Monday, April 29, 2013

Giving Up Some Wisdom

Had the third of my four wisdom teeth extracted today. I'm fine, thanks for asking, but I really wish the blood would stop oozing out of the hole now in my upper right jaw bone.

All in all, the procedure was pretty painless and done quite professionally by the specialist my dentist referred me to. The oral surgeon reassured me he would not do a cartoon-like extraction. That is, he would not press a knee on my chest for greater leverage to yank out my tooth. After numbing me up with several Novocain shots, he rocked the tooth back and forth to loosen it up before pulling it out.

Last time I had a wisdom tooth removed my former dentist did it himself. It was a lower left side tooth. It might have gone easily if one of the roots had not broken off and remained locked in my jaw. The dentist tried and tried to get it out to no avail other than my discomfort. He finally gave up, saying it didn't really matter. He wished me good luck and cautioned that if I experienced any pain I should call the dentist who would be covering for him during his vacation which would begin as soon as he closed his office that day.

That night while sleeping the blot clot over the vacant tooth area dripped out onto my pillow. That morning I started to feel a throbbing pain. I thought it was the aftereffects of the dentist trying to root out the recalcitrant part of my tooth. For the next two days I alternated Tylenol and ibuprofen to ease the pain. Finally I couldn't take it any longer and contacted the on-call dentist. He knew right away I had developed a dry socket, a sensitivity to air on the extraction spot. As soon as he put a slight amount of cement on the site the pain subsided.

My first wisdom tooth was removed when I was in college and followed a script eerily similar to what today’s oral surgeon said he would not do. Our family dentist, a man of about 5’ 8”,  couldn’t get the right leverage to easily pull out the tooth from the upper left side of the jaw. While he didn’t get on top of me, he did bring over a stepstool to get a better angle. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.

At one time in my life I toyed with the idea of becoming a dentist. It made my parents happy. But my heart really wasn’t into it. Nor were my grades. D’s in organic chemistry and biology quickly disabused me of the idea of a life of putting my fingers into people’s mouths. I can’t say I regretted that decision.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lag Ba'Omer: A Time To Be Outdoors

How fitting that today would be a beautiful spring day when lots of families are outside reveling in the sunshine and cool air. Today is the day Jewish children are encouraged to play outdoors. It is Lag Ba’Omer, the 33rd of the 50 days between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot (Lag, in Hebrew letters, is the equivalent of the number 33.) 

As a child I was taught the significance of this day harkens back to the time when Jews were once again rebelling against Roman rule some 60 years after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70 CE and the desert fortress Masada fell in 73. The remnants of the Jews, under the leadership of Rabbi Akiba and the general Bar Kochba, challenged Rome between 132-136. On this day it is believed Bar Kochba’s army achieved a significant, though temporary, victory. To commemorate this triumph children were encouraged to go out into the fields with bows and arrows and to play games.

As youngsters in Brooklyn my brother, sister and I were a little too urbanized to go around shooting arrows on Lag Ba’Omer. Instead, on the Sunday closest to the actual day our Hebrew school, Yeshiva Rambam, organized a family outing to Cunningham Park in Queens. It meant not only a day of fun but also freedom from 9-12 Sunday school.

We'd assemble at the school on Kings Highway and East 31 Street to pile into yellow school buses with our fathers and mothers for the ride to the park. It was one of the few times kids would see their parents dressed informally in public. No ties, no white shirts and, this being the 1950s, hardly any jeans or sneakers. But in their open collar short sleeve sports shirts the fathers looked less formal or fearsome. Mothers wore skirts with bright blouses. No pants. They might have adored Katherine Hepburn, but they were not movie stars with the confidence to challenge societal sensibilities.

Once at the park it was like a scene from an Oklahoma land rush in an old western movie. We'd race across the lush grass to stake out a spot for a blanket, hopefully a small plot of land shaded by the leaves of a tall tree. Then the games would begin. Baseball for mostly the kids from the older grades and their fathers. Organized races for others: Wheelbarrow races. Three legged races. Eggs on spoon races. Potato sack races.

When it was time for lunch we would retreat to our respective blankets. My mother would unwrap cold hamburger sandwiches. Maybe they were meatloaf, though I never recall her ever baking a meatloaf for dinner. Active in her youth, even a horseback rider, mom kind of lost the feel for the outdoors as we grew older, though she did claim to have taught her three children to play ball. Dad surely didn’t. He had no concept of any sport.

A few years before mom  passed away we kidded her that we never barbecued in our back yard in Brooklyn. She disagreed strongly, asserting we would eat tuna fish sandwiches at a table in the yard. That to her was close enough to be called a barbecue.

More games followed after lunch. My father usually napped. On the ride back to the school we would sing “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Or, more than likely for kids my age, we would fall asleep, perhaps dreaming of Bar Kochba smiting the Roman legions.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Reading Some Memories

I don’t remember my parents reading to me, though they must have. Or perhaps as their third child my bedtime ritual no longer commanded their intense attention. I do remember lying in bed with my father as he told and retold stories from the Bible, especially the one about Samson and Delilah. He always made the most exciting parts the times when Samson would trick Delilah and the Philistines into thinking his strength had been sapped. 

Though I can’t recall their reading to me, that’s not to say they didn’t encourage reading on my part. We had a wide collection of Thornton W. Burgess books. With illustrations by Harrison Cady, the stories made animals come to life with all the foibles and strengths of humans. Sadly, my parents did not preserve those books for their grandchildren. Like my comic book and baseball card collections, they disappeared from our home by my late teenage years.

I’m thinking about childhood books with more than a little melancholy because of a beautifully written article in Thursday NY Times by Dwight Garner. “Memories of a Bedtime Book Club” evokes the lifetime pleasure of reading to a child and, if you’re fortunate, passing on your mutual love for a particular book to the next generation ( 

Garner incorporated 15 recommended books into his article. I can’t say any of his suggestions were part of the Forseter home reading list when Dan and Ellie were young and snuggled next to either Gilda or me as we read, and reread, stories to them each night. We read the same books so often the kids memorized the words. Sometimes, I’d start to drift off while reading. In the stupor before sleep I’d say the wrong words. Quickly I’d be startled back to consciousness by a sharp elbow and Ellie admonishing that those weren’t the right words, that I should read the book the way the author intended. 

Like Garner, we had favorites. Of course, they included Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and other classics like Madeline. But mostly they were books that did not attain cult status, though quite a few, like Wild Things, were Caldecott Medal winners. Here’s a list of 15 Forseter favorites:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst 
A Special Trade by Sally Wittman 
Boy, Was I Mad by Kathryn Hitte 
Corduroy by Don Freeman 
Could Be Worse by James Stevenson 
Even for a Mouse by Lisl Weil 
Frederick by Leo Lionni 
It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig 
The Horse Who Lived Upstairs by Phyllis McGinley 
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton 
The Yucky Monster by Arthur Roth
There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon by Jack Kent 
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Who Wants an Old Teddy Bear? By Ginnie Hofmann

Back in 2009 I wrote that our standard gift to newborns and their parents is a collection of our favorite books, some for newborns like Pat the Bunny, but most for when they are toddlers or older. And they’ll come with the following note:

Children outgrow clothing,
They tire of toys,
But the memory of reading 
Books with your parents
Lasts forever.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Boston Memories

I had a hard time sitting down to write this post. I have no desire to trivialize the horror of what happened at the Boston Marathon, the terror that engulfed a great city, the subsequent assassination of an MIT policeman, and the shootout that ultimately led to the death of one of the bombing suspects and the capture of his younger brother. But I am drawn once again by the intersection of events in my life and that of our family with news of the day, so I’ve, reluctantly, pieced together some Beantown memories.

I’ve been to Boston many times, for work and to visit family. My first visit to Boston, to attend the deciding game of the 1975 World Series, predates the ritual singing of Sweet Caroline at Fenway Park. It was not sweet that night for Red Sox fans. They blew a lead to the Cincinnati Reds. The city had to wait another 19 years for its championship rings. 

Our family has walked down Boylston Street where the bombs went off several times. We’ve stayed at the Sheraton Hotel in the Prudential Center that backs up on Boylston. We’ve shopped in the Prudential Center mall. The June before Dan entered Tufts University, we bought him a Columbia Sportswear winter jacket. In truth, it was too big for him (too big for me, as well), but he wanted it and it was on sale. He gave it back to me several years later and I used it from time to time. Last year I gave it to one of Donny’s friends who needed a winter jacket while riding around as a bicycle messenger. 

I think it was during that same June visit that Ellie talked us into taking a horse drawn carriage ride around Copley Square. Her vision—all of our visions—of a carriage ride as a romantic excursion was forever destroyed that night. It’s hard to feel romantic when your olfactory sense is assaulted by the contents of the drop bag behind the horse. We couldn’t wait for the ride to finish.

Dan and Allison bought a house in Arlington seven years ago. One of the restaurants in town we ate in during our first visit was Jimmy’s Steer House on Massachusetts Avenue. She didn’t work there then, but Krystle Campbell, one of the three fatalities of the marathon day bombing, worked as a manager of Jimmy’s for the last several months. 

Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev was captured in Watertown, in the yard of 67 Franklin Street, less than a mile from the Arsenal Mall. Fifteen years ago I spent time at the Arsenal Mall researching a cover story for my magazine. 

Mostly inconsequential links. But sufficiently strong, to me, to have made me identify a little stronger than most non-Bostonians with the utter senselessness of the last two weeks. I’ve left it to other journalists to be more profound about the meaning behind our latest bout with terror.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Superman Is Missing

Did you look up in the sky yesterday? Did you see a bird, or maybe a plane? Did you know Thursday was Superman’s 75th birthday, or, to be more precise, the 75th anniversary of his appearance in the first Superman comic book? 

For those of us of a certain age, and by that I mean those who were around for the first run of the Adventures of Superman TV show (1952-1958), yesterday was a day to engage in reverie about our youth, of dreaming about milk mixed with Bosco or Ovaltine (ok, the latter was Captain Midnight’s sponsor, but you get the picture), and eating Kellogg’s cereal, Superman’s actual sponsor. 

Superman took flight in 1938 and quickly captured the nation’s fancy at a time when evil seemed to be erupting around the world, especially after the United States entered the second world war. Just how pervasive Superman became was demonstrated to me by two films Turner Classic Movies aired last week. In the first, 1943’s So Proudly We Hail, about nurses tending to soldiers in the Philippines before their surrender to the Japanese, Paulette Goddard tells Filipino children a story about Superman. Ironically, the male lead in the movie was played by George Reeves who a decade later went on to play Superman/Clark Kent in the TV series. 

In the second movie, 1944’s Since You Went Away, the character played by Monty Woolley, noting that his morning newspaper was missing pages 9-12, complained, “Where is Superman?”.

It’s a legitimate question given the actions of U.S. senators Wednesday. Instead of showing the type of profile in courage exalted by John F. Kennedy in his book about politicians who took stands for the country rather than their own political gain, four Democratic senators—Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota—chose to kowtow to the National Rifle Association in lieu of voting for the best interests of their constituents and the nation. They rejected the idea of expanding background checks before the sale of firearms at gun shows or through the Internet. By comparison, four Republicans stood out for their courage in supporting the expansion—Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. 

Had the four Democrats voted for the measure, the amendment still would have failed. It would have had support of just 59 senators, one vote shy of the 60 needed to beat a filibuster. How shameful that the Senate turned its back on the victims of multiple shootings and their survivors. The clock is ticking. How long will it be before another unstable person kills and maims innocents?

I’m thinking of going postal. Not really. Just thought I’d get your attention to a flyer that came in the mail from the United States Postal Service seeking city carrier assistants in post offices in Westchester County to collect and deliver mail by foot or by vehicle. Don’t you think it would be fun riding around in a postal truck, steering wheel on the right side, or walking a route dressed in shorts with a pith helmet to keep sunstroke at bay? 

As much as I’m intrigued by the notions, I don’t think I’m cut out anymore for disciplined clockwork. I’m afraid I really might go postal if I had to punch a time clock or take abuse from a nasty supervisor or customer. 

News You Might Have Missed: What with all the important news of the last two weeks, including the Korean crisis, the gun law debate, the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the subsequent dragnet for the perpetrators, the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, the death of Margaret Thatcher, some stories of import, depending on your point of view, might have escaped your news net. So here’s a couple of items that, regrettably, show the gender gap is narrowing, at least as far as retaliatory behavior is concerned.

Shades of Lorena Bobbitt, a California woman took matters into her own hands and cut off her estranged husband’s penis with a 10-inch kitchen knife. She outdid Lorena’s revenge by throwing the severed member down the garbage disposal. According to the Associated Press, “Catherine Kieu, 50, is accused of drugging her estranged husband's tofu with sleeping pills and tying him to a bed before the attack, the Orange County Register reported.” During her trial which began earlier this week, “The prosecution alleges that Kieu was motivated by jealousy, and that she was angry about her husband's plans to divorce her because he was seeing his ex-girlfriend.”

Okay, that might be an extreme example of a woman behaving badly. But how would you explain this episode? In a confrontation reminiscent of fathers behaving badly at Little League games, two mothers got into it during an Easter egg hunt in Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Once again, we turn to the Associated Press for details: 

According to the Seattle Police Department blotter “one woman reportedly pushed a child aside as her own child was scrambling toward some brightly colored eggs. Police say the two mothers began fighting and had to be separated three or four times. The fisticuffs left one woman with a bloody nose.”

Makes me kinda glad our children never played Little League baseball or went searching for Easter eggs. 

Are New York voters more forgiving or more discriminating than South Carolinians? We’ll learn the answer to that question should disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner choose to throw his hat, and hopefully only his hat, into the mayoral race. 

Will the “junk” tweeter be given another chance, as South Carolina voters have given disgraced former governor Mark Sanford? Sanford won a Republican primary to run for Congress. By the way, in the general election he’s running against Stephen Colbert’s sister. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Memories From the Mail

Oliver Munday had no way of knowing, no way of knowing his illustration accompanying a NY Times Op-Ed piece Tuesday on the meaning behind Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” would evoke memories of the Nazi extermination of my father’s family in the shtetl of Ottynia, a small town in what is now the Ukraine, but back during World War II was part of occupied Poland.

Munday’s illustration portrays air mail delivery of a letter. It depicts a bird with outstretched wings, wings made to look like jail cell doors, a letter carried in its bill ( Among the treasures my father left are four postcards from his family that trace Ottynia’s fate during the war. The first three bear stamps from CCCP, the Soviet Union. The intertwined sickle and hammer symbol of the proletariat  is at the top left corner of each postcard. At the start of the war, Ottynia fell into Stalin’s hands as part of his Polish partition pact with Hitler. 

Soviet stamps and symbol are on the fourth and final postcard. Though the black ink is fading, the postmark is from September 21, 1941. In red ink, just below the middle of the front of the postcard, is the imprint of another official insignia, a bird with outstretched wings, a swastika inside a circle in its talons. Fourteen days later, perhaps even before the postcard arrived at my father’s residence at 148 Van Sicklen Street in Brooklyn, the Nazis killed most of the Jews who lived in Ottynia, trucking them to a mass grave before shooting them. Only his brother, Willy, survived from his immediate family. Their parents, their sisters and brother, and Willy’s first wife and son were killed. The Jewish presence in Ottynia, initially recorded in 1635 but perhaps from many years earlier, ended after more than three centuries.

My father left Ottynia when he was 16 to live and work in Danzig (now Gdansk). He emigrated to the United States in January 1939. As many from his village who came before (and after) him did, he joined the First Ottynier Young Men’s Benevolent Association, eventually becoming its president for many years. Two Sundays ago, the association held its 113th annual gathering. About 30 of us met in Mendy’s delicatessen in Manhattan for a luncheon, less than one-twentieth the number that assembled in the Hotel Commodore in 1950 for the jubilee celebration of the society. 

My father and Uncle Willy (who came to the States after the war) rarely talked about Ottynia. Indeed, nostalgia for Ottynia was not an emotion I would associate with any of the men and women I knew growing up who came from the town. That’s not to say they didn’t have memories of life there. It’s just that, like my father, they preferred to look forward, not backward. They lived in the company of their surviving friends, not the ghosts of the departed.

In Ottynia, my father said he ate potatoes every day. He became so fed up with eating spuds that upon arriving in Danzig he vowed never to eat a potato again. He kept that promise to himself for about a decade until one day a waitress coaxed him into trying some potatoes with his meal. Well, the rest, as they say, is history. He was a meat and potatoes man for the rest of his life. He rarely ate any other vegetable. Just potatoes. Hardly anything green ever graced our dinette table in Brooklyn. 

Though he would return now and then to Ottynia—one of my favorite pictures is of him dressed in peasant pants and shirt, almost like pajamas, lying on the fender of a large car in Ottynia—he'd always go back to the city life of Danzig. 

In my father’s house in the 1950s and early 1960s, the telephone was a necessary evil not to be used for prolonged conversation unless it was being used to communicate with his society brethren.

Ottynia had a very personal meaning to my brother Bernie, my sister Lee, and me. It meant a tight knit group of eight couples that formed monthly floating poker games, men in one room, women in another. Nickel, dime, quarter stakes. I learned how to mix highballs for them. When I was around ten, they would let me sit in for a few hands whenever my mother or father would take a break from the game. It was a lot rougher playing with the women. They took their poker very seriously.  The men would coddle me. The women were after my nickels.

Poker aside, what Ottynia meant to Kopel Forseter was continuity. It meant commitment to family and friends. Ottynia meant helping those in need. It meant remembering one’s traditions and roots. For all its simple peasant-like charm, if I might use that word to describe Ottynia, Ottynia must have had qualities that imbued in my father and scores of others a set of values that served them well throughout the four corners of the earth. What my father learned in cheder (Hebrew school) and in the public school he attended through sixth grade in Ottynia laid the foundation for a successful business and personal life that has extended into his children and grandchildren and hopefully will continue for generations.


Monday, April 15, 2013

A Pair of Classics: Westerns and Drinking

TCM Turns into the NRA Channel: I’d like to think there was nothing political about the programming decision Turner Classic Movies made for Monday, one day before the Senate starts debate on a bi-partisan amendment to expand background checks for purchases of firearms at gun shows and over the Internet. 

After a morning and afternoon of Clint Eastwood-Sergio Leone westerns, TCM got down to business—movies with names that would make even National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre mist over in delight: Winchester ‘73, Colt .45, Springfield Rifle, The Gun That Won The West, The Fastest Gun Alive and The Quick Gun. I’m a big fan of westerns, but really, all these shoot-em-ups on the eve of the Senate debate was a little bit of overkill.

By the way, I’m a little confused or maybe just in the dark about the NRA’s objections to background checks and forms of gun registries. I understand opposition to any lists that could be compiled of people who purchase guns. But I wonder, do purchasers pay cash for their weapons or do they use credit cards? Some of these pistols and assault rifles are expensive, so I presume credit cards are used. If that’s the case, data houses such as Acxiom, probably have in their information warehouses the names and addresses of gun buyers along with all the other bits and bytes collected when a transaction is processed electronically with a credit or debit card. If I’m wrong about this, let me know. 

I Used To Be Able To Run Fast, fast enough to beat out ground balls chopped to the infield in our temple softball league. But that was many seasons ago. The new season began Sunday. Despite not practicing during the pre-season, I pitched five strong innings. But when I hit two ground balls I easily could have beat out in my younger days, I barely made it down the first base line. No explosiveness at all, unless you count the pain in my back. 

For the record, we had one bad inning (not while I was pitching). We lost, 9-3, but it was fun, the guys are a good bunch and some have shown marked improvement over a year ago. 

Hey, Get Yer Cold One Here: My desire for ice cold drinks, especially when traveling abroad, apparently has some ancient pedigree. Reading A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage, I discovered that Romans around the year 70 CE liked to chill their white wine during the summer with snow brought down from the mountains, a taste for cold drinks Pliny the Elder found detestable. No doubt Italians who sneered at my request for ice for my Coca-Cola are soul mates of Pliny the Elder.

Rowdy fraternity parties draw condemnation from most even-keeled modern adults, but Standage pointed out that getting together for wine parties was acceptable behavior for ancient Greeks. Indeed, being a teetotaler was frowned upon, according to Standage. Just as today, drinking parties, called symposia, could get out of hand. 

“As one krater (a large, urn-shaped bowl) succeeded another, some symposia descended into orgies, and others into violence, as drinkers issued challenges to each other to demonstrate loyalty to their drinking group, or hetaireia. The symposion was sometimes followed by the komos, a form of ritual exhibitionism in which members of the hetaireia would course through the streets in nocturnal revelry to emphasize the strength and unity of their group. The komos could be good-natured but could also lead to violence or vandalism, depending on the state of the participants,” Standage reported. Sounds a lot like Animal House, no?

Of course, Greek symposia revolved around wine, not beer. Beer was considered too déclassé for anyone of any stature, though at one time in ancient civilizations beer was the preferred drink of kings; the quality of one’s beer reflected a person’s wealth. Beer often was part of one’s wages. For example, written records show the Egyptians who built the pyramids were state employees whose wages included rations of beer. Sorry, fellow Hebrews, our ancestors did not build the pyramids.

Bertha 2: Gilda’s named her new car Bertha 2. She let me drive it over the weekend. I must say, I was impressed. We’ve put on more than 100 miles since picking up the Ford C-Max Thursday and have used perhaps two gallons of gas. Not bad. Not bad at all. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Car Talk

Barring any last minute complications, we’re picking up Gilda’s new car early this evening, a ruby red Ford C-Max hybrid. It will be my third red car, Gilda’s second.

My first was a used, fire engine red, 1966 Mustang, bought in the fall of 1967. I shared it with my sister but considered it more mine than hers. We kept it for two years, long enough for it to be rear-ended twice while I was behind the wheel, once even while stopped at a red light, both times resulting in a broken trunk lock. Though I liked the Mustang it clearly had bad karma. It also had a front end bang-up before we bought it, something we found out only when a mechanic asked my sister when the collision happened.

My favorite memories of that car included stuffing 10 of my house plan (like a fraternity) brothers into the front and back seats as I drove from one party to another. As the driver, I didn’t have to share a seat so I was indifferent to the squeezed bodies surrounding me. 

The second memory also involved my Knight House friends. We were trying to find Lenny David one school night. Several cars descended on the Brooklyn College campus. We thought he might be in the library. I jumped out to search for him, then returned to my car to go to the next possible spot where he might be. In my haste, I didn’t notice the car had been moved from its original parking spot. 

You might ask, how could it have been moved? Surely your friends had not become supermen, lifted it up and moved it some 100 feet? By some quirk of manufacturing, the key to my 1966 Mustang exactly matched the key to Brian Berman’s 1965 Mustang. As a practical joke he moved my car, assuming I’d realize the shift when I didn’t find it parked where I left it. 

Okay, the story doesn’t end there. My Mustang had a slight mechanical problem. The gas gauge always read “empty.” My sister and I agreed we’d always fill the car with gas whenever we used it to avoid unsuspectingly running out of fuel. We also agreed we’d never engage the emergency parking brake because no red light appeared on the dashboard when it was on. When I got back into the driver’s seat and started to pull away from the curb I was jolted by the bucking bronco motion of the Mustang. I figured Lee had failed to refill the gas tank earlier that day and this was the car’s way of belching out its near-emptiness. The car kicked and fought for the two blocks to the nearest gas station. I told the attendant to fill ‘er up. 39 cents. Roughly two gallons back in 1968. I was flabbergasted, unable to comprehend why the car was behaving in such an uncharacteristic manner when I noticed the emergency brake had been deployed. I realized Brian had been inside my car but it was not until I confronted him that I was apprised he had also moved it to a different parking space. Total embarrassment. 

To replace the Mustang several months later my father bought me a Buick Skylark, red with a black vinyl top. Gilda learned to drive in that car which she named Bertha. Just recently I became aware of the significance of the name Bertha to automotive history. Seems Karl Benz was a better inventor than promoter. He was reluctant to show off his car-making handiwork. His wife Bertha, however, was no shrinking violet. Without asking his permission, on August 5, 1888, accompanied by their two teenage sons, she took Benz’s creation out for a spin, a 66-mile spin from Mannheim to Pforzheim. As explained in her Wikipedia biography, the trip, aside from being the maiden long distance trip in any automobile, achieved several other firsts:

“On the way, she solved numerous problems. She had to find ligroin as a fuel; this was available only at apothecary shops, so she stopped in Wiesloch at the city pharmacy to purchase the fuel. A blacksmith had to help mend a chain at one point. The brakes needed to be repaired and, in doing so, Bertha Benz invented brake lining. She also had to use a long, straight hatpin to clean a fuel pipe, which had become blocked, and to insulate a wire with a garter. She left Mannheim around dawn and reached Pforzheim somewhat after dusk, notifying her husband of her successful journey by telegram. She drove back to Mannheim the next day.”

Gilda hasn’t indicated what she might call the Ford C-Max. Perhaps she’ll name it Thrifty or some other name to connote the savings the hybrid will provide. Its rated at 47 miles per gallon, city and highway, an important factor given Gilda’s 50-mile daily commute to and from Manhattan. Even if we get 20% less efficiency, at 37 mpg it would be three times more than what we managed from the Jeep Grand Cherokee we are replacing. 

We could have had a C-Max almost two months ago if we wanted any color but red. But when in a parking lot Gilda did not want to be lost amidst a sea of white, black, grey and blue cars. Ruby red will stand out. 

It’s supposed to rain in a short while. It rained when I picked up my Buick Skylark. My father used to say rain is a sign of good luck. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Domestication of Murray and Other Meshugas

When asked over the years if I cooked, Gilda usually replied, nine times out of ten I could boil water—maybe. I would respond, Gilda and I had a mutual-partition-of-domestic-labor-pact: she would cook, we’d both enjoy the gourmet meals she prepared, I would be in charge of setting the table and cleaning up the dishes and pots and pans. 

The arrangement worked fairly well from my perspective for 40 years, but change is afoot. Given Gilda’s work schedule which includes waking up at 5:18 am, I have been conscripted into the meal preparation corps. Tuesday night was our first dinner at Maison Murray, Cucina Murray, Bistro Murray or just plain Murray’s Kitchen. We dined on broiled salmon, baked potatoes garnished with butter and sour cream, and steamed broccoli. We don’t eat dessert, as a rule, unless you count after-dinner pills as a treat. 

Tonight’s pre-tennis menu includes cheese blintzes and salad. 

Don’t think my cooking exploits know no bounds. I’m very much the neophyte chef in the kitchen, though I’ve put together a list of some dozen meals to rotate into our Monday through Thursday repasts. I’m writing down detailed instructions for each dish, making sure we have a balance of protein, starch and vegetable. 

This is a brave step for me, though not entirely a new world as I cooked for myself while in graduate school at Syracuse University. In my garret of an apartment in an old Victorian-style house on East Genesee Street, I would cook tuna casserole, meat loaf and anything else that would fit into a toaster oven. I also learned to drink beer, really drink beer. My friend and classmate Steve Kreinberg introduced me to Lum’s, a chain of family restaurants whose signature dish was hot dogs cooked in beer. I preferred their basket of fried shrimp, but what made a visit to Lum’s special was the frosted mugs used to serve the beer. To commemorate those days I keep a few mugs frosting away in the freezer. 

This Is Crazy: I'm always amused when gentiles try to speak Yiddish. They never get the intonation right. For example, instead of a guttural, growly “chutzpah” that conveys the indignant reproach of the speaker, it usually comes out as a soft “hutzpah,” a kind of “oh, really” quality to the put down.

Incorporating Yiddish in one’s writing isn't easy, either. Take Maureen Dowd’s attempt in her column last Sunday for The NY Times. Analyzing Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential prospects, Dowd wrote, “Her challenge is to get into the future and stay there, adding fresh people and perspectives and leaving the Clinton mishegoss (italics added) and cheesiness in the past.”

When I first read this I chuckled. I wondered how many non-Jews would realize she meant to say “meshugas,” the Yiddish word for craziness. I was all set to lambaste her for failing to correctly spell meshugas when I decided to do some checking and came across the following 2009 article from The Jewish Daily Forward ( 

For those not willing to jump on the link, here’s a precis: It seems Dowd had previously used the meshugas spelling but was chastened by Times columnist and wordsmith William Safire that the correct spelling was mishegoss. Safire might have been the only one to believe that, but his stature was sufficient for Dowd to follow his example. 

The lesson to be learned from this—before criticizing, it’s a good idea to check as many facts as possible. Thank you Google and the Internet.

Mr. Lucky: I consider myself fortunate not to be in school these days, not when technology enables teachers to monitor a student’s reading and study habits ( From high school on, I was a lousy student. I received good grades in subjects I was interested in, but not because I read the course material. I was just hard-wired, or lucky enough, to know the answers in subjects ranging from history to English to elementary sciences. 

I’d be in real trouble if my grades depended on whether I was reading the assignments. 

For Shame: There’s no doubt Margaret Thatcher was a polarizing figure, not just in British politics but throughout the world, as well. I find it shameful, however, that while media baron Rupert Murdoch praised the former prime minister for being "undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the 20th century. I found her attitude an inspiration in my business life,” he allowed his British tabloid paper, The Sun, to trumpet her passing with the following headline: “Maggie Dead In Bed At Ritz.” 

How tawdry. How lacking in respect. How shameful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Three Departures

The airwaves have been filled all day long with news, commentaries and tributes to the Great Lady, the Iron Lady of British politics, the longest serving British prime minister of the 20th century, the indefatigable Margaret Thatcher who taught Ronald Reagan a thing or two about what it means to be conservative, who is credited with, at least temporarily, stopping the slide of the British Empire, or at least shoring up the pride behind the Union Jack. Thatcher died Monday. She was 87.

No less an iconic cultural figure passed away Monday, as well. Annette Funicello, one of the original Mousketeers of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club died. She was 70. For many of my age cohort, she was the embodiment (emphasis on body) of growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, first from her exposure on the Mickey Mouse Club and then from her recurring beach party films with Frankie Avalon. 

When the Mickey Mouse Club made its debut in October 1955, Funicello was but 13 years old. I always thought my sister Lee, four years younger than her, looked a lot like Funicello, though as Annette grew older and filled out her Mousketeer shirt, Lee’s resemblance appeared less prominent. 

Though it lasted for only three original seasons, when I was six through nine, I really loved the Mickey Mouse Club, especially the Spin and Marty dude ranch serial. Tim Considine played Spin, and later the eldest son of Fred MacMurray on My Three Sons

A departure of a different kind took place Monday at J.C. Penney. Ron Johnson, the CEO recruited from Apple, has been sacked, a little more than a year since taking the helm at Plano, Tex.-based Penney. He was replaced by the man he succeeded, Myron “Mike” Ullman, brought back from retirement ( 

Johnson’s fall from grace was swift but not unexpected. After scoring a success with the sleek Apple stores he helped create, it was not a surprise that transforming a dowdy department store with 100 years of tradition and arteriosclerosis would be difficult. 

Where will Johnson go from here? My guess is he will land at another specialty store, perhaps Best Buy which has been troubled of late and has the added benefit of being based near Minneapolis where Johnson worked as a key executive of Target.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Winter Is Officially Over; Men Still Behave Badly

The calendar proclaimed it happened March 20, but I declare today the official end of winter and the beginning of spring. Today marks the day I ran the motor dry in my snowblower and stored it away in the shed, took out Gilda’s gardening wheelbarrow and removed the cozies from two of our outdoor faucets. 

Yes, spring was definitely in the air today, sunny with almost no breeze. I even fed the birds, giving them leftover Passover-version Cheerios (they’re really vile tasting, but the birds don’t seem to mind), and crunched up whole wheat matzah. D’ya think it will have the same binding effect on the birds? 

Is it a surprise to anyone that men behave badly? Specifically, men with authority who coach athletic teams and other groups where discipline is demanded. 

The abusive behavior of Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice toward his players led to his dismissal Thursday, days after a series of videos surfaced of him taunting his players with homophobic slurs, hitting them at close range with thrown basketballs, kicking them and otherwise manhandling them. Sadly, it wasn’t the first nor will it be the last time a coach acts badly. It happens in almost all sports.

But as I tuned into the last few minutes of a segment on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show today, I was intrigued by the comments a sportswriter guest made. Rice’s behavior toward these collegiate athletes was no worse than they might have experienced had they been new soldiers undergoing basic training in the Marines or Army. I am in no way trying to justify Rice’s actions. But it seems we surely have reached a point where college sports have stepped over a line that separates it from the rest of our society. Sports have transcended the educational purpose of higher education. I’m not sure we will ever rebalance our priorities, not when athletics produces oodles and oodles of dollars for universities, nor when the commander-in-chief’s picks for March Madness command as much if not more air time than wars in the Mid-East or hunger in America.

As if to reinforce that thought about war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lehrer noted the intense interest in the compound leg fracture sustained by Louisville’s Kevin Ware during a game against Duke last weekend. Many people want to watch the video of the mishap. Yet, Lehrer pointed out, as gruesome as the injury was, it was not as bad as what happens every day in war zones, to civilians and to military personnel. We are shielded from viewing those traumas. The wars, it seems, are not for public consumption.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I'm Really Sick This Time

My wife and friends all think I'm a hypochondriac so there's no additional shame in telling you I feel lousy. I'm sick. No temperature, but I've got a hacking cough, sore throat and a stuffed nose. I've felt this way for about six days now, which means about another four to seven days of misery. I don't even get the benefit of staying home from work since I don't have an every day job anymore.

Tuesday morning around 5:30 I finally succumbed to my hypochondria and looked up strep throat on I lacked the symptoms. I checked out how to treat a plain sore throat. It advised to take pain killers to relieve the discomfort of swallowing. It worked, so I’ve continued medicating, have gargled with salt water and imbibed cups of tea laced with honey. 

Finley’s not aware of it, but I’m blaming him for this health setback. Come to think of it, Dagny had a running nose when they were here for Passover. Hmmm ... I rarely get sick. I’m more prone to complaining about body aches (which are real, trust me, but are mainly due to my disinterest in exercising, stretching, limbering up). Well, I guess this is a counterpoint to the joys of grandparenthood. 

Colbert Joins the Attack: Move over, Mel Brooks. Stephen Colbert has joined the ranks of those who make fun of my given name.

During Monday night’s Colbert Report, the comedian was riffing on the liberal initiatives of Pope Francis, specifically his washing the feet of two women as part of last Thursday’s pre-Easter celebration. Colbert even went so far as to state, “There were no women in the Gospels. It’s a common mistranslation. Jesus was actually born of the Virgin Murray.”

Then he showed a picture of a cloaked man, which, to be honest, didn’t really look like me but did bear a striking resemblance to Gilda’s brother Carl. 

Five Finger Discounts: Did you see the article in today’s NY Times about retailers using databases to screen out job seekers who might have been involved in stealing from a previous employer? (

It’s no secret employee theft is a bigger problem than five-finger discounts perpetrated by customers. So controlling internal theft is a big issue for retailers. 

The Times article dealt with prospective employees. For those already on the payroll, Kmart had a different tactic to thwart theft. I’m not sure if Kmart is still doing this, but years ago its store managers used to monitor the level of purchases made by their store staff. They reasoned that employees could not find merchandise such as paper products or toiletries for less than what they would pay at Kmart. So if someone wasn’t buying such goods at work, they probably were secreting the stuff out the back door. Closer observation of the suspects ensued. 

Brooklyn On My Mind: Next Friday, the movie 42 will premiere. It’s a biopic of Jackie Robinson. From the clips I’ve seen it looks like a winner.

I can’t remember actually seeing Jackie play in person for the Brooklyn Dodgers but I’m sure I did. Growing up in Brooklyn, we had a sweet access to Ebbets Field. If you sent in a quarter plus 10 wrappers from a Borden’s Ice Cream bar, you’d get a general admission ticket for a seat along the left field foul line. I wasn’t a Dodgers fan, but my brother Bernie was, so he took me along to games. 

Bernie has fond memories of visiting Ebbets Field, sitting in box seats behind first base with our mother, courtesy of tickets provided by one of our father’s sales representatives, Mr. Schaenman, who had an office in the Empire State Building. I can remember going to his office, riding the ear-popping elevators up to the sky to his office to pick up tickets for games, to Yankee Stadium for me, to Ebbets Field for Bernie, until they moved to Los Angeles, that is. After that Bernie would take me to Yankee games, though he didn’t become a fan. We’d always have box seats at Yankee Stadium, low enough that after the game we’d be close to the field and able to walk out on the outfield grass to the massive exit doors in center field (it was a different time back in the 1950s and early 1960s.) 

Anyway, Bernie remembers a game at Ebbets Field when he arrived early to watch batting practice. Though he tried to get a baseball hit into the stands, he couldn’t. At the end of batting practice a policeman suggested he go after a ball headed for the seats, but he got there too late. The ball dribbled back down onto the field. However, Billy Loes, a Dodger pitcher, retrieved it and handed it to Bernie. I don’t remember us ever having a baseball, but I must have been less than seven years old when Loes played in Brooklyn, and I never played catch with a real baseball. Too dangerous. You miss catching a baseball and it could knock your front teeth out. That’s what happened to a friend one year at summer camp where they specifically told us not to play with a baseball. Too dangerous. They were right. 

Bernie says he lost the ball a year or two later while playing on the street, probably down a storm sewer. Sewers were a real hazard when playing in the street or even on the sidewalk in Brooklyn. We’d lose at least one ball each time we played, until our arms were long enough to fish the sphere out of the sewer. No, we didn’t actually reach the bottom of the pit with our fingers. We’d elongate a wire clothes hanger, fashion one end into a loop, then go fishing for the ball down the sewer. Most times we’d reel in our lost balls, though they were usually Spaldeens or Pensie Pinkies—lightweight pink bouncers. Baseballs, being far more dense, were difficult to raise up. In case you suspect I’m making up this sewer fishing, here’s a corroborating post from another blogger: