Sunday, May 30, 2010

Taking Credit

How upset should I be? How upset should I be that twice now The New York Times has dissed my role in preventing Allianz from securing naming rights to the new Giants and Jets football stadium?

Saturday’s Times carried an article by Richard Sandomir on prospects for the sale of the naming rights. Here’s the third paragraph from that story:

“In 2008, the German insurance company Allianz nearly put its name on the stadium for at least $25 million a year, but a revelation by The New York Times of the connections the insurer had with the Nazi Third Reich killed the deal.” (Here’s a link to the full article:

It sounds like The Times did some nifty original reporting back in 2008. But for those who don’t remember, or didn’t see, my blog of last January 31, it wasn’t “a revelation by The Times” that killed the deal. It was a letter to the editor by yours truly that revealed Allianz’s Nazi connection and started the public backlash that killed the deal (here's my letter to the editor:

Sandomir’s short, initial story on negotiations for naming rights merely identified Allianz as a German financial services company. I was the one who pointed out that Allianz insured the Nazi death camps. Only after seeing my letter did Sandomir write a longer article detailing Allianz’s relationship with the Third Reich, with no mention, I might add, of my letter. Sandomir and The Times played crucial roles, but hardly could be considered first responders to this story (here's my blog of last Jan. 31:

When scooped, The Times has a policy of identifying the media that first broke the story. I really don’t need my name bandied about, but I do take offense to the wording used in Saturday's article. It was not “a revelation by The Times.” Rather, it should have said, “it was revealed in The Times” (through my letter).

I’m generally a decently humble guy. But I’m not going to sit idly by and let someone else take credit for one of my proudest achievements.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Woman of a Different Generation

She was a woman of a different generation. That is to say, she did not feel all too comfortable with the prerogatives Conservative Judaism bestowed on women through egalitarianism. She didn’t fight equality. She just saw no need to actively, publicly, participate in it.

As the head gabbai (Hebrew term for glorified usher, the person who doles out the honors during services) at our temple for many years, I tried to dispense the weekly honors to as many new faces as possible. With the temple’s transformation into an egalitarian synagogue some 20 years ago, new faces came to include women. Many eagerly embraced the mantle of equality. Shirley Halperin and many of her cohorts found it difficult to break the bondage of thousands of years of religious second class status.

Bat-Mitzvahs for girls of 13 are commonplace now. Many middle-aged women have validated their newly endowed equality by undergoing a later-in-life bat mitzvah (Gilda celebrated her bat mitzvah when she was 50). Shirley’s generation did not. They could never bring themselves to feel comfortable doing anything but sit or stand in the pews.

She was shy. A diminutive figure with short brown hair, she wouldn’t even go up to the bimah (altar) to recite a prayer in English. Each week I’d tell her her reprieve would last only until the following Saturday, that I’d wear down her defenses and finally get to escort her up to the bimah. Even as her friends in the next to last row broke down and accepted small parts in the service, Shirley resisted.

I stopped being a gabbai about five years ago. To my knowledge, none of my successors prodded her, or her friends, to participate. It’s now too late. Word came today that Shirley passed away Wednesday.

My First Job Story

This is the season of graduations and oratory about pursuing one’s dream and first full-time job. For the fortunate, those two objectives merge. For most of the rest of humanity...

Countless commencement addresses and articles are exhorting the newly liberated from the halls of academia to be persistent. Katherine Brooks, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas in Austin and author of a career guide called ‘You Majored in What?”, was quoted in the NY Times last Sunday advising, “That means you can’t be casual about your job search, and your résumé, cover letter and interviewing skills must be top notch.” (

It also doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of luck, fortuitous timing and shared background with the person who hires you. Take my first job, for example. Murray Farber, managing editor administration of The New Haven Register, hired me. Murray grew up in Brooklyn, as I did. Though he attended BTA High School, rival of my alma mater, Flatbush, Murray didn’t hold that against me. Much as blood is thicker than water, Murraydom trumps any reservations.

Yet, if it weren’t for Donna Doherty I would never have met Murray Farber.

Donna Doherty was the quintessential shiksa (Gentile woman) of every Jewish man’s dreams. Tall, lithe, beautiful and blonde—really blonde—, Donna Doherty (woman like her should always be referred to by their full names) entered my life as a fellow graduate student at Syracuse University. My friend Steve Kreinberg and I drooled over her, from afar mind you, considering that Steve was married and I was engaged. Donna Doherty hardly knew we existed. She left Syracuse before graduation in 1972 and headed back home to Branford, Conn., just east of New Haven.

A few months later, armed with a master’s degree in newspaper journalism, I started visiting newspapers in search of that first job. I’d cold call managing editors of papers from northern Virginia through northern Massachusetts. They lauded my moxie. They all told me they had no job openings.

July 14, 1972, I arranged a day trip from Brooklyn to five papers in southwest Connecticut. At each stop the same result—the managing editor was away attending a publishing conference in Arizona. Around noon I found myself in Ansonia, at the proverbial fork in the road. Right headed toward Bridgeport, left toward New Haven. Ah, New Haven. Wasn’t that close to Donna Doherty’s home town?, I thought. It would mean a longer ride home, but there was no question in my mind which direction I’d head.

Thirty minutes later I was inside the Register building at 367 Orange Street. Depressed with my earlier failures to meet any managing editors, I sheepishly allowed the receptionist to steer me to the head of personnel without even trying to see if the ME was present. Robert E. Lee (yes, that really was his name) gave me the standard response. No, there weren’t any openings. Yes, I’ll take your résumé just in case something happens. After all, you never know.

And then his phone rang. Yes, I have someone sitting across my desk this very moment, he said into the handset. I perked up. He sent me up to the third floor newsroom. Just my luck, the Register had two managing editors, one for news, one for administration. The ME-News was in Arizona, but the ME-Administration, Murray Farber, was in New Haven looking after the business and having to deal with a sudden resignation. I started the job two months later, September 14, 1972, thanks in no small measure to persistence, luck, timing, Donna Doherty and Murray Farber.

(PS: Two years later Donna Doherty joined the Register’s sister publication, the Journal-Courier, as a sports reporter. She eventually left to become editor of Tennis magazine. I believe she currently is arts editor of the New Haven Register.

After posting an entry on Passover Wonders in early April (, I received this short email, “I loved your Passover blog. Did all Jewish mothers come out of the same mold?” It came from a Murray Farber. Email exchanges confirmed it was my Murray Farber, who somehow found my musings on the Internet. Murray is now retired after a career that included stints as managing editor of the news department of WTNH-TV, the New Haven television station, and as head of PR of Fairfield University.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

For Shame

I am ashamed.

I am an environmental polluter.

I didn’t mean to be. I didn’t mean to unleash perhaps the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history. But I did.

I am a BP stockholder.

I am embarrassed. Embarrassed by the lack of foresight before the Deepwater Horizon exploded. Embarrassed by BP’s response to the catastrophe. Embarrassed by BP’s public stance. Embarrassed by BP’s stonewalling in providing sufficient information to properly assess the damage.

I am distraught there is nothing I can do except wait, like everyone else, and pray that a solution is found. Quickly, for the sake of our planet, its wildlife, its ecology, for the families that depend on the Gulf for their livelihood.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Games People Play

Our temple softball team lost again today. So far this season the team has an ignominious 0-6 record, a sharp turn from the last few seasons as one of the elite squads of the 17-team league. I care, but not as much as when I used to devote almost every spring, summer and early fall Sunday for nearly 30 years to the team. As the starting pitcher for almost all of those seasons, I felt a certain responsibility to show up each week to keep us competitive. It was only after we secured another pitcher, a better pitcher, that I found myself liberated from that responsibility.

I retired last year, one year after we finally won the league championship. I brought a bottle of champagne to the game (just in case we won) and celebrated in traditional style after the final out, showering all the players in the bubbly. I kept showing up the following season, but after turning 60 last year just before play began, I decided lounging in bed beat out pitching batting practice, coaching third base and getting into the occasional game. This morning I “managed” to roll out of bed near 11 am, about the time the last out was made in today’s 8-3 loss.

It wasn’t that way during the first 22 or so years of my “career” in the temple softball league. Before I joined the team, we’d lose by double digit scores. That’s what happens when your pitcher in a fast-pitch league lobs the ball over the plate. We continued to lose after I began pitching up to speed, but the scores were much closer.

And then, a few years later, as it does to many sports teams, the players all seemed to mature at the same time and we rose to the top of the league. At one time all our infielders shared the same first name—David. I called them my Magen David (Shield of David) infield. We made it to the championship game against one of the league powerhouses. Over eight innings we outscored them 3-2. Trouble was, in the first inning none of our trusted first basemen was present, one being on the injured list with a broken elbow sustained in a game earlier that summer, another at a wedding in Washington and a third out of town on a business trip. We were forced to play a scrub—Alan—at first.

The first two batters hit ground balls to short. Alan could not handle either throw. By inning’s end we had given up three unearned runs. One of our wayward first basemen arrived before the start of the second inning, we played flawless ball thereafter, but the deficit was too much to overcome against the opposing pitcher, Joel, who, I should note, joined our team about six years ago and pitched us to that first and, so far, only championship season.

“My Team” Wins: The most intense rivalry in sports, or at least in baseball, is generally acknowledged to be between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. That probably explains why I, a dedicated Yankees fan, care more about how Boston fares than how the Tampa Bay Rays do, despite the fact that the Rays currently are in first place, beat my Yanks twice last week at the Stadium in the Bronx and seem pretty invincible. Maybe it’s also because I can’t get too angry with a Tampa Bay team whose manager looks like a slimmer version of Drew Carey, not that I’m a big Drew Carey fan.

I want to win it all, but if we do fall short of that objective, all I really care about is finishing ahead of Boston. So each night I check the box scores to see Boston’s results. I get very disappointed when they win. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but no one ever accused me of being rational.

I have the same “my team vs. their team” mentality for football. I root for the NY Giants. Since my brother abandoned New York to take up residence in Washington some 40 years ago, and subsequently switched his allegiance to the Washington Redskins, I console myself after any Giants loss if the dreaded Skins also lost. The last few years, I gleefully add, I’ve enjoyed most fall Sundays, Giants win or not.

Glee”-fully Speaking: The TV show Glee is a sensation, but not one that Gilda or I have marked on our must-see list. We tried watching it one time, but couldn’t get into it. Probably didn’t give it enough time to ferment in our brains.

Equally lost on us is the frenzy over the last episode of Lost. We should have engendered an attachment to that show. It began filming not far from Ellie’s apartment on the North Shore of Oahu while she spent eight months there six years ago.

Ah well, chalk it up to another missed viewing opportunity, along with 24, Six Feet Under, The Wire and lots of other TV shows that one day, one day, we say we will have enough time to view on DVD.

Video Game Challenged: I can trace the beginnings of my decline as a comparatively capable functioning member of society to an exact date, 30 years ago—May 21, 1980. That was the day Pac-Man made its debut and signaled my transition from a generally accomplished person to klutz.

I played Pac-Man, occasionally. I remember taking business trips with some of my publication salesmen. Every free moment they’d be playing Pac-Man. Perhaps because I wasn’t too good at the game, I never developed an obsession with it. Or with Donkey Kong, Mario or any of the other “juvenile” pursuits.

Since video games did not turn me on, I wasn’t too disappointed our children didn’t spend hours upon hours in front of a computer screen zapping away at aliens and assorted bad guys. I was much prouder of Dan’s accomplishments on the playing fields and Ellie’s in the theater.

Speaking of Proud Moments: Ellie won her battle with the NYC Transit Police. You may recall she’d been accused of turnstile jumping, even though she had an unlimited monthly Metro card that would have obviated any need to slip through without paying.

After several appearances at Transit Court, the last with the policeman who cited her testifying, Ellie won. The judge dismissed all charges.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I met another Murray the other day. Of course, he’s older than I am. We met at the senior citizens center in the Free Synagogue of Mt. Vernon where I picked up food to be delivered as part of the kosher Meals on Wheels program.

We chatted a few minutes about the “joys” of having a name rarely conferred onto any newborns these days, or for the last five or more decades, for that matter. I told him I wrote a blog about the lack of respect our name generates (

I can think of only one Murray I ever met who was my younger.

Gilda and I were traveling by train from Florence to Venice. It was the summer of 1976. Our first trip to Venice. We were not aware that only the first two cars of the train would be uncoupled for the journey onto the island city. When the conductor eventually made this known to us in the fourth car, we hurriedly assembled our overpacked luggage and jostled our way forward.

I kept hearing my name; Gilda kept denying she was calling me. We finally made it to the second car, Gilda standing next to me. “Murray, wait for me” rang in both our ears. The dulcimer sound came from an attractive blonde. Sure, I’ll wait for you, I thought. Only, she wasn’t talking to me. She was attaching herself to a young gent standing next to me.

Naturally, we introduced ourselves. (Murrays have a certain bond, like Masons or Elks who meet in strange lands. No secret handshake, just a bond. More about that magical bond in another posting next week.) They were on their honeymoon, having married right after graduating from Queens College. His aunt, a travel agent, had gifted them a six-week honeymoon. They were booked into Excelsior hotels throughout Europe. Everything had been pre-planned and pre-paid. All they had to do was show up at their hotels and their respective city tours. They even had the time of their gondola ride scheduled—8 pm that evening.

It was already four weeks into their extensive tour. They were clearly exhausted but couldn’t take the time to rest. Pre-paid hotel reservations could not be changed, so they trekked on.

I asked how they liked Rome. They did. I asked what they thought of the Vatican. They sheepishly said they hadn’t seen it. Huh? Explain yourselves, Murray.

Seems his aunt did not book that tour. Before they realized the Vatican was in Rome they were in Florence. And they couldn’t go back!

My confidence that the exalted name of Murray was bestowed only on the intelligent vanished that instant.

Not all was lost, however. They realized they would not be able to use their passes to the Lido Beach across the channel before having to leave Venice, so they generously gave them to us. That way, at least, the Lido would not go Murrayless. We enjoyed a beautiful day at the beach.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Soda Jerk

I have several fond childhood memories of visiting my father’s factory at 718 Broadway in Manhattan. First was the train ride from Brooklyn on the BMT subway line to the 8th Street station. While our mother sat on a cane seat, my brother, sister and I would stand at the front of the first car, just to the left of the engineer. We’d pretend to be guiding the train through the darkness of the tunnel.

After the near one hour commute, we’d be ready for lunch. We’d eat in the automat on Broadway, across the street from the subway exit. My memory of the food is incomplete, other than learning to eat Salisbury steak (a fancy name for chop meat) there. The real treat, however, was not the automat’s food but rather the intriguing system of portion delivery. Most food sat behind hinged glass windows, unlocked only after you’d deposit the requisite change and turned the beveled brass and porcelain knob to crank open the hatch. Even more entertaining were the coffee and hot chocolate dispensers. For a nickel, a cup of either frothing, steamy brew would gush out from the mouth of a lion’s head.

As much fun as the automat was, once we arrived at our father’s “place,” for that is what our parents called his lingerie factory, we couldn’t wait for the moment we could quench our thirst with a six-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola. Dad had a fire-engine red Coke machine. Except when he treated them late in the afternoon, his workers paid a dime for each Coke, pushing down a grey lever to pump the next bottle up to the take-out slot. We’d pester him and our mother for a Coke until he finally relented and unlocked the door to the Coke machine. To “pay” for the soda, he’d have us refill the tubes that held each bottle and snaked their way around the inside of the machine.

At home we always had soda. But it never tasted as good as the ones we drank at the “place.”

I was reminded of my lifelong dedication (Gilda calls it an addiction) to Coca-Cola by an article in this morning’s NY Times, The Battle over Taxing Soda ( For the record, I’m in favor of a tax on sugar-laced drinks, be they sodas, energy concoctions or artificial juices.

Again for the record, I wouldn’t have to pay a penny more for my current Coke fix. You see, after more than 40 years of imbibing “real” Coke, my blood sugar levels trickled in near diabetic levels. I switched to Diet Coke, and to Crystal Light when I wanted a non-carbonated sweet tasting drink (Gilda can’t understand why plain water, or maybe club soda, is not sufficient for me. She just doesn’t get it, but anyone out there who also has a sweet tooth does.)

Our kids never drank Coke, even though I had it right in front of them every meal. Gilda just told them, “Daddy has an addiction.” They didn’t get cavities as I did as a child, though Dan did have one year when four cavities showed up. (Turned out one of his teachers rewarded him with M&Ms for good work. Well, we always said he was a smart boy.)

Too much sugar is a national plague. If a soda tax will help contain our enlarging population and its rush toward Type 2 Diabetes, we would do well to see this as a necessary incursion of government into our private lives, much the same way we tax cigarettes or require people to wear seat belts. The argument that individuals should be allowed to do as they please fails to appreciate that everyone suffers from our obesity epidemic. Insurance rates are higher for all of us. On a more mundane level, it’s not comfortable sitting next to someone oozing onto your space in a movie theater or airplane.

Diet sodas, sugar free drinks and candies have come a long way in the last 20 years. They may not yet taste the same as the real thing, but they won’t kill you or at the very least curtail your life style or make you a burden on society.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Down But Not Out

I’m soooooooo bummed out!!!

After failing to qualify for numerous senior citizen discounts because we’re only 61, Gilda and I were told earlier today we were too old to be bone marrow donors. Seems you have to be between the ages of 18-60 to physically save a life.

Of course, a financial donation also helps save lives; we’ll give to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation through the Matt Fenster Donor Circle, (donor kits cost $54 each to process. Interestingly, 54 is a 3x multiple of 18, the numerical value of the Hebrew word chai, which means life).

Matt Fenster is a father of four young children. He was stricken with AML, acute myelogenous leukemia in April. I’ll be including Matt in my prayers.

Walk to Defeat ALS: We weren’t the only Forseters trying to put an end to a dreaded disease this weekend. Our daughter Ellie was part of the 5K Walk to Defeat ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Ellie’s boyfriend’s father, Don, was recently diagnosed with ALS. Don retired from the U.S. Air Force. He was a pilot for the Strategic Air Command, based in Omaha.

Three of Don and wife Rachel’s children live in the NY metro area. Along with their younger sister who's considering moving here as well, their spouses and children, relatives including Aunt Laurie, and Ellie, they walked as a team on Saturday. Granddaughter Rachel, standing beside Don, helped cut the ribbon as the camera crew from Fox News NY (Channel 5) videoed the start of the walk for broadcast on the 10 pm news (regrettably, no link is available).

I’ve added a new piece of jewelry to my right wrist, a watermelon-colored flexible bracelet stamped with the words “Strike Out ALS.” For more info on ALS and how to make donations, visit

Happy Half-Birthday: Finley Hawthorne Forseter turned six months old Sunday. He’s officially reached the adorable stage (not that he wasn’t cute before, but I’ve often said that babies don’t really enthuse you until they are able to do things. Lately Finley’s been rolling over a lot, smiling, enjoying the swing, and even eating some solid food.

I still haven’t finalized on a name. Don’s family suggested Granpa No Socks. Might be hard for a little kid to say, but it does have a certain je ne sais quoi quality to it.

For those interested in seeing how Finley looks these days, here’s a link to his blog:

Hawthorn Tree: Hard to resist buying a tree that for all intents and purposes shares a name (minus an “e”) with your daughter-in-law and grandson.

To fill out the barren space in our front yard caused by the sudden and still unexplained decision of our neighbors to cut down their perfectly healthy tree that graced our property with its canopy, leaving a nine foot slingshot stump as a remnant of their foul action (, Gilda and I have been scouring local garden centers for the right tree to place on our side of the property line.

We looked at pear trees, cherry trees, Japanese maple trees, Thundercloud plum trees. Last week we chose a Winter King Hawthorn. We planted it today (a note of accuracy in reporting. When I say “we” I did not mean Gilda and I. Let’s get serious here—though Gilda is a force of nature to be reckoned with in the garden, I have as much horticultural knowledge and ability as your left big toe.)

The tree looks great. No word yet from our neighbors.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Name Association

What prompts someone to do good works, to extend themselves beyond their comfort zone, to help a less fortunate soul, a person in distress, be it physical or emotional?

For me, it’s often a result of creating an association with a person or an event, a tangible link from my past that prompts an action in the present.

Case in point—our temple ran a short notice in the weekly announcements seeking bone marrow donors for a member of a different congregation in Riverdale. In the past I’d always shied away from even considering the thought of a bone marrow donation. I shuddered at even the test, though nowadays it is rather benign, a simple cheek swab to determine compatibility. The actual bone marrow donation also has passed from being needle-scary to the painless routine of giving blood, Gilda assured me. Still, I resisted offering myself to a total stranger.

It wasn’t until I saw the name of the man seeking help that I was shaken from my indifference.

Matt Fenster. I don’t know him at all, I know nothing about him other than he is suffering from leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Yet I feel a certain kinship with him. You see, in high school I had a teacher who for some reason could not remember my last name was Forseter. He always called me Fenster, so much so that my friends started calling me Fenster as well.

So later today I will drive down to Riverdale and be tested for a match. Even if I can’t help Matt Fenster, perhaps I’ll match someone else in the national registery.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Robin Hood, Historically Speaking

One of my favorite movies is The Adventures of Robin Hood, the 1938 Warner Bros. film starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. I’ve probably seen all or part of the flick at least 50 times, each viewing giving me pleasure. Perhaps I love the movie because my mother adored Errol Flynn. She enjoyed his autobiography, My Wicked Wicked Ways, and let me read it while still an impressionable young teenager. Or maybe it’s because the movie was a full length version of the half-hour Robin Hood TV show starring Richard Greene that I rarely missed as a child of the 1950’s. I’m also a Basil Rathbone fan. His sneering elocution as the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne is masterful, as is his swordsmanship (in evidence with Flynn here as well as in their earlier pairing in Captain Blood).

Whatever the reason, The Adventures of Robin Hood (ARH) enthralls me. I can’t say the same for any of the other Robin Hood movies I’ve seen. Like many, I’m wondering how the new Russell Crowe-Cate Blanchett treatment, directed by Ridley Scott, will depict England’s lovable, mythical or real, superhero. I’m not too caught up in the legend vs. reality debate. But I would like to comment on the historical accuracy of one of the central plot lines in the classic ARH, namely that King Richard the Lionheart returns to England from the Crusades and subsequent imprisonment in Austria and Germany to reclaim his throne from Prince John’s regency.

It is true Richard’s reign was restored. But it is doubtful he came back to England for any time more than a brief moment. You see, back then, less than 150 years after William conquered England in 1066, a good portion of the holdings of the English king lay in France. As a Norman, Richard’s heritage was French, not English. After securing his freedom from captivity, Richard spent most of his time trying to recapture rebellious parts of his empire in France.

According to Wikipedia (, Richard spoke very little English, if any, and spent very little time in England. When not fighting, he mostly lived in his Duchy of Aquitaine in the southwest of France (his mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II).

The English historian John Gillingham says of Richard, “The reputation of Richard ... has fluctuated wildly. The Victorians were divided. Many of them admired him as a crusader and man of God, erecting an heroic statue to him outside the Houses of Parliament; Stubbs, on the other hand, thought him ‘a bad son, a bad husband, a selfish ruler, and a vicious man’. Though born in Oxford, he spoke no English. During his ten years' reign, he was in England for no more than six months, and was totally absent for the last five years.”

History has a way of ruining some good yarns. Just as Sgt. Joe Friday of Dragnet fame never said to a female witness, “Just the facts, ma’am” (the real dialogue was “All we want are the facts, ma’am”, the story of Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart is better in the retelling than in the reality, if it ever really happened in the first place. As the saying goes, never lets the facts get in the way of a good story.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Day Near the Office

Maybe he was traveling. Perhaps he had a luncheon engagement. Or he was just not feeling well. Whatever the reason, Lester didn’t show up for lunch at his usual time. We didn’t have a lunch date. Indeed, Lester had no way of knowing I would be waiting for him today.

I met Lester about three years ago. By coincidence, we shared a table in the atrium of the Citicorp Building after getting food from the hot and cold buffet of Cucina Gourmet. Retirements had whittled down my lunch-buddy list at work, so I’d often find myself eating alone. Until I met Lester, as affable a chap as you would likely meet anywhere.

Lester is in his 80’s, and always seems to be in conversation with whomever he sits with. That fateful day our trays found their respective ways to a common table. He is by no means the male version of a “bag lady.” A former retailer of home furnishings, I found his reflections on the industry entertaining. We also shared an interest in travel, old movies and history. His observations on events he lived through in the 1940s and 1950s were illuminating.

We’d meet once or perhaps twice a week, but since my retirement last June I had not seen Lester. I was in Manhattan today for a visit with my cardiologist (nothing wrong, thank you) and had hoped to stop by my old office but was told the staff was at meetings all day and could not entertain any guests. They weren’t even answering their phones. That troubled me, for the specter of more layoffs hangs over the entire publishing industry. The communications problem persisted throughout the day, but my short term anxiety turned to Lester. Where was he? In my current state of mind the ultimate reason found its way into my consciousness.

I dawdled over lunch. Noon turned into 12:30; 12:30 shifted into 1; 1:30 came and still no Lester. I was about to give up when he showed up, looking no worse for the 11 months since our last meeting. I did not tell him of my anxiety. We talked about retirement (he cautioned I might get bored after a year or so, unless I had hobbies like golf, which I don’t). We talked about a biography of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek he’s reading and the despicable way the Nationalist leaders of China treated their countrymen. We compared notes on the immigration law controversy in Arizona. All in all, a satisfying lunch with stimulating conversation, cut short half an hour after it began by my need to get to my next appointment.

Lunch Time: Since I retired my lunch more often than not is a can of soup. That might explain why I haven’t gained weight, especially when compared to what I normally ate. Today’s buffet lunch was typical of my former eating habits—several small pieces of Teriyaki turkey, a portion of chicken Francese, beets and carrots, and some pasta. And, please don’t tell Gilda, a slice of pound cake (only because I had finished my meal by the time Lester came and I had to have something to eat while he dined. I also was in a mood to celebrate my good blood work report).

I was such a regular at Cucina Gourmet that the cashier recognized me and welcomed me back.

Perhaps they succumbed to the economy, or maybe bad management, or maybe lack of interest, but in the near year that I have been away from the Citicorp food court, two kosher delis closed. On the other hand, two new sandwich shops opened.

I washed my hands in the Citicorp public restroom. That is, I wet my hands there, for despite four soap dispensers not one drop of soap dripped out of any spigot. It’s laughable to see the sign, “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work,” when Citicorp does not provide any soap.

Ink Spots: These days when I read the NY Times it is either on my BlackBerry, my computer or from the newspaper itself lying on the kitchen counter. Today I read it the old fashioned way, on the train into and out of Manhattan and became a victim once more of the Times’ nefarious plot to not only publish “all the news that’s fit to print” but to print it in such a manner that is leaves an almost indelible black mark on your fingers.

There have been periods when I disdained reading the Times because my blackened fingers embarrassed me. I even wrote the Times a letter some 15 years ago. They responded they’re no worse than other papers and they’re trying to resolve the problem. Apparently without success.

Nap Time: Metro North retained its comforting position as a favorite napping environment.

I’m indebted to my friend Kevin Coupe of the retail blog for the following update on napping. I could not have expressed these sentiments any better:

"The BBC reports (in April) that a new Harvard Medical School study suggests that if a person naps after learning something, it actually makes it easier to commit to to memory. The study results reveal that while people are asleep, their brains tend to work on making connections and processing links relevant to the information they’ve just learned.

I love this study.

Though, as an inveterate napper, I keep thinking that I should be a lot smarter than I am."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Forty Years Ago Today

Two days after the Kent State University massacre of May 4, 1970, when four students were killed protesting the Vietnam War, I reported to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn for a military physical exam (anyone who has seen Arlo Guthrie’s depiction of his physical in the film Alice’s Restaurant can immediately identify with the experience—scores of young men walking around in their underwear holding clear plastic bags with their valuables while medics poke and prod them and ask for the odd “sample”) .

Rather than conjure up my thoughts of May 6, 1970, I’ll share with you a column I wrote 40 years ago under the title “The Crack of Doom” that appeared that very same day in Calling Card, a Brooklyn College newspaper I edited for 18 months:

“While you are sitting on the grass of the quadrangle or the cafeteria reading this column, I am currently seeking an Armed Forces Physical Examination. At precisely seven o’clock in the morning, I will have presented myself in Building 116 of Fort Hamilton to be tested as to my fitness to serve in the defense of our country. This quirk of fate, an issue of Calling Card coinciding with the date of my first formal introduction to the military, offers me a unique opportunity to express my predicament while, at the same time, undergoing the experience.

“During my high school days I had a history teacher who often lectured the class on the culpability of the Vietnam War. Most of the students, including myself, were rather naïve about the situation , and therefore took a position that, at best, could be described as “our country, right or wrong.” As the years passed and my learning progressed, the wisdom and foresight of my mentor became clearer to me. The need for action on my part was required. However, again with the naivete of youth, I believed that by the time I’d finish college the conflict would be over, I’d be in graduate school, and the spectre of enlistment would pass. During my sophomore year at Brooklyn, the war kept escalating and graduate deferments were limited to medical students. The noose was beginning to tighten around my neck as the options left me became fewer in number. Since I’m not a pre-med student, I was advised by many to put my name on Reserve lists. But before I had decided to sign on the dotted lines, President Johnson made his historic speech of March 31, 1968, and new hope for my future was kindled. Why sign away my life for six years if the Peace Talks would end the cause of my troubles before I graduated?

“And so, like millions of other Americans, I was deluded into believing that the war had taken a turn for the better. Partly by saying that he had a secret plan for ending the fighting, Nixon was elected president. Yet, in his full year in office, more American boys died in Vietnam than in 1967, the year of major opposition to Johnson’s war policies. Time was running out on me, my senior year had half elapsed, when I finally came to terms with myself. I had put my name on one Reserve list in December, but the thought of becoming a soldier, even a reservist, every day grew more repulsive. I could no more be a member of the army than be a teacher in a public school. Both professions would mean a compromise of my beliefs. (now, after the recent Nixon speeches on the cessation of future occupational deferments, I find that I saved myself a good deal of time in deciding against becoming an Education major.) I had made a choice concerning my profession (journalism), but as to my future the decision was still in the air. Come graduation, where would I be—Vietnam or Canada?

“The answer to that question awaits the outcome of today. My only hope is that I flunk my physical; it’s a slim chance, but that’s what I’m basing my failure on—I’m underweight. If I flunk, I’ll be able to live my life normally until the next physical, and if I fail enough of them I’ll be free forever. But if I pass, the words “soul searching” won’t be strong enough to express the inner conflicts that I will have—Vietnam is wrong...I don’t want to learn how to kill...i don’t want to be killed...but I also don’t want to leave the country or my family...nor do I want to serve a jail sentence.

“My predicament is not unique, but by vocalizing it I have given expression to the fears, frustrations, and shattered hopes of a whole generation of young people. To them, to me, the draft is not a cold wind on the neck—it’s doom.”

(Editor’s Note: To read how the physical turned out, revisit my blog of November 11, 2009:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What's Bugging Me

I hate bugs.

As much as I enjoy the warmth of spring, I hate that it also means the revival of my lifelong battle with bugs—big bugs, little bugs, multi-legged bugs, bugs that fly, that crawl, that slither.

As they do most years at this time, large, black ants started showing up inside our home. I’ve already blotted out half a dozen of them, but then I got to wondering, if I kill these obvious scouts of the colony, am I undermining the effectiveness of the ant killing systems I’ve laid down in strategic locations throughout our house? After all, the principle behind the Combat Ant Killing System, to quote the promotional copy, is that it is “the better way to kill ants because ants carry the bait back to the colony to destroy queen and other ants.”

You can’t carry the bait back if you’ve been squashed. The queen will continue to send out scouts until at least one returns. So as I await the next confrontation with an ant, should I be faithful to my long-held anti-bug precept, “Out of sight, out of mind, but once in sight, you’re history (to the best of my ability to crush you),” or should I take a more measured approach?

Woody’s Friends: Like clockwork, the rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat noise pierces each morning’s serenity at 8. Short staccato bursts from our local woodpecker population. If I were sleeping, I’d really be upset. With rare exceptions I’ve not been able to sleep past 7-7:30, so the woodpeckers haven’t startled me awake .

I can’t quite make out where they are pecking, on a neighbor’s property or ours. Though it sometimes sounds as if they’re attacking our home, I haven’t seen any signs, that is, holes, from their pursuit of bugs hiding under the wood frame portions of our house.

We are hosting a visitor from Israel this week and next. To Tzipi, the rapid rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat sounded like a machine gun burst, an unnerving reminder of home during a trip intended to provide some relief from the pressure of a job counseling trauma victims in the communities near the Gaza Strip where she lives and works. She quickly realized it was not gunfire, but the reminder of her normal reality was made. Yesterday, a text message reported some small arms fire in the area of her kibbutz.

Walking Away: Today’s NY Times reported on a growing societal problem—elderly people suffering from dementia who wander off (

It’s somewhat comical to her children now, but our mother wandered off during a visit to my sister’s some 20 years ago. We had gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate a family wedding. As dinner the night before was being prepared, our mother went outside to smoke. Twenty minutes later we asked Lee’s daughter to bring her grandmother back inside. Lauren came back alone. Grandma was nowhere to be found.

She was around 70 at the time. She suffered from diabetes and other infirmities. Congestive heart failures were routine, which we believe accentuated and accelerated her creeping dementia, yet she still smoked. She could barely walk a block, more only if she knew she could buy a cigarette at the end of a trek.

Though she was nowhere to be seen in the immediate vicinity of Lee’s home, we didn’t think she’d be too far off. She was, after all, barely ambulatory. A quick drive around the neighborhood failed to find her. Calls to nearby friends proved equally fruitless.

It was now almost an hour since she had vanished. We were getting anxious. She didn’t have any identification with her. She didn’t have a phone. She knew virtually no one else in Los Angeles. The phone rang. It was Lee’s mother-in-law, Esther, calling to say she just received a call from Lee’s mother. She had asked a man standing in front of his house if she could use his phone as she was lost.

We never could understand, nor could Mom explain, why she had called Esther and not Lee, how she had even remembered Esther’s phone number. Nor could we understand, nor could Mom explain, how she had arrived at this good Samaritan’s doorstep. For you see, Mom had walked more than four miles before seeking help. All that time she thought she was just around the corner from Lee’s.

Before they passed away, both of our parents suffered from forms of dementia. It is a painful way to lose a loved one, for the loss happens twice, once mentally, followed who knows how many years later by the physical.

Bug Update: Between the time I began writing this blog and now, several hours later, another “incident” transpired. My first instinct was to crush the intruder. But then I decided to gently direct him (or her) to the deadly ant bait. Only, my idea of “gently” apparently does not mesh with an ant’s. I maimed at least one of its legs. It was obviously in what ants consider pain. Or at the very least trauma. I did the only humanitarian thing left to do—I administered a coup de grâce.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This Is Bizarre

It's hard to believe, but the intertwining of my life with news ripped from the headlines continues...

It turns out the suspect arrested in connection with the attempted Times Square car bombing lived for three years in Shelton, Conn.!!!!

How bizarre is that!?!

Faisal Shahzad, 30, a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan, lived for three years at 119 Long Hill Avenue, not even a mile from the site of the former Sponge Rubber Products Co. Plant 4 blown up 35 years ago.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Saturday Night Bombings

The botched blowup in Times Square over the weekend brought back memories of a different Saturday night bombing 35 years ago.

Gilda and I were living in Seymour, Conn. I was a reporter for The New Haven Register. The nearby city of Shelton was my beat.

We had just settled into bed when the phone rang shortly after 11:35 pm., March 1, 1975. My boss was calling, asking why I was going to sleep when half of downtown Shelton was on the verge of being wiped off the face of the earth. Bombs had exploded inside the 475,000-sq.ft. Shelton Sponge Rubber Products Co. Plant 4 along the Housatonic River. It was, and possibly still is, the largest case of industrial arson in the United States.

I quickly dressed and drove the several miles to Shelton. Firemen and equipment, most from volunteer fire departments, converged on Canal Street from more than 20 neighboring towns. As the two-city-block-long factory burnt to a crisp shell, rumors started circulating. It was the work of radical Weathermen, it was said. Turned out the arsonists had kidnapped three plant employees and while tying them up safely in a woods in an adjoining town, one said they were part of the Weather Underground. It didn’t make sense. The plant was not vital to the Vietnam War effort. It made pillows and mattresses and other foam rubber products. But the reference to the Weathermen brought the FBI into the investigatory mix.

Within days authorities traced the suspects to a rented yellow Ryder van used to transport 500 pounds of dynamite and 24 55-gallon drums of gasoline into the factory. Among the 10 arrested were Charles D. Moeller, president of the company, and David D. Bubar, a Baptist minister and self-proclaimed psychic who counseled Moeller. The government alleged Moeller’s purchase of the plant from B.F. Goodrich the year before had financially strapped him. To relieve the burden, Moeller, under Bubar’s influence, had financed the arson, it was charged.

Moeller twice beat the rap, in federal and state court, though a civil trial found him responsible (much like the OJ Simpson situation), thus absolving his insurance company from any requirement to pay $68 million in damages on the building and its contents. Bubar, on the other hand, was found guilty of second degree arson. He served six and one-half years of a 20-year sentence. Seven other defendants also served time. The tenth was acquitted.

As spectacular as the fire was, the real tragedy of that night 35 years ago was the impact it had on the lives of the plant’s 900 workers and their families. The business never came back. The site was turned into a park. Other plants along the river either closed down or relocated. From being a once vibrant factory town, Shelton has evolved into a bedroom community for New Haven, Bridgeport and even New York, where another vehicle, an SUV, might prove vital in revealing who was behind the attempt to blow a hole in the middle of the crossroads of the world.