the girl of my dreams by complete happenstance.


Art was madly in love with Katja, but she had made it clear that he was not an eligible suitor.  I asked Newt if he thought I had a chance, and he said who knows (though he was obviously unimpressed with my romantic skills).  After a second visit to Milwaukee, I asked Katja if she would like to come and see the University of Wisconsin.  To my amazement, she wanted to.  She stayed in a dorm in Madison with one of my high school friends, Sally Henes, and I showed her around the campus.  We drank some beer in a UW bar, and I told her about seeing her for the first time and believing that I would marry her one day.  Katja got furious.  She told me that was the worst line she had ever heard.  Back at the dorm, though, she kissed me goodnight at the front steps.  It was the most thrilling kiss I had ever had.


I returned to Milwaukee a couple of weeks later, and we walked around the freezing streets of the city.  Katja lived in a tiny one-room apartment, the size of a large closet, and later we spent some time there kissing and hugging.  I went back to Newt and Art’s place for the night.  They had one double bed.  As the visitor, I got to sleep in the bed with Art while Newt made do with some cushions on the floor.


In the middle of the night Art screamed out, “What are you doing?  What are you doing?”  Suddenly wakened, I asked, “What?”  Art said, “You kissed me!  What the hell are you doing?”  Still groggy, I was in a state of shock.  I tried to explain to Art that Katja and I had been at her apartment earlier, and that we had been kissing, and that I was dreaming of her, and I thought that’s who was lying next to me.  This explanation only made things a lot worse for Art.  He didn’t want to be kissed in the first place, and he definitely didn’t want to hear about anybody kissing Katja.  Newt started laughing, and Art grumbled, “Forget it!”  He turned over, put his pillow between us, and went back to sleep.  I myself, profoundly embarrassed, lay there in a cold sweat for most of the night.  I told Katja about it the next day.  She wasn’t that amused.  Art looked at me funny from that point on.  I made several more trips to Milwaukee that winter, but I was never again invited to share the bed.




*This story uses some pseudonyms


My Last Free Bus Ride

                                  The Number 17 Bus at Our Corner

Dear George,


Perhaps two years ago the University negotiated an arrangement whereby all students, faculty, and staff could have free Metro bus rides 24 hours a day, seven days a week to wherever they wanted to go.  Can you believe it?  It was like a miracle --  an unexpected and unlikely gift that had fallen from heaven.  I began to ride the bus a lot and enjoyed a pleasant feeling of being blessed (even though the poor people, who constitute the vast majority of bus riders in Cincinnati, often gave me hostile looks when they realized I was boarding with a free pass).


As my retirement drew near, I got nervous about the fate of my new privilege, and I was very relieved to learn that emeriti faculty were included in the free bus ride package.  But then the sky fell in.  In December the University announced that it had renegotiated the contract and that bus users would now have to pay a quarterly fee ($10 for students, $50 for faculty and staff).  Frankly, my bus trips aren’t frequent enough to warrant $50, and that is hardly free in any case.  I disconsolately faced the end of my free rides and, in my view, the end of my recently resurgent optimism about life itself.


My last free ride was a few weeks ago.  I’d planned a special last-day trip downtown, but other things intervened, and I used it instead to catch a ride to the University to commemorate administrative secretary Cheryl’s final day in the department.  While I know I can probably afford the dollar fifty every now and then, I’m very gloomy about my loss.  Essentially, I feel that I’ve been deprived of the last free ride I’ll ever see.   Though getting a free ride seemed ridiculous just a few months ago, its elimination now strikes me as a gross miscarriage of justice.  Everything in our lives these days seems like an offshoot of a financial Armageddon.  Retirement funds have evaporated, social security faces collapse, health care costs continue to escalate wildly. Many of our seventysomething retired friends are considering returning to work, and their financial advisors are grimly encouraging them to do so.  Katja and I have switched to a weaker health insurance plan and our out-of-pocket medical costs have zoomed up. We paid thirteen hundred dollars last month to the Chevy dealer because our SUV gas tank pipeline was broken (apparently because I tried to jam a non-fitting diesel gasoline nozzle into it), and we have had to spend several thousands to fix interior wall damage from a leaky slate roof. All of these disasters, major and minor, have become consolidated in my mind in the form of a single calamity -- the end of free bus rides.  That free pass was a tiny beacon of light in the bleak financial wilderness, an unexpected gift from the impersonal mega-bureaucracy that suggested that existence still offered some tiny but bonafide beneficence.


So I’ve stewed and complained and moaned and groaned, but all to no avail.  The other day I was riding in the elevator in Crosley Tower.  When it stopped at the 12th floor,, I noticed a new sculpted plaque for the Economics Department which identified its presence with a fancy UC logo and ended with a quote from Milton Friedman:  “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  I thought about that for the rest of the day (and beyond).  It had an undeniable truth value. So now I’m trying to come to terms with actually paying for my occasional bus rides.  I have to – it’s a matter of economic reality.






Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mother's Day

                                   Mayme, Rebekah, Donna

Dear George,


J and K sent Katja a beautiful bouquet for Mothers’ Day, and they had an early Sunday morning phone conversation filled with laughter and love.  Katja was thrilled.  She loves flowers and being remembered. As we started to get ourselves together for the day, Katja said she was out of bacon.  I said I’d go to the grocery store, but she actually wasn’t that interested in cooking her own Mothers’ Day breakfast.  We drove first to the Frisch’s on Central Parkway, but the overflowing parking lot indicated that all the mothers in Clifton were being celebrated at once.  Instead we drove over to the Spring Grove Frisch’s which has fewer nearby mothers and always empty tables.  As is our routine, Katja had french toast and sausage patties, and I made three trips to the breakfast bar.   As we chatted, I said that having a child was the best thing we’d ever done, and Katja (as the person who actually had had the child) said absolutely.


After breakfast we drove over to Spring Grove Cemetery to stop by Helen’s and Buck’s grave.  As we drove through the gates, Katja noted that J and K were going later that day to a second line parade.  I had learned what the second line is on a recent trip to New Orleans, and I started to tell her about it.  After a sentence or two, I started to choke up.  I tried to say more, and the tears started flowing.  I cried and cried as I struggled to get the words out.  I still don’t know what that was all about.  Apparently some mix of  funerals and graves, dead parents, our children far away, Mothers’ Day, and the sheer poignancy of the second line itself.


Katja wondered aloud if she might plant a rose bush next to her parents’ gravestone.  I thought the cemetery wouldn’t allow it.  We were pleased to see that the cemetery workers had placed protective slats across the ivy growing on their plot.  Their gravestone included an image of intertwined wedding rings and their wedding date.  Looking at the birthdates, I’d forgotten that Helen had lived to 89 and Buck to 88, and I thought to myself that Katja still has many years to go.  We joked about her folks staring down upon the gigantic crucifix at the bottom of the hill.  Katja said she was happy about her parents’ decision not to be buried in a segregated Jewish cemetery.  We stood in silence for a while, lost in our separate thoughts.


After the cemetery, we went to Rahn’s Greenhouse to see if they’d yet gotten a companion hanging flower pot for the one Katja had bought on Saturday.  They hadn’t, but on our way out we were approached by a woman holding onto a handsome boxer dog.  She was a dog rescue person, and she had found this particular dog running free on Spring Grove Avenue without a collar.  She surmised that it had been abandoned, and she was seeking for a good home.  Mothers’ Day at the greenhouse was probably a promising time and place to find potential adopters.  The dog was friendly and sweet and looked as though it had been well cared for.  As we drove out of the parking lot, both Katja and I independently expressed a wish to take the abandoned dog home with us.  Fortunately we realized that this idea amounted to total insanity.


Sophie, Mike and Duffy’s younger sister, was visiting at our house for the weekend, so I took the three sheepdogs on a walk down Ludlow Avenue.  I intended to take them over to Dunore Park, but, when we crossed the street, they literally dragged me down the side street to Rosie’s house.  Matt answered my knock on the door and asked if I thought he should bring Rosie out.  Rosie is a tiny dog compared to the sheepdogs, but she can definitely hold her own, so I said yes.  We chatted a bit, and then Jennifer arrived back home from the grocery store.  She was enjoying her own Mothers’ Day, with the children having cooked breakfast for her.  Matt started talking about Star Trek when suddenly Rosie took off like a bolt of lightning, running to the neighbor’s lawn and disappearing behind the house.  Jennifer observed what a good runner Rosie is.  Matt ran next door to retrieve her, but unfortunately, he had no luck – Rosie had vanished.  Jennifer was nonplussed and said she’d find her.  The three dogs and I accompanied her up the block. We called out Rosie’s name at each house, but there was no Rosie to be found.  Matt in the meantime got in their car and set out in the opposite direction.  I was upset, feeling partially responsible for this catastrophe, but Jennifer remained relaxed about it all.  We turned onto Evanswood at the end of the long block, and moments later Jennifer spotted Rosie in the arms of one of their friends’ children several houses up the street.  She called out, and Rosie came running down the sidewalk as fast as she could.  Jennifer smiled, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  How could she be sure this would work out?


Sophie was visiting our house because Donna and her 86-year-old mom, Mayme, had driven a hundred miles to Louisville to have lunch with Donna’s daughter Rebekah (who herself had driven up 175 miles from Nashville).  I’d said to Donna that I thought it was too far to drive for lunch, but, of course, I was wrong.  A family reunion trip by three generations of women added a lot of significance to the day.  On their way back home Donna and Mayme stopped by our house to pick up Sophie.  Mayme is pretty frail, and the three sheepdogs jumped all over her as they walked up our back steps.  I grabbed the  dogs by the collars to pull them away, and Donna was angrily protective of her mom.  We sat in the solarium, chatted about their trip, and looked at pictures on the digital camera of the three dogs that I’d taken in the forest.  Because Katja and I no longer have mothers, I sometimes view Mayme as a substitute mother, and I felt good about having her at our house on Mothers’ Day.  Taking a big car trip is no easy thing for an older person, and we were proud that she’d pulled it off successfully.   She said that winding up at our house was one of the highlights of the day, and that made us feel good.


Katja and I had a quiet evening.  We each missed our mothers on this special day, though we agreed that there was a certain relief in being beyond the stage of caring for aged parents.  (Katja noted, though, that we don’t care for aged parents because we are the aged parents.)  All in all, Mothers’ Day had been an evolving mix of rambunctious dogs, present and lost moms, and strong emotions all rolled up together.  We thought about Donna and Mayme, and Jennifer and her kids, and all the other mothers of our family (Katja, K, Susan, Vicki, Margie, Faith, Rhys, Kazandra, Jennifer, Hilary, Linda, Jayme), and, most of all, Katja’s mother, Helen, and my mother, Doris.  At our life stage, Mothers’ Day is a day of loss more than anything else.  While both of our mothers were complicated and sometimes difficult characters, there is nevertheless no one in the world to whom one matters as much as one’s mother, and her loss leaves a void that can never be filled. It’s not an easy thing to be motherless.  I guess that’s why I had cried a lot.







Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Cincinnati Rollergirls

Sadistic Sadie

Dear George,

When I was a college student on a co-op job in New York City in the late 1950’s, I used to regularly spend my Friday nights at the Roller Derby which was held at an armory in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. I thought it was the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. The participants were not only skaters but dramatic personages, with gaudy costumes, colorful pseudonyms, and clearly defined images as heroes (i.e., the home team) and bad guys (the visitors). The oval track sloped upwards from its center to maximize possibilities for speed, and the players’ skates gave off a collective drone akin to a jet engine. Men’s and women’s teams alternated in the competition, and both exhibited a lot of exaggerated aggression: punches exchanged for the men; hairpulling and catcalls for the women. The crowd was emotionally charged, shouting and screaming, and fistfights would break out in the stands as well as on the floor.

After leaving New York, I didn’t see the roller derby again in person, and it pretty much disappeared from the sporting scene in the 1970’s. A year or two ago, though, I saw an ad for the Cincinnati Rollergirls in the newspaper. I mentioned it at a dinner party. Katja wasn’t much interested, though her coworker Kathy R. was enthusiastic. Then, last month, Kathy actually did organize a group outing to a Rollergirls match from her and Katja’s agency. Katja and I signed up.

The Rollergirls’ home is the Cincinnati Gardens, a now aged venue with a long tradition of hosting professional basketball (the Cincinnati Royals with Oscar Robertson) and college basketball (Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati). Since the construction of downtown and campus sports stadiums several decades ago, the Gardens has fallen on hard times and in recent years has hosted Monster Truck Rallies, Shop Till You Drop, the Shrine Circus, and now the roller derby. The roller derby, we learned, has seen a resurgence nationally in the last decade, with about 200 women’s teams in operation around the nation. The Cincinnati Rollergirls are currently ranked 17th, along with several other high-ranking teams from the North Central region (the Windy City Rollers, #3; the Detroit Derby Girls, #12; and the Mad Rollin’ Dolls from Madison WI, #13).

We got to the Gardens at the 6 p.m. opening time on a Saturday night in order to get the best available $15 VIP seats. By 6:30, there was a respectable crowd, and by the 7:00 start time, people were in rows nearly up to the top of the stadium – perhaps a crowd of 1500. I’d expected a mere sprinkling of people, so the fan turnout was a surprise. It was a pretty young bunch, 100% white (as were the skaters), and with a higher than normal proportion of tattoos, male ponytails, and close-cropped crewcuts.

At 7:00 management turned the lights off, lit up the outer rim of the oval track, and shined a spotlight on the rotating crystal ball at the ceiling’s center. The Hard Knox skaters were introduced first, one by one, and they individually circled the track to some mix of mild boos and polite applause. The Cincinnati Rollergirls then elicited enthusiastic cheers as they sped around the track. Their names were theatrical and fun -- Candy Kickass, Hannah Barbaric, Maim E. Van Gore’n, Sadistic Sadie, Panterrorize, Glamour Azz, Sex Pistol, Killian Destory, Nik Jagger. (In fact, these wild women were accountants, librarians, medical professionals, and business people in their mundane daytime lives.) The referees for the evening, who skated around the interior of the oval track during play and assessed penalties, were Susie Shinsplintski, Fireman Bill, Peal Eyes, Professor Murder, and Jennemy of the Skate. The Rollergirls were clad in black and white outfits, with short mini-skirts or panties and a wide variety of leggings and protective gear (helmets, knee pads, elbow pads). The Knoxville team wore fluorescent yellow-green.

The first hour-long match was between the “junior varsity” teams, Cincinnati’s Silent Lambs and the Hard Knox Brawlers. Five-person teams formed up at the starting line. The pivot from each team was in front, their task being to regulate the pace of the pack. Then came the pack itself, consisting of three blockers from each team. Finally, the single jammer from each team was at the back and set out a second or two after the rest of the pack started off. Each jammer’s task was to get through the entire pack during the two-minute round and then to come around and pass players on opposing team (receiving one point for each opponent passed). The blockers’ job, on the other hand, was to keep the opponent’s jammer from passing them, preferably by knocking her down, while helping their own team’s jammer take the lead.

The players skated on a 15 foot wide oval concrete track, marked by fluorescent tape on floor, with the outer perimeter about 50 feet wide by 85 feet long. The pace was fast, perhaps 25 or 30 miles an hour at top speed, and there was lots of physical contact as blockers tried to knock opponents out of position or derail the other team’s jammer. The referees sent rule-violators to the penalty box, so that often teams varied in the number of players on the floor. The crowd was excited, and our group cheered and yelled (especially Katja). The roller derby strikes me as some mix of Olympic-style speed skating, horse racing, and football. We were generally able to follow what was going on, though the frequent penalties remained a complete mystery. An announcer reported the action over a totally inaudible speaker system, simply infusing the action with incoherent noise. The home team Silent Lambs were completely dominant in the first match, winning handily.

The half-time entertainment was provided by three African-American guys – the CincyCool Skate Crew – who did a trick skating exhibition, some mix of fancy skating moves, hip hop dancing, and acrobatics. They were good, and the crowd showed its appreciation.

The respective all-star teams – the Black Sheep vs. the Brawlers A-Team – competed in the second match. The Black Sheep’s top jammers were Candy Kickass, Hannah Barbaric, Sadie Sadistic, and Lethal. My personal favorite was Sadistic Sadie. Sadie was fast as lightning, dodging this way and that before opponents could figure out her whereabouts, spurting ahead, and running the Brawlers off the track or causing them to tumble to the concrete.

By and large, the competition between teams was intense, but one got little sense of animosity. The Brawlers were bigger and heavier, but the Black Sheep were quicker and more athletic, so the contest took on a special interest of brawn vs. speed. Perhaps the primary instance of raw aggression occurred when Sadistic Sadie got into a combative interchange with opposing jammer Jamie Skull and knocked her flat on her butt. Later in the match the Brawler’s current jammer, Rockalottapus, took a hard fall and was writhing on the track in pain. Dr. Kil-Dear called for a stretcher, and Rockalottapus was carted off, though she had recovered sufficiently to give a double victory sign to the crowd. Later, toward the end of the evening, another Brawler was injured, and, given the likelihood of a lengthy delay, we decided to leave. The Rollergirls were ahead 141-38 at the time, and it was clear that we had the superior team.

Like other contact sports, e.g., football, hockey, lacrosse, basketball, the roller derby provides intrinsically interesting and adrenaline-arousing elements – inter-group conflict, power, speed, physical aggression, risk of injury, and explicit winning and losing. Women’s roller derby offers the further element of women engaged in highly competitive, physical activity that our culture defines as traditionally masculine. Thus, the Rollergirls provide an intriguing amalgamation of traditional gender roles (makeup and clothes, sex appeal, even their nomenclature as “girls”) and distinctively nontraditional roles (power, aggression). Internet accounts describe the women’s roller derby resurgence as both campy and feminist in its orientation. At the same time, this is serious sport where the more accomplished players show high levels of athleticism and competence. We liked it a lot -- we’ll definitely be going again.



The Sheepdogs at Middle Age

                                            Mike and Duffy

Dear George,

 It’s hard to believe, but we recently celebrated Mike and Duffy’s seventh birthday.  It seems just the other day that I came home and was startled to find two eight-week-old black and white puppies sitting in our kitchen doorway.  I googled the life expectancy of Old English Sheepdogs today, and it turns out to be 12.8 (better than I’d thought).  So the dogs are now 49 in human years and they could live to be 90 or a hundred.

The dogs have mellowed as they’ve grown into adulthood.  Duffy remains the Alpha dog, but he is less obsessive about it, and Mike has become correspondingly more assertive (perhaps because he has gained some weight and now is about 5 lbs.heavier than Duffy).  In contrast to his youthful submissiveness, Mike barks like a madman when irritated at Duffy.  Instead of  reciprocating though, Duffy pays no apparent attention to this posturing and simply stands rigidly immobile while Mike yaps away inches from his brother’s head.  Duffy is still the faster eater of the two, gobbling up his bowl in two or three minutes.  When they were younger, I would have to intervene to keep Duffy from invading Mike’s food bowl, but now he simply wanders off to the other room and leaves his brother in peace.

The dogs spend much of the day looking out of the living and dining room windows, and they become agitated when the mailman comes or a neighborhood dog passes by with its owners.  Duffy is the most vigilant, and he barks at the top of his voice.  Mike joins in automatically, even though he often has no idea what the commotion is about.  The rest of the time the dogs either sleep or Duffy busily plays with his big rubber Kong (a truly fantastic dog invention).  He pushes it around for endless minutes, first with one paw and then the other, shoving it under the table or into the closet, and then retrieving it and carrying it about in his mouth.  His behavior might seem to  resemble an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but, in fact, he is capable of entertaining himself for hours on end.  Mike shows minimal interest in toys, but he is very interested in sitting and watching Duffy. 

Duffy has been terrified of skateboards since puppyhood, and he has never conquered this fear.  His anxiety is specific to skateboards – other wheeled vehicles like roller-blades, scooters, or bicycles elicit no reaction at all.  After years of avoiding the noisy Ludlow Ave. business district because of Duffy’s apprehension, I’ve recently taken to walking both dogs down that busy street.  Mike actually prefers the heightened stimulation and seeks out passing humans and other dogs for contact.  Duffy remains aloof.  While he’ll occasionally let himself be petted, he would rather hide behind me when kids and adults approach.  Because of Mike’s hip problems, I’ve taken to giving him shorter walks by himself, typically the four blocks up to the firehouse and back.  On the way home we sit for five minutes or so on the bench at the bus stop, and Mike enjoys watching the cars, buses, pedestrians, and bicyclists coming to and fro (and they him).

The boys’ little sister, Sophie, comes over for regular visits, and that’s always an exciting evemt.  Sophie has the most personality of the three dogs, and she can be counted on to stir things up.  She is wary of Duffy, who can be intimidating if not downright hostile, and Sophie spends her time flirting around and prompting Mike to play.  She paws at his face, and Mike responds with surly growling, then mock bites to her head and throat.  While Mike behaves like a grumpy old man, one senses that he secretly enjoys Sophie’s attentions, and they spend many minutes playing their paw and growl game.   

At nighttime Duffy jumps easily into our bed.  Mike is capable of doing so but prefers to be lifted in.  Both stake out their places before the humans are able to do so, and the dogs typically lie sideways in the middle of the bed, taking up 2/3 or more of the available space.  For unknown reasons, we politely accommodate this territorial behavior, bending ourselves into the small zig zag spaces which remain between the two canine torsos.  Duffy shows more affection with the humans.  While Mike is at his happiest when he can lick K’s toes, Duffy pins her down with his forepaws and gives licks her on the face.  The dogs usually retreat to the floor after we fall asleep, and Mike wakes me daily at about 6:10 a.m. by scratching at the bed’s sideboard to be lifted back in.

We and the dogs make up a happy pack.  They’re thrilled to greet us when we arrive home and miserable when we leave.  We pamper them shamelessly, and they shower us with unwavering adoraion.  They loved to be petted and they especially love to be fed.  Their affection enhances Katja’s and my relationship – all those good feelings get spread around.  Connections with dogs are simpler and easier than those with humans – more physical, more direct, less complex or ambivalent. Our lives are clearly richer and more rewarding, even healthier, because of Mike and Duffy.  All in all, we are a happy family these days.




Ten Secrets of a Long and Happy Marriage

Katja gets her point across

Dear George,

This summer Katja and I will celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary. This longetivity is not surprising. On our wedding day in 1960 my father took Katja aside and told her that members of our family never divorce. We took this to heart (i.e., it made us very nervous), and we vowed that we would not violate this sacred family tradition. The secret of marital stability, of course, lies in developing open and effective marital communication. To gain a better understanding of Katja and my accomplishment of this, I’ve taken notes in recent weeks of real-life excerpts from our daily conversation. After careful study, I conclude that these examples demonstrate ten principles which, when followed carefully, will virtually guarantee a long and happy marriage. I’ve listed these principles below along with examples from our actual verbal interchanges. You will probably be as amazed as I was.

1. Learn how to make one another laugh and smile.

D (looking at photos of himself for blog): These photos look terrible. I look like an old man with Alzheimer’s.

K: It’s because of how I took them. They look like prison photos. You didn’t smile.

D: You didn’t make me smile. You have to make me.

K: It’s hard to make you smile. You never smile.

D: You can make me smile. You didn’t even try. All you did was say “Fromage”.

K: I don’t know how.

D: Well, we’re married. You ought to be able to make me smile.

K: We’ll try again in the morning.

2. Share relaxing moments of togetherness.

D: You should come in and watch this (the Jack Benny Show on PBS).

K: No. I’m not interested. (Later, from the hallway:) Turn it down. (Pause) Turn it down!

D: (Leaves den, goes into bedroom, turns on other TV, locks bedroom door, turns up sound very high).

K (knocking on bedroom door): Why are you acting like this?

D: Go away! I want to watch Jack Benny by myself.

3. Do not obsess about bureaucratic rules.

K (eyeing D’s fruit bowl from the breakfast bar at Frisch’s): Can I have a peach?

D: No, I’d rather you didn’t.

K: Just one peach?

D: It’s not that I don’t want to give you one. It says on the menu that, if you share, you’ll be charged for two meals. I don’t want to pay for two meals.

K: I’m not sharing. I’m just nibbling.

D (looking around to check the whereabouts of the waitress): O.k., go ahead.

4. Be knowledgeable about the social world around you.

K (just back from Ishmael B's funeral at the Methodist Church): There sure are a lot of Christians. I’d say there are more Christians than Jews.

D: Is that the first time you realized that?

K: No, but the whole place was filled with Christians. They all knew the words to the songs.

D: Were there any Jews there?

K: I’m sure there were, but I didn’t recognize any.

D: Was Ish Jewish?

K: His funeral was at the Methodist Church.

D: Oh.

5. Seek harmony in financial matters.

D (after noticing new placemats and new seat cushions in the dining room): It sure is costing a lot for you to host your book club for dinner.

K: It isn’t that much. I got these at Pier One Imports.

D: Didn’t we decide that we should only make purchases that are necessary?

K: This was necessary. I’ve been feeling depressed. Shopping is necessary for my mental health.

D (looking at placemat price tag): That’s a pretty good price. That’s a pretty good bargain. It really is.

6. Don’t blame your partner for your own mistakes.

D (irritated): Did you see that New York Times Magazine that I put on the bannister.

K: No.

D: It was the one with that political figure on the cover.

K: Newt Gingrich? Maybe it’s in the recycling bin. Or in the garbage.

D (after checking the recycling bin and the garbage): It’s not there. I retrieved it once from the garbage, and I put it on the banister so it would go upstairs.

K: Maybe it is upstairs.

D (returning from upstairs after looking some more): It was upstairs where I brought it.

K: Oh, I’m so glad.

7. Take advantage of opportunities to reaffirm your union.

K: Next year will be our fiftieth anniversary.

D: Mmm.

K: I would like to redo our vows.

D: Let’s do that for our 75th anniversary.

K: We won’t even be alive for our 75th anniversary. People do that at their 25th anniversary or their 50th anniversary.

D: Twenty-fifth plus 50th equals 75th.

K: We are going to do that for our fiftieth anniversary.

D: Oh.

8. Don’t manufacture crises that don’t exist.

D (driving home from the animal hospital): This is so upsetting.

K: Whatever happens we are not putting him down. Mikey is too young.

D: I read on the Internet that most families can’t afford surgery for their dogs.

K: We’ll take out a loan.

D: No more loans. No more loans.

K; Mikey is too young.

D: We shouldn’t even be talking about this at this point. We don’t even know what’s going on.

(Gloomy silence)

9. Act like adults rather than tiny infants.

D: I’m looking for my Fitness Center forms. They were here on the bureau dresser.

K: I don’t know anything about them.

D: You cleared off the bureau dresser. They were right here.

K; Maybe I put them in the garbage.

D: These are important! (D takes two large hefty bags filled with trash, unties them, dumps their contents onto the hallway floor, and begins rifling through the massive pile.)

K (observes silently, then gets a waste basket and dumps its contents on top of the file).

D: There’s a lot of things I want in here.

K (watches without comment).

D: Here they are! Here are my forms!

K: Those are just blank pieces of paper.

D: No they’re not. They’re important! (Retreats to the bedroom to put the forms in a safe place).

10. Do your best to keep in touch with reality.

K (at 3 a.m.): David, wake up. Something is making a noise in the closet.

D: What? What?

K: Something is in the closet. It’s making a noise.

D: I don’t hear anything. (pause) Oh, now I hear it. (Rather loud, sort of chirping sound -- perhaps a young bird or a baby oppossum.)

K (after listening some more): It’s coming from your nose.

D: What?

K: The noise. The noise is coming out of your nose

D (after listening further): Oh. I guess it is. (Both go back to sleep.)

That’s it. Such a testimonial to the virtues of maturity. When we were young marrieds, we sometimes didn’t listen carefully or we were judgmental or insensitive to the subtleties of one another’s feelings. But now we are like finely tuned violin strings, resonating in harmony to one another’s slightest vibrations. Please feel free to pass these lessons along. I think it important that they be made available to the younger people as soon as possible.



Postscript: Letters for George

                                           George Levenson

Remarks from George Levenson's memorial service, Santa Cruz, CA, March 31, 2007.


            My name's Dave L*****.  I'm Vicki's older brother.  And I'm George's brother.  Technically, I am his brother-in-law.  But George has been calling me his brother for some time, and I agree.

            My wife Katja and I met George in Ann Arbor in 1967, or maybe 1968.  Vicki was completing her undergraduate Psychology major, and George was a doctoral student in Political Science.  He and Vicki had been dating for some time, and we had come up for the weekend.  We went out to dinner together at a local bar and restaurant, and afterward they had dancing.  Some of you have probably danced with George, and many of you have seen him dancing.  You can imagine our impression, with George flailing about in his unique, uninhibited style.  I decided then and there that we had a handful in our hands.  And we all hit it off from the beginning.

            In 1973 we visited George and Vicki in Toronto, where George had taken a job as Assistant Professor of Political Science at York University.  They had bought a ramshackle house in the middle of the city, and George was busy learning carpentry, plumbing, and electricity to rebuild the building from scratch.  Jacob Oliver was still in his mother's womb, and they asked me to paint a mural on and outside his bedroom walls. 

            My impression from talking with him is that George was a wonderful college teacher -- bright, articulate, funny, warm, knowledgeable, and socially conscious.  However, he disliked the pretense, stuffiness, and competitiveness of academia, and after six years he gave it up.  He and Vicki bought a van and they headed west for the New World.

            Our paths crossed then each year when our parents, Vic and Doris L******, organized annual family reunions at our family home in Menominee, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula.  My brothers Steve and Peter and their families would be there, and George and Vicki would fly in with their beautiful children, Abra, Rhys, and Jacob.  The first question on everybody's mind each year was "Is George coming?"  My son J**** has always said that these were the happiest times in his parents' lives.  George brought such warmth and fun and was totally loved in our family.  We would go around to the yard sales and thrifts shops in Menominee and acquire treasures.  At midnight George would lead an expedition to go swimming  naked in the frigid waters of Green Bay, though he was usually the only one to take off his suit.  We would spend hours talking together in the front yard gazebo, and it was here that George learned to bake bread from my father.

            These were not occasions without strain.  My mother was a member of the D.A.R., and my father's mother was chairwoman of the Wisconsin state Republican party.  Vicki and George, on the other hand, were at the forefront of the counter-culture revolution.  They rejected marriage as an option; they were wary of traditional medicine.  They home schooled their children.  My father was convinced that Jacob would never learn to read or write.  They had sold their house in Toronto for a good profit, and they didn't worry about paid employment for a number of years.  George would have long philosophical talks with my Dad, and, despite vast differences in ideology, they grew to love and respect one another deeply.

            In recent years I've taken to visiting George and Vicki in Santa Cruz on an annual basis.  You know all about that, so I won't go into it.  I did go this morning, though, to the Skyview Flea Market, and it brought back happy memories of the many visits that George and I had made there. 

            For at least the last ten years George also has been my most faithful e-mail correspondent.  Whenever I've sent a message to family members, George inevitably has been the first to respond, usually within the next 5 to 10 minutes.  I've often thought he must be on the computer 24 hours a day.  I'd like to read a passage from an e-mail that George sent my on December 19th, probably a very difficult time for him.  I had complained to him about my job and my thinking about retirement in the near future.  George wrote to me: 


It's kind of like looking into the contents of a dinosaur's

stomach -- filled with baffling and fascinating predigested roughage that is

both disgusting and interesting -- in the end probably irrelevant but still

demanding investigation.


I'm contemplating what to do next as well -- perhaps let another

distribution company handle the videos and receive semi-annual royalties

rather than keep it going as a small enterprise.  I'm inclined to let it go

and create a nice fresh meadow to think on what is next. It's refreshing;

and as much as I enjoy sending out the materials and speaking with teachers,

it really is quite repetitive and makes me a little lazy.  I'm not thinking

of retirement as much as refreshment.  We should have enough money to get by

-- certainly more  than we've had in the past when I've been at a similar



Yup, I got an email from J***.  It will be good to see him and K***.

Abra arrives on Friday for a week, Jacob, Kazandra and August are going to

San Diego for a week (though there will be some overlap with Abra) and Rhys,

Tim and Oskar will be back and forth a few times.  Vicki's in the Xmas

spirit with a lot less frenzy -- she loves the holiday and this year, she

will host an Xmas eve party for about 50. It's what she wants to do.


All is going well here. I'm moving ahead with my own course of study --

trusting my body will follow suit. Hope you get out on a few adventures over

the next few weeks ... Like maybe driving to NYC at the last minute ...


Love to Katja and you,



That's my brother...