Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Message on Eating Better, Hoarding and Free Tuition

With Thanksgiving upon us (mostly inside us by now), it’s hard to think about anything but food, so I’ll lead off with the thought that I eat better today than when I grew up because of TWA’s frequent flyer program.

Rarely did my mother’s dinner table exhibit any green-colored food item. The occasional broccoli head or asparagus spear showed up drooping in its limpness. My mother served no vegetable not thoroughly overcooked. I think she stayed away from serving green peas because they reminded her of my lousy eating habits. She claimed I drove her to return to full-time work in my father’s factory because I would throw back at her the peas she placed on my high chair tray.

Gilda had little success at first altering my diet. If meat and potatoes were sufficient for my father, they were good enough for me. All that changed about 10 years into our marriage. As an early member of TWA’s frequent flyer plan, I took advantage of first class upgrades when the elite section had seats available (back then just being a member of the program entitled you to free upgrades at no cost in miles).

During one transcontinental flight, the first class stewardess offered cold asparagus vinaigrette as an appetizer. Naturally, I passed, but then had second thoughts. Why not take full advantage of my first class status? It was a decision that changed my gastronomic outlook. I’d never before tasted properly prepared asparagus. Delicious. In short order I even became a delighted consumer of that most vile of childhood revulsions—Brussell sprouts. It helps that Gilda has become a gourmet cook.

The neurosis du jour is hoarding: At least three reality TV shows. Newspaper articles or columns such as the one Jane Brody wrote the other day in the NY Times (

I'm a semi hoarder. Gilda’s always complaining I never clean out the week’s worth of newspapers from the kitchen until recycling day. Yes, Your Honor, I’m mostly guilty of that transgression. And my desk is a magnet for all sorts of papers and junk. When it gets really cluttered I spend half an hour throwing out really old papers whose reason for keeping in the first place escapes me.

My hoarding habit centers mainly around various pieces of apparel. I’m partial to pocket T-shirts, so naturally I bought a rainbow’s worth of shirts. I’ve also never come across a coat department that didn’t tempt me. Accordingly, our front hall closet is chock full of coats and jackets chosen to keep me warm in gradations of 10 degrees in temperature, but I’m clueless as to which one to wear on any given day. I have separate pairs of gloves, and scarves, for each coat.

Later, rather than sooner, I wind up donating a good portion of my excess apparel to charity. But while it’s in our closets, Gilda gives the greatest gift a hoarder can receive—patience.

Free No More? One of the last citadels of free college education, New York City’s Cooper Union, may begin charging tuition to undergraduates for the first time since 1902 (

Gilda and I attended Brooklyn College, the closest entity to free higher education. Back in the late 1960s, Brooklyn College accepted only the best students, basically anyone with an A average. B students went to one of the other City University of New York schools, such as City College or Queens College. Tuition each semester was $50 ($332 in current inflation adjusted dollars) plus the cost of books. Today, tuition is $2,565 per semester for matriculated full-time students. Since it was a commuter school, few if any students incurred housing costs.

Shortly after we graduated in 1971, Brooklyn College initiated Open Admissions. Anyone with a high school degree could attend. Quality deteriorated. The grand experiment failed. The school has reverted to a more stringent admissions policy. I’m not familiar with Brooklyn College’s current academic standing, but when Gilda and I attended, it was a top notch liberal arts institution, virtually free to all who qualified.