Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

                     Vic L (center) and colleagues in the Pacific (circa 1944)

Dear George,

We celebrated Memorial Day with a picnic at Donna’s today and reminisced with her mother, Mayme, about the war years.  I was four when the U.S. entered World War II and was in third grade when the war came to an end.  My dad joined the Navy in 1943, went to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, then was stationed in the Pacific where he spent time in occupied Japan at the end of the war.  He told my college friend Arnie that this was the most meaningful time in his life.  While he was away, my mom, Steve, and I lived in a dumpy second floor apartment at the corner of Sheridan Road and Kirby St. in a building my grandfather owned.  We missed my dad a lot.  My mother gave birth to Peter in June of 1945, and I don’t know how she managed all of that on her own.


The war was a significant part of our childhood.  We spent a lot of time – most of our leisure time – playing with guns: cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, and war.  When we played war, nobody wanted to be the Nazis, partly because of the stigma and partly because it was one’s obligation to die at the end of the game.  We hardly ever drove anywhere because gasoline was strictly rationed.  Our car had a sticker in the window that asked “Is This Trip Necessary?”  It almost never was.  Meat was rationed.  So was sugar, coffee, and a lot of other basics.  The war was a significant part of our curriculum at school, and we received regularly news reports there.  Sometimes it was positive, but more often it was scary or devastating.  Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Patton, and later Truman were our heroes.  We learned to hate Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirihito, and I spent a lot of time drawing cartoons of the enemy leaders.  There was, of course, no TV yet, and we got our visual imagery of the war via Movietone News at the Lloyd Theater matinees on Saturday afternoons.

                   Vic L, Lieut. JG, in occupied Japan (circa 1945)

On VJ Day I was allowed to go outside and honk our car horn, even if it did wear down the battery.  For blocks around people were honking their horns, and there was a feeling of great communal celebration.  We knew nothing about the holocaust then, though we were soon acutely aware of the atomic bomb and fearful of its destructive potential.  Months later my Dad came home from Japan.  Two of his other close friends came home at the same time, Mike O’Hara and Pat Steffke.  Pat had brought home a young Austrian war bride, Martina, who was an opera singer and, in the estimation of us eight-year-olds, the most beautiful woman in the world. Vic and Doris, Mike and Jean, and Pat and Martina had a homecoming party in our Kirby St. apartment on their first night back.  The men were all in uniform.  My dad was in the Navy, Mike in the Marines, and Pat in the Army, and they kidded one another about which service branch was most essential.  After a while Steven and I were relegated to the back room, and, though we felt bitter about being excused, we watched the adults joke and laugh through a crack in the door.  We were grateful that our dad and his friends had made it home.  These were momentous times.



Tuesday, May 25, 2010

V Pays a Visit

Dear George,

J and V flew up from New Orleans last Thursday for a long weekend.  We see V every 3 or 4 months, so she has always changed a lot.  This time, at 20 months, it was verbal development.  She could identify “donkey” and “squirrel” and just about everything else in the picture book and was busy learning to say an endless array of names (including “Kentucky” and “caterpillar”).  When we went to the zoo, I watched all the doting grandparents with their little grandchildren. I concluded that all babies and kids are wonderful, and all grandparents are a little loopy about them.  So it is with us.  I thought I would share some of V’s visit.  I know I’m a little excessive, but it’s hard to restrain oneself.

Meeting at the airport is exciting.  V was shy for one minute, but soon was giving hugs to Katja and myself.

I’d been to the thrift shop, and there were many treasures waiting at home.  V quickly started filling her castle with little creatures, and soon it resembled our overflowing attic.

We took V to Dunore Park down the street, and the little playground seemed ready-made for her.  She climbed up the slide herself and then came tumbling down.  

V bonded quickly with her grandma (Na-Na) and began calling for her urgently when Katja left the room.

She seemed to like her grandpa (Boppa) too, though she wasn’t always quite as comfortable.

We went to the Japanese butterfly exhibit at the conservatory, and V was fascinated by the brightly colored flying things.

The zoo was also a big hit.  Here V and the little owl are staring one another down.

V took a liking to this kid’s soccer ball, so he tried to escape (that’s daddy J rushing to the rescue).

Donna came over and gave V the second hair trim of her young life.

Playing with Eleanor and Calvin was a highlight of V’s trip.

Goodbye kisses are always sad.  But we knew we would be seeing V, J, and K again soon in California.  We were left with a lot of happy memories and feelings.



G-Mail Comments:

-Jennifer M (5-25): Great pictures of a great girl!

-Linda C (5-25): Wonderful story with pictures, thanks so much. Looks like every one had lovefest time.  It is hard to not feel loopy about her when she is so wonderful  see you all soon


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Washington School Days: 10. The Safety Patrol*

                         Steven L, Safety Patrol Captain

Dear George,

Like at all schools, kids at Washington Grade School enjoyed differing levels of social status among their peers.  However, one of the few formal social positions available was that of Captain of the Safety Patrol.  There was a girls’ Captain and a boy’s Captain, both appointed by Miss Guimond.  Safety Patrol members – all sixth-graders – staffed the main street corner before and after school and at lunch, watching for cars and holding out a flag to escort the smaller children across the street.  Helen O. was the Captain of the girls’ patrol, and I had the honor of heading up the boys.


Safety patrol members wore a badge and a white belt and chest band to make them more visible to motorists.  The Captain had a special badge, larger than the others.  Captains made up all of the assignments for the traffic guards, kept records of who did what, and kept the ship running smoothly.


Like most positions of authority, being the Safety Patrol Captain was not all peaches and cream.  Though Captains enjoyed special recognition on the part of the establishment (i.e., Miss Guimond), peers treated it less deferentially.  Helen’s girls were cooperative for the most part, but I felt I was dealing with a pack of fledgling criminals.  In particular, after the first week of patrol duty in September, the novelty of guiding first-graders across the street wore off, and most of the boys under my authority decided that it was more fun to play football than to stand at attention on the street corner.  Since I enjoyed the glory of being Captain, they decided, I ought to be the one to do the work as well.  Jerry D. was the first to abandon his sacred duties, and he warned me not to tell Miss Guimond or else.  I began covering Jerry’s shift.  His chums shortly followed suit.  Within a matter of days I was doing one hundred percent of the boys’ guard duty. 

This seemed unfair to me since it was my football that everybody else was playing with.  I threatened to leave it at home, but, since nobody else’s parents would buy one, this proved to be an idle threat.  Might makes right on the playground, and I acceded to my classmates.


Late in the fall Miss Guimond asked to review my records of the Safety Patrol assignments.  Since I’d been the only one on duty most of the time, I hadn’t kept any records.  Miss Guimond scolded me for shirking my duties, and I vowed to improve.  From then on, I made up fake records, inserting the names of the various football players while I covered their assignments.  Being in charge of things, I learned at this early stage of life, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.



*Pseudonyms used in this story

G-Mail Comments:

-Linda C (5-19): Love descriptive blog. Sorry to say I would have been one of the children to have left you in the lurch.  maybe Jayme can tell you her safety patrol story.  Was picture you or your bro? 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Is Jack Bauer a Right-Wing Superhero?

Dear George,

The Fox Network’s smash hit, “24”, is winding up its eighth and final season this month, with just a couple of hours left for counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer to single-handedly save America from nuclear destruction.  Jack (played by Kiefer Sutherland) has not only the Russian and Arab terrorists to worry about, but he is being pursued by the FBI and the NYPD, with their orders being to shoot on sight.  Probably because of the intense anxiety the program generates, we’ve been hooked on “24” from its very beginning.  In addition to worshipping Jack, we despise the vicious evil-doers who are trying to murder him.  It’s a shock every Monday night when a sixty-minute episode comes to an end, and we can hardly bear to wait an entire week to find out what’s going to happen next.  Only now and then do we remind ourselves that all this is a Fox Network production, the home of Fox News and their right-wing mogul Rupert Murdoch.  When this fact does pop into mind, we’re forced to reconsider whether “24” is designed to propagate right-wing ideology.


There’s a long history of research in social psychology on political conservatism and right-wing authoritarianism.  The initial work began shortly after World War II in psychoanalytic studies of the social and personality origins of fascism by Adorno and colleagues, and it’s represented more recently in studies of the psychological bases of right-wing political ideology by social psychologist Robert Altemeyer.  Right-wing authoritarians, according to this work, tend to rigidly dichotomize the social world into in-groups (i.e., those groups with which they personally identify) and out-groups (who they regard as antagonistic enemies).  They adopt excessively submissive stances toward in-group authorities and hold hostile attitudes toward members of outgroups.  In the international sphere, this takes the form of blind attachment to America as the morally perfect human society and a view of foreign nations as morally inferior and antagonistic to America’s interests.  Other features of authoritarianism include tendencies to think in stereotypic all-or-none terms; projection of one’s own hostility externally to outgroup members; prejudice and punitive behavior toward a wide range of minorities; and a preoccupation with excessive masculinity, power, and toughness.


The entire “24” series, of course, is based on the premise that America’s survival is under threat from foreign parties and that mass destruction of our urban centers is imminent via nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. In these “we-they” conflicts, the “Other” almost always consists of foreign nationals -- either officials of foreign governments or members of rogue terrorist groups operating under the aegis of foreign countries (e.g., Russian, Chinese, African, Middle Eastern, or Eastern European nations).  The villains are mostly male, frequently persons of color, speak with foreign accents, and are in control of weapons which can annililate American society (e.g., dirty nuclear bombs).  They are sometimes assisted by traitors or incompetents in the U.S. government, which puts Jack Bauer at direct odds with bureaucratic officials.  Because the various U.S. presidents over the eight seasons are either corrupt or well-meaning but ineffectual, our survival depends upon Jack Bauer’s ability to defeat an overwhelming enemy.  Jack relies exclusively on violence to destroy those opposed to the American way of life, often acting outside the boundaries of the law and justifying physical torture as an essential and effective means of accomplishing national ends.


Reportedly Bush administration officials and members of the CIA have been ardent fans of 24, and it’s not too big a stretch to speculate that Jack Bauer is generally a superhero to the radical right.  If we take consider the various ingredients which make up right-wing authoritarianism (hostile inter-group attitudes, super-nationalism, paranoia, punitive and aggressive behavior toward outsiders, distrust of government, salvation from powerful individual leaders), this gives us a pretty complete list of the plot ingredients which have made “24” a popular mass success.  I guess we should give Rupert Murdoch’s writers credit for creating an enthralling rightwing soap opera.  With only two episodes left, we’re not going to worry about the political implications though.  We’re just sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting to see if Jack will save America. 



G-Mail Comments:

 -Linda C (5-18): i wish i had gotten hooked, i know j*** and friends are very involved and watch it every monday night, love the description , ben and theo intend to save the nation with legos, me, i just pray the politicians i hate will die. see you hopefully in ca

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

We Like Those Upper West Siders

Dear George,

We are excited about Barack Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court.  She offers a close fit with Obama’s world-view, has impressive credentials, and is a charismatic individual in her own right.  With her confirmation a seemingly sure thing, it will be the first time in history with three women justices on the Supreme Court.   Kagan would also be the eighth Jewish justice in the court’s history and the third on the current bench.  Here are some things the news media has had to say.


Elena Kagan was born in New York City in 1960, the middle of three children, and grew up at West End Avenue and 75th Street on New York’s Upper West Side, just a few blocks away from where we visited Ami and Bruce many times in the 1970’s and 80’s.  Her mother Gloria taught 5th and 6th grades at Hunter College Elementary School, and her father was a Yale-educated lawyer who represented tenant associations in New York apartment buildings.  Friends call her her father’s daughter because of her adopting his love of opera, the New York Mets, and the law.  The family enjoyed discussing and debating current events, and dinner conversations were characterized by verbal sparring.  Kagan has said, “Where I grew up – on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – nobody ever admitted to voting for Republicans.”


Kagan was strong-willed and independent as a youngster.  She clashed with the rabbi over details of her bas mitzvah ceremony.  She was a standout among the ultrabright girls at Hunter College High School.  One classmate recalls Elena’s teenage dream of becoming a Supreme Court Justice.  She was the only female student known to smoke and was instrumental in getting smoking “legalized” in one of the girls’ bathrooms.  Her crowd didn’t join the disco party craze, but were more likely to spend their time talking on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum.  Kagan was elected president of the Student Government and was pictured in her senior yearbook wearing a judge’s robe, with an accompanying quote from Justice Felix Frankfurter.


Kagan entered Princeton in the fall of 1977, became a history major, and soon found a home at the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper.  She was editorial chair of the paper by her senior year and wrote columns about politics.  One of her close friends was Student Body President Eliot Spitzer, who was to become Governor of New York and gain some additional notoriety in the press.  Kagan worked for liberal Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman in her race for the U.S. Senate.  Kagan’s senior thesis concerned the decline of socialism in New York City from 1900 to 1933, and she attributed her interest in the topic to her brother Marc’s involvement in radical causes.  She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, receiving one of Princeton’s highest scholarly awards.  After graduation she went to Oxford on a fellowship for two years and then enrolled in law school at Harvard.


At Harvard Kagan was selected as supervising editor for the Harvard Law Review.  She won two highly prized clerkships, first for Judge Abner J. Mikva (later an important mentor for Barack Obama) in the federal appeals court and then for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  After graduation she worked as a litigator in a Washington law firm.  In 1991 she took a tenure-track position in the University of Chicago law school, the same year the Illinois state senator Barack Obama began lecturing there.  A mentor at Chicago told the New York Times, “She was tough, she was independent-minded, she was demanding of her students, she had a good sense of humor.  The students admired her and raved about her right from the beginning.”  Kagan received tenure in 1995, though some colleagues thought she hadn’t published enough.  Shortly afterward, she was offered and took a position as an Associate White House Counsel, working with Bill Clinton’s director of domestic policy. 


At the White House Kagan soon developed a reputation as an in-house constitutional lawyer, batting ideas around with the president and winning over important Republicans like Senators John McCain and Bill Frist of Tennessee.  In 1999 she took a visiting professorship at Harvard.  Four years later she was appointed Dean of the Harvard Law School.  Harvard Law at the time was in a state of disarray – battling professors, dated curricula, poor physical facilities, and disgruntled students.  Kagan undertook a top-to-bottom transformation, often wooing faculty members over dinner at her home, and she added 22 faculty positions over a six-year period.  In an April Fool’s parody, the Harvard Law Record featured the headline, “Dean Kagan Hires Every Law Professor in the Country.”  While Kagan rarely spoke out on political issues, she was adamant about the military barring gays from serving openly in the armed forces, and she actively supported a policy barring military recruiters from using the law school’s facilities. 


In March 2009 Kagan left Harvard to become Solicitor General, the top appellate lawyer for the federal government.  She was described by a predecessor as “open-minded, pragmatic, and progressive.”  Six months later she made her debut at the Supreme Court, unfortunately losing in a case in which the judges voted 5-4 to allow unlimited corporate spending in candidate elections.  President Obama nominated Elena Kagan on May 10, 2010, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the pending retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, the court’s liberal leader.  Obama is said to have been looking for a justice who can counter the court’s tilt to the political right.  In brief remarks upon her nomination, Kagan spoke of her love for the law “…because law matters; because it keeps us safe; because it protects our most fundamental rights and freedoms; and because it is the foundation of our democracy.”  We look forward to following her participation on the Court for years to come.



[Sources: New York Times,,, Wikipedia]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why Moms Are the Greatest

Dear George,

Just as I was writing this, the phone rang, and it was J calling to wish his mom a happy mother’s day.  I overheard her tell him, “It’s the best thing I ever did.”  She’s often said that in the past.  I’d been looking through a family photo album recently, and it reminded me of why.  Here’s a sampling.

Katja couldn’t get over what a beautiful baby J was.  Here he is with his mom and our poodle Jacques.  Jacques was three when J was born, and they grew up together.

J had his own room at the Williamsburg Apartments, but he much preferred to snuggle in our bed with its leopard blanket.

On Sunday mornings we’d take a family hike in Mt. Airy Forest, following the long trail down to the creek where we could climb on the rocks and watch the horses running in the field.

We went to Menominee each August and stayed at river house.  Swimming in the river, boating to Pig Island, and exploring the forest was a lot of fun for an urban kid.

Then, at the end of August, we would drive east to Buck and Helen’s house and go to their cottage at Beach Haven on the Jersey shore.  Katja liked relaxing on the beach, and J was fearless in the ocean waves.

Katja was all for independence, and she started sending J off to visit his grandparents in Philadelphia at age 4.

There was lots of affection and love between mother and son.  Here’s Katja giving J a big smooch.

J, however, had more fun pinching his mother’s nose.


HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all the Moms in our family: Katja, Vicki, Margie, Faith, Kier, Jennifer, Hilary, Rhys, Kazandra, Susan, Linda, and Jayme.



G-Mail Comments:

-Donna D (5-12): David, this is really wonderful...Katja is such a beauty and Justin looks so happy!!

-Vicki L (5-10): Dear David, Thanks so much for this retrospective on your early family years. I never realized how much Justin looks like Katja (unbelievable in that leopard blanket photo...seeing his profile in her face). Such beautiful pictures.  Thanks for the inspiration and love. Vicki

-Jennifer M (5-9): Great photos and sentiment.  I had a great Mother's Day: breakfast in bed, a hike in a new-for-us part of Mt. Airy Forest, and ice cream at Putz's.  And all before 1pm!  :-)

-Linda C (5-09): what a wonderful tribute to the mother of your son on mothers day. tell her i am so happy that she gave birth the wonderful boy and man i see in these pictures

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Farm: A Photo Visit

                              Doris & Vic L at Farm (circa 1985)

Dear George,

In the early 1960’s my folks (Vic and Doris L) and Vic and Ruth Mars invested in large plots of adjoining farm and forest land near Birch Creek, about six or seven miles north of Menominee.  My parents’ half included an old, broken down farm compound that dated back to the late 19th or early 20th century.  The cabin was built with huge rectangular logs, and the farm complex included an old red barn, a garage, and several outbuildings.  Some time later my parents thought about renovating the dilapidated buildings on the property, and they recruited a couple of local construction experts and craftsmen, first Jim Dama and then George Jansen Jr. (who was known to everybody in town but Vic as Bud), to help them in the process.  They completely renovated the cabin, whitewashing its interior, installing a new kitchen and bathroom, and decorating it with artwork and family belonging.  A chicken coop became a two-room guest house; another storage building, a pool room.  Eventually the barn was subdivided into multiple rooms: a woodworking area, a music room and library, an art studio, a legal office, and two bedrooms.  A silo was imported, and a rooster weathervane was added to the barn. As Farm took shape, my parents began spending more and more time there, and soon they were faced with the dilemma of maintaining two full-scale households.  They decided to dispose of their house on the Menominee River where we had all grown up, a distressing prospect to their children.  My parents offered it for free to any of us who would move there, but there were no takers, and they sold river house for a paltry amount in the early 1970’s.  Our entire family, by then spread from the East Coast to the West Coast, began gathering at Farm every August for a reunion, and we had many joyous times over the years.  The grandchildren in our four families grew from infancy to adulthood over this period and formed close attachments to one another, to my parents, and to our family property.  Here are some photos taken by Vic, my nephew Chris, my son J, and myself which help give some of the flavor of Farm which remains to the present day.

This is an early aerial view taken by Vic.  The main house (or cabin) is at the upper center, and the two-room guest coop is behind it to the left.  The barn and the silo are at the lower left, with the pool room next to the silo and the garage at the center left. 

Birch Creek flowed through the property.  My dad bulldozed out a huge cavity in the earth, had a dam built, and created a pond which he stocked with fish, and at which he fed the migrating ducks.  Here’s a picture of Farm from across the pond with Doris and family friend Jean Worth looking over the scene. 

My dad had a great love of the land at Farm and planted thousands of evergreen and hardwood trees on the property.  We watched them grow from seedlings to a mature forest over the years.  He staked out hiking trails, giving each a name (e.g., Main St.), and labeling natural landmarks after his grandchildren (e.g., Jennifer Lake). 

The two bedroom cabin was cozy and attractive.  My mom’s favorite spot was a chair near the north windows where she watched the birds, and we enjoyed the potbelly stove on cold winter days.  Peter and Faith were married in the living room in August, 1968.  I was best man, and Katja was the maid of honor.  A bat flew over the couple’s heads in the midst of the ceremony, though they never saw it.

My dad turned the weathered barn into a work of art, installing stained glass windows of his own creation.

George Jansen Jr. built the gazebo down near the pond.  It became the site of many late night family gatherings and lots of laughter.   

We spent hours competing and joking around in the Silver Dollar poolroom.  Steven was the family champion, and the rest of us could only hope for a lucky break.  Here is Vicki taking on her brothers (note the intense competitive expression on her face).

With squirrels in the walls and mosquitoes buzzing around, Katja was less than enthusiastic about sleeping in the coop.  Steve and Margie solved the problem by staying at Lauerman’s Bed and Breakfast in town, but I was committed to the coop (which, of course, was free).

As the years progressed, my dad became enamored with the idea that Farm would become the homestead of all our family members, and Farm took on a mystique all of its own.  He created a family flag and minted our own family money at a local foundry.  We were all amused and appreciative of his strong and loving sense of family.  My mom died in 1986, my dad in 1993, but their spirit lives on.



G-Mail Comments:

-Linda C (5-6):  i love the pictures , the place is wonderful, no wonder you all love it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ups and Downs

Dear George,

Our weekend bounced back and forth between minor life glitches and fun events.  On Friday the doorbell rang, and it was Pete, the guy who with his partner Don had done expensive brickwork on our house last month.  I always cringe when I see Pete.  He said he and Don had been driving by and saw some loose slate tiles laying in the gutter on our roof.  They showed me the tiles and gave me an estimate, so I said go ahead and fix it.  I volunteered that our porch roof gutter seemed to not be emptying.  Pete replaced the roof tiles, then said that they’d need to install a new downspout so the gutter would drain properly and also showed me where the gutter had open holes from the rust and needed relining.  The whole job took about two hours and cost a small fortune.  I always think we’re being gouged, but Pete and Don seem to have appointed themselves our roofers. 


On Saturday we went to the Cirque du Soleil at NKU with Donna and several of Katja’s chums from work.  While I would never choose to go on my own because of the pricey tickets, I did enjoy it.  It’s a grand amalgamation of circus acts, a marching band, ballet, comedy, gymnastics, colorful costumes, etc.  We saw fire dancers, a juggler who juggled eight balls at once, contortionists who twisted their bodies into positions you would not think physically possible, death-defying trapeze artists, a bungee cord acrobat, cutting edge clowns, an androgynous person rolling about the stage in a hoop, and many other extraordinary happenings.  I laughed at the clowns, gasped at the trapeze artists, watched the contortionists in amazement, and thoroughly enjoyed the songs of the lady dressed in white who provided continuity to the whole event.  The music, honky-tonk and discordant, was infectious, and the audience was presented with one unbelievable feat after the next.


When we got home I got the mail and opened a letter from the City Building Inspections Department which said that they had approved air conditioning work in our house last year, but the required inspection had never been done.  This is the sort of  notice from the government bureaucracy that makes me nervous.  I dread the idea of a city inspector coming into our house because our basement and attic are like the news stories that you read where an elderly woman is killed by the mountain of junk which collapsed upon her.  Will the building inspector declare our house a fire hazard?  Where can I hide all the stuff?

On Saturday night we watched The Wrestler on HBO.  Mickey Rourke was marvelous, though the movie was unrelentingly gloomy.  Rourke plays a down-an-out aging wrestler at the end of his career who is undergoing physical decline, an anguished severing of ties with his estranged daughter, a failed, hurtful attempt at romance, a catastrophic effort to take on a new menial job, and a Rocky-like comeback attempt which, of course, results inevitably in the wrestler’s death.  The death part is the most positive event in the movie.  Except for the fact that the entire story is about retirement and aging, I didn’t see any personal relevance to it.


On Sunday afternoon I went out to use the SUV which was parked across the street next to the bank, and I found that I’d received a parking ticket.  It turns out that they had installed “No Parking” signs while I’d been parked there.  On Saturday afternoon they’d put a announcement of such on the car.  Then on Sunday they’d given me a $95 ticket.  I thought that was ridiculous.  I’d parked in a perfectly legal space, and they had changed it to be illegal.  I thought about going to court to appeal my ticket, but it’s easier to pay it and feel persecuted. 

After getting the ticket we went to the last concert of the season at the Linton Chamber Music Series.  This is Katja’s thing, since she grew up in a classical music household. I do realize that the Linton concerts are special and have to conclude that they make me a better person.  The performers are world-class musicians, and the small size of chamber music ensembles allows you to concentrate on the individual instruments. I did suggest to Katja that, given our retirement status, we might want to discontinue being patrons of the Linton concerts, but she didn’t seem to hear me.


As we drove home we passed the Highland Coffee House, and I asked Katja if she remembered when we used to go there in the old days.  She said we never went there, that I might have gone there with colleagues. Though I insisted that we did go together, I was no longer so sure.  We passed some kids riding bicycles, and Katja asked me if I knew how to ride a bicycle.  I said sure, that everybody does.  Katja said she never learned, having grown up in the inner city.  I reminded her that we used to ride bicycles together, but she said we never had.  I claimed, in fact, that we had ridden our bicycles together to the Highland Coffee House.  She said I was losing my mind. 


I’m looking forward to the coming week.  After days of steady rain, we’re getting some sunshine this week, and I’m eager to take some photos, maybe at the zoo.  Donna is heading to Nashville for some family medical stuff, and Sophie’s coming to pay us a visit for a few days.  Having a house full of three dogs is always 50% more fun than two.  And who knows what else will be in store?



G-Mail Comments:

-Linda C (5-6): so who do you think is correct about the bike and cafe, art would readily admit he could not remember what year anything happened or even if it did happen, i however, have a mind like a steel trap, at least for old times, short term not always as good but i am blaming it on grief, i think i have a better memory than my kids and in fact a lot of my friends call and ask me what THEY were doing at such and such a time.

-Terry OS (5-3): Dear David:  If I contacted you every time I find something delightful on your blog, I would wear out my welcome.  However, periodically, I really need to express my joy and appreciation for this lovely distraction to which I am now pretty much addicted.  Of course, the youth/Menominee references are the ones that most frequently bring a quick tear to my eye (e.g., Jean Worth's camp) but I also thoroughly enjoy the tales of your post-Menominee and contemporary life.  And how else would I ever have known that Abra is getting married?  Thank you!


Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Trouble with Manliness

Dear George,

Around age two or three little kids start getting a ton of messages that boys should be boys and girls should be girls, and, by the preteen years, these tasks have become a paramount concern. In the rural U.P. of the 1940’s and 50’s all of this was exacerbated by rigid sex segregation, chauvinist stereotypes, and subcultural values centered upon hunting, cars and trucks, football, fighting, and heavy drinking.  For boys in our society, maleness largely means developing and acting upon capacities for power and aggression.  Clint Eastwood’s characters provide a classic model.


My teenage peers mostly displayed their maleness by swearing a lot, spitting, scratching their crotches, shoving one another around, and speaking derogatorily about girls and teachers.  I’m sure I did some of that, though I never felt entirely comfortable.  Instead, an important source of my male identity was my heavy, powerful, steel-framed bike which I nicknamed “Black Stallion” and which I rode back and forth on Riverside Boulevard from our house to town in the dark of night.  At 9 or 10 p.m. the journey past the gravestones of Riverside Cemetery was unnerving, and I would pump Black Stallion up to its maximum speed, racing for the safety of home a mile away.

When I was 15, my brother Steven’s best friend, Peter J, showed up with a new-fangled bicycle that his parents had bought him.  It was imported from England, and Peter claimed it was the newest thing in racing bikes.  I pooh-poohed the idea.  Peter was pretty skinny, and his bike was still skinnier.  It had a lightweight aluminum frame with ultra thin tires, and it didn’t look to me like it had any power at all.  Peter, four years younger and six inches shorter, challenged Black Stallion and me to a race.  On a lark, I agreed.  We charted out a three-block course on Sheridan Road, and Steven called out “Start”.  Off we went, pedaling at maximum speed.  I was shocked when Peter began to pull ahead of me after twenty yards or so, and I started pumping as hard as I could.  Peter and his wimpy bike won by at least half a dozen lengths.  Dismayed as I was, I still would never have turned my back on Black Stallion.  I decided that it was preferable to be powerful and manly than to have a faster bike.    

My preoccupation with manliness continued when I went off for my freshman year at Antioch a couple of years later.  During the first term my roommate Les Z. met his Phys Ed requirement by taking boxing with Coach McGeary, who had been a professional boxer himself.  Les was rather short and chubby and not athletic at all, and I was intensely jealous of him because he had graduated from the nationally renowned Bronx School of Science and the Arts and was superior to me in every domain of knowledge that existed.  Les talked about Coach McGeary and boxing class all the time, and I decided that I should take boxing too, certain that it would be a manliness-enhancing endeavor.  I signed up with Coach McGeary for the second term.  There were about twelve students in the class.  I was 5-10 and weighed 145, about the same size as another freshman named Timmy.  Everyone else was an upperclassman, ranging from 6-1 to 6-5 and weighing 200 to 260 lbs.  Even to this day I am certain that all the biggest males in the college were enrolled in this class.  I won’t go into the gruesome details.  I’ll just say that I wound up every session with a severe headache which ruined my ability to concentrate in any of my other classes.  One of the biggest guys named Jack asked me to box every class, offering an arrangement that I could try to hit him as hard as I could while he would only defend himself and not hit me at all (except toward the very end of the bout).  It seemed like the best deal available.  We did that each week, with him dodging and parrying and fending off my fierce jabs with little difficulty.  I don’t think that in ten weeks I ever landed a solid blow.  Then near the end of the match he would engage in rapid-fire right and left hand jabs, pummeling my head and chest until I was on the verge of collapse.  This manliness stuff is a bunch of bull, I would decide.  As soon as I reached that conclusion, though, I would get paired up with same-size Timmy who was having the same dismal experience that I was.  We would go at one another furiously like it was the welterweight championship of the world, and Coach McGeary would have to pull us apart.  When the class came to an end, I wondered if it had been worth it to get beaten up every week.  I guessed that it was – I did feel a little tougher.  One Friday night at a drunken party I challenged my roommate Les to slug it out with me, but he just laughed and said I was a funny guy.  When I admitted to him that I didn’t like boxing class that much, he said that he had hated it.


Now at my advanced life stage manliness is less pressing a concern than it was in my teens and twenties.  Nonethless, these insecurities never completely vanish.  Nowadays the sheepdogs provide me with a source of masculine identity confirmation.  They’re big strong males, often rambunctious, and there are two of them which presents certain challenges in management.  When they were unruly puppies, the obedience trainer recommended choke collars, and we’ve used those ever since.  Physically managing the tugging dogs under these circumstances gives me a certain sense of power and male fulfillment.  Our friend Donna, in contrast, uses what is called a “Gentle Leader” on Sophie, and she swears by it.  The Gentle Leader circles the dog’s snout, with the attachment for the leash under the dog’s chin rather than behind its head.  According to the advertisement, the device places gentle pressure on calming points and eliminates uncomfortable pressure on the throat, thus proving “a very effective tool in combating lunging, jumping, excessive barking and helping to calm an aggressive and/or anxious animal.”

                     Duffy with his Gentle Leader

We actually own two Gentle Leaders, bought at Donna’s insistence when she took care of the dogs a couple of years ago, though I’ve rarely used them.  Yesterday I tried the Gentle Leaders simultaneously on both dogs for the first time, taking them for a walk on Ludlow Avenue.  Mike is a pain in the neck to walk these days.  He doesn’t want to go beyond our front yard, and you have to pull him by the neck for the first block or two.  Duffy, in contrast, is terrified by all the sounds on Ludlow Avenue, particularly if there’s a skateboard, and he drags you down the street, straining on his choke collar to the point of having to gasp for breath.  I was surprised and impressed that none of this happened in our Gentle Leader walk.  Mike moved right along, keeping up with the pack, and Duffy walked compliantly by my side, even when a skateboarder passed by across the street.  I had to admit to myself that the Gentle Leader was far more effective in calming and controlling the dogs than their conventional collar.  The hitch, though, is that it doesn’t seem very manly.  There’s a certain male challenge in trying to corral wild dogs that are tugging in opposite directions, and the Gentle Leader seems like an artificial solution.  Gone is the need for physical domination, as is the opportunity for triumphing in a contest of wills.  Maybe that’s why I don’t see many large men using Gentle Leaders.  Plus the problems are only made worse by the device’s name, Gentle Leader.  If it were called the Collar of Coercion or the Noose of Power, I might feel more comfortable.  I’m sticking with the dogs’ choke collars, though there is a certain temptation to change one’s ways.


So that’s the story.  I’m afraid manliness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  In my case (and I’m sure there are many other examples), it led me to stick with my sluggish bike, get used as a punching bag by big muscle-bound guys, and get jerked around trying to control wild dogs.  But, on the other hand, what is life is all about?  If there weren’t a few rough spots, it would be difficult to be manly at all.



G-Mail Comments:

-Jennifer M (5-1): I like these stories and analysis.  From the other side: Not being manly presents its rough spots too.  Just ask my C.  But I know you know this, because you see my distressed nerves as I watch him blaze his trail.  :-)