Inside My Desk

Random Thoughts
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FEATURING
In Memory of a Dog Named Tucker,
Story-Telling Vacuum,
Friendships With or Without Facebook,
Ski Bummery, Tahoe & Alicia,
Scorn Laws,
Sights of Paris,
One Perfect Day, 8 October 1956,Yankee Stadium,
Learning the Art of The Café,
Poof!.


SIGHTS OF PARIS

Commentary unnecessary. What I saw, and what I want to remember.

YouTube video click here.

Some places you may not recognize on video:
Doorway to apartment of Eric Satie, Montmartre.
Tent in square where Montmartre artists work - singing group called Seafarers.
Doorway of Le Petit Palais.
Heart in window by a wonderful artist, Joana Vasconcelos, I ran across in a gallery not far from Pompidou. Her Web Page is at www.joanavasconcelos.com.
Festive lights on Rue Descartes near the Sorbonne.
Friends from Paris, Buenos Aires and Bogatá.
Ferris wheel in Place de la Concorde, being dismantled, workers half way up wheel.
Glass structure Mitterand National Library and new pedestrian bridge in honor of Simone de Beauvoir.


ONE PERFECT DAY, 8 OCTOBER 1956, YANKEE STADIUM

Ticket Game 5 1956 World Series

One memorable day in my life occurred on 8 October 1956. Serious baseball fans of an older generation know that date - Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Yankee Stadium. And I was there in the right-field bleachers. How I got there was pure happenstance.

I was an indifferent undergraduate at Drew University in Madison NJ. I was in my senior year, and quite honestly I have almost no recollection of the courses I was enrolled in. I do remember on that day I was walking across campus to the gym where I spent more time than in class. On the way I ran into Doc Young, Dr Sherman Plato Young, I believe, was his full name. A legendary figure on the campus, he taught Greek & Latin, but, more importantly to most students, he coached Drew baseball from 1932 to 1954, had only five losing seasons and sent a couple of kids into pro ball.

I don’t remember how he addressed me when we ran into each other. I was not a member of the baseball team, and I had studied Greek before I arrived at Drew, not under him. It was a very small campus, and faculty members were on a first-name basis with most of the students. Doc had the build of a bulldog but also had a way of combining gruff with gregarious. To greet me and every other student he passed was not out of character.

The conversation that ensued after the greeting was hardly expected - an invitation to go to NYC to see Yankees and Dodgers in the Fifth Game of the World Series. I doubt if it took me more than a nanosecond to decide. I’m sure I had classes to attend, but that obligation never crossed my mind. I remember on the train Doc joking about how he was undermining my moral character by enticing me to the Big City to attend, of all things, a baseball game. I had never known this side of him.

I had been a baseball fan since I could remember, and I had three teams. Why three? Well, naturally, since I lived within shouting distance of Pittsburgh, my first team was the Pirates - the Bucs - but for a kid growing up, the Bucs were the most disappointing team imaginable. I had to have a second National League team, and I’d adopted the Bums. Why Brooklyn? Not a clue, except they won.

The third team was the American League Cleveland Indians with a roster that included among others thatBob Feller, Lou Boudreau, Joe Gordon, Jim Hegan (I was both a second baseman and a catcher). The Indians also won. I was privileged because my parents had friends who lived in Elyria, and each summer I was invited to spend a week with them so I could attend several baseball games. I still remember the thrill of watching Bob Feller and later Satchel Page pitch.

My friends and I played baseball on dirt lots and in neighborhood streets all summer, and when it was raining, we gathered on someone’s porch - a small town with many porches - and played All-Star Baseball with the spinner and cards with the rectangular hole-in-the-middle that slid over the spinner. Each card had hits and outs with demarcations that reflected the player's at-bats. How we loved that board-game! On a field or a porch we batted and spun our summers away! We also listened to all the daytime Pirate broadcasts with Rosie Roswell and then Bob Prince. (With my father, a coal miner, I listened to the few night games, either from Pittsburgh or Cleveland, and to the weekend games, including the now-abandoned Sunday Doubleheader, unless we were playing baseball, of course.)

Baseball was in my blood, but I doubt that Doc Young had any knowledge of that when he extended his invitation. I hardly looked like an athlete or a baseball player, much to my chagrin. I was known to be a baseball fan, but so were scores of others on the campus. Running into Doc that day - a place and a time - simply happened. Nothing else.

I went back to my room for some things like my wallet and met Doc somewhere either on campus or at the train station, and off we went. We arrived at Penn Station, grabbed a subway to the Bronx, ambled up to the ticket window somewhere around noon, bought 2 bleacher seats ($2.10 each) and something to eat and then entered the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium. Can anyone today imagine walking up to the ticket window an hour or two before a World Series game and buying 2 tickets?

My recollection is that October 8 was a sunny day, warm enough that I wasn’t wearing a coat or a sweater. The crowd around us was friendly but predominately Yankee fans. This was the fourth time in five years that the Bums and the Yanks had met in the World Series. Unthinkable in contemporary times for two teams from the same city meeting over and over again in the World Series. The Yanks had won three series but the Bums had won the last meeting in the seventh game of the 1955 series. And the Bums had won the first two games of this, the 1956 series.

We found bleacher space about half way up between center and right field. I certainly knew more about the Dodger line-up than the Yankee line-up: Peewee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and the great Jackie Robinson. Sal Maglia had beat Whitey Ford in the Game 1, was pitching again in the Game 5. Of course, I knew the Yankee stars, even though I didn’t follow the team closely: in addition to Ford, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, Billy Martin and Hank Bauer. (Phil Rizzuto had been released a few weeks earlier, but I had seen him play before in Cleveland.) Don Larsen was a bit of a mystery to me.

I fully expected the Dodgers to win, but I don’t remember that I was deeply anti-Yankee in their own ballpark. As so often happens to me when I go to baseball games, I just damn-well enjoy being there. Doc was relaxed but watched the game intently, seriously, comments here and there about this batter or that play, but idle chatter that might lead us to ignore the game was forbidden. Doc was trained as a scholar and a minister, and I can’t help but think now that the game fit into some mystical life experience, except, I should add, when he was managing his team. The few games I'd watched at Drew were hardly philosophical ventures. Beating the crap out of the opposition would be too strong and grossly unfair, but not by much.

It was a low scoring game, 2-0. Mantle hit a home run in the fourth inning, the ball landing near the foul pole to the left of us. The Yanks scored another run in the sixth. In the fifth Mantle starred again with his famous “The Catch”, when he grabbed a ball on the run off the bat of Gil Hodges in left-center. From where we were sitting, we did not have the best of angles for viewing that play.

For the crowd through the middle innings it was pretty much an ordinary low-scoring afternoon game, but around the seventh inning the stadium, at least in the bleachers, began to assume a nervous quiet. It dawned on everyone that Larsen was within nine outs of a perfect game. The nervousness, almost as if we were all afraid to say anything or to show any emotion, only intensified with six outs and then just three. It surely weighed on all of us that this was not just a no-hitter or a shutout (memorable but not uncommon) but was of a different magnitude - a game in which no Dodger had yet reached first base, that 90 feet that all these players had traveled many times. It was almost as if anticipating the next Dodger batter made celebrating another out unseemly.

With each Dodger batter in the top of the ninth, you could hear, even in the bleachers, each pitch thrown by Larsen and hitting Berra’s glove. As I tried to dredge up memories of that last inning, a half-century later, to write about this (why I'd never written about this before I can't explain) - how I or we or those around us reacted to each pitch and each out - I found regrettably they had dissolved. To avoid the risk of making up my own version, I have read numerous accounts of the game and of the last innings, and I am more influenced by what I’ve read than what I remember. The one thing I recall, however - I was rooting for Don Larsen against my Bums. A betrayal, to be sure. (A betrayal made permanent the next year when they moved to California, although years later I would move to Tahoe and fall in love with CA too.) I’d never been a Yankee fan and I wouldn’t become a Yankee fan. On this one occasion, however, I sat with folded hands - that I remember too - and cheered that this little-known Pin-Stripper could do what no one had done before in modern times.

The outs in the top of the ninth were a fly ball, a ground ball (no less than by Campanella) and finally a called third strike (from the bleachers who could tell if it were high or not). The Dodgers’ line-up card would show 27 batters and 27 outs in a game (I learned later) with 97 pitches. I cheered and clapped like a Yank, even though I was still a Bum as well. Doc did too. One of those moments in life when you’re caught between loyalty and amazement, the latter triumphant. After some time just hanging out, shaking hands and exchanging words with fans we didn’t know and uttering the clichéd “Can you believe it?” that seemed for once to be asking the right question, Doc and I headed to midtown, boarded the train to Madison and bid adieu somewhere on the campus.

I can't recall that I ever talked to Doc after that. He had quit coaching, suffering from ill-health. (Doc died in 1963 at the age of 63.) I graduated the following June, and as irony would determine it, I moved to Pittsburgh across the street from Forbes Field and enjoyed the resurgence of the Bucs (thanks, in part, to former Dodger GM, Branch Rickey) with Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski, Smokey Burgess, Bob Friend, Vern Law, Roy Face and many others. I was living in Iowa by the Fall of 1960, so I had no chance to walk up to the ticket window and buy a bleacher seat. I would've tried had I been there.

Once I was back on campus, what did I say to my classmates, my lovely girl friend, my professors - to anyone who would listen about the unthinkable that had just happened in my life? I must confess, sadly again, no recollection.

More than once, however, in the last half century I’ve told the story. When I met the skeptic, I'd pull out the ticket stub from my wallet, where it resided (as the photo reveals) in tatters for decades. I never lost any of those wallets. In Mexico City I had a wallet stolen, but by then the stub had been transferred to safe-keeping. That stub is now encased in plastic and resides with my son whose enthusiasm for baseball exceeds mine. That’s where it belongs.

Back Ticket Game 5



LEARNING THE ART OF THE CAFÉ

YouTube Video click here.

Paris is my favorite city and Café Les Philosophes my favorite cafe. One a rainy, Friday night, while walking through Le Marais in search of a place to eat (not easy to find a table), I was walking along rue Vieille du Temple when I came across Les Philosophes. I loved the name to begin with, but once inside I knew I had found my oasis. Actually I was not looking for a cafe, having in the previous two months eaten some exceptional cuisine at other cafes and restaurants, but all at once the clientele, ambiance, wine, service, noise and of course food made me decide I had been searching just for this. My desert was a cheesecake that was memorable, and I cannot remember any other cheesecake in life being memorable. In fact most cheesecakes are firm, heavy, tasteless and devoid of interest. This cheesecake was the opposite of all that, and I refuse to count how many of them I ate over the next several years. In one evening this venture of mine, not only to live in Paris but also to become a part of the community, took a transcendent leap.

For the next several years almost every late afternoon I drank a café and once or twice a week I took a meal there. I will not attempt to recount the many other food memories. The disappointments were few and far between. The area of Le Marais is full of artists, writers and travelers who often occupied the tables of Les Philosophes as long with many French families who lived in the neighborhood. It did not take long for the serveurs to recognize I had become a regular. I often showed up with a book, newspaper or manuscript to read, and that provoked some wry remarks, such as "Richard, the cafe is just not for reading." Yes, like many Americans, I found it hard just to sit and watch. I had to learn that the street had as much to offer as the printed word. I did not give up reading, but I certainly spent more time observing what was around me. Street life in Le Marais is worth observing, and there is no better place than Les Philosophes. Everyone who visited me in Paris experienced Les Philosophes and invariably when I asked where should we eat tonight, the answer was always Les Philosophes. So we did, night after night. Life inside and outside on the sidewalk and the street plus a wonderful menu often turned our meals into an extended stay.

There were many high points. Unfortunately I have forgotten some of names of the serveurs and hostesses, but among the serveurs I still remember affectionately were Sébastien, Farid, Jean-Pierre, Robert and Alexandre. One truly memorable experience involved Sébastien who saw me coming down the street and by the time I got to the Les Philosophes a café was waiting for me at an outside table. How cool is that!

And finally the restrooms. You go even if you do not have to. Checkout the photos on the website.


POOF! [random thoughts became short story]

After my third session with my new therapist, I was feeling worse than before the first appointment. Friends had urged me back into therapy. The problem, we all agreed, was odd. I had no trouble meeting women. I had trouble taking the next step - that step needed for a friendship to become a romance. My friends rode the wave; I was caught in the wake.

I had dates and I had lovers, but then, Poof!, it ended, they disappeared. Not disappeared, as out of existence . . . no . . . just out of the range of my existence. Not necessarily completely but sufficiently to end whatever relationship might have ensued.

Poof! That was my psychic state, although my therapist mockingly reminded me that no mental malaise with that handle appeared in the DSM. “It will soon be added,” I’d replied in jest, to which I heard “Humph.”

I had my own ideas: wrong choices, bad timing, innate shyness, unforeseen circumstance. I also knew I preferred not to know or I became so dewy-eyed I couldn’t see what was in front of me.

Rest of story Click Here.


THE SCORN LAWS

On Saturday we all woke up to a new set of laws - the Scorn Laws - that took effect at 23:59, i. e., the day before.

The Scorn Laws? Who had ever heard of them?

We hadn't, but sitting on the steps of our adjoining brownstones where we sat most Saturday mornings, good weather or bad, I drinking Peet's to prevent narcolepsy and she drinking soft water to prevent the onset of wrinkles or something like that.

“Worse for you than too much sun,” she had intoned months ago, as she had tried to push my mug of Peet’s as far away from her as possible. “It promotes wrinkles inside and out. You’ll regret it, and, please, don’t infect me.”

I apologized. I always do, the weakling I am, especially around her. I’d never been in favor of infecting others. I tried, forgetting from time to time, to keep my mug on the side away from her. I would sip by turning my head in the direction of the mug, drinking sort of sidesaddle.

We both had newspaper delivered to our stoops, even though they contained next to nothing that hadn’t already shown up on our PCs or cells. Except we’d both missed the Scorn Laws.

”Where did they come from?” I asked.

“They were attached to a bill, unbeknownst to most members of Congress and for once not requested by the White House,” she replied, as she read.

We were both thinking without saying, once attached almost impossible to unattach.

“So from what I've read the law is aimed at imported scorn, not self-scorn,” I volunteered, not having the slightest idea what that meant.

“Imported scorn - is that how I speak to you or is it something different?” she asked.

“I think it means you can heap scorn on yourself but not on me because from my perspective if you are heaping scorn on me I see it as imported from you,” I said, then adding, “I can foresee great gaps in our normal conversations.”

“Maybe they're really concerned about scorn imported from places like France or the South or maybe from people like evangelical Christians?” she declared somewhat wistfully.

“It doesn't make that clear, although look at the long list of words that can get you into trouble: ‘contemptible, mocking, disdainful, derisive, spiteful, scathing, insulting, ridiculing.’ Words common to our respective vocabularies, I the writer, you the artist,” I repeated, along with all the behaviors to look out for when using or implying those words.

“And here's a quote from Shakespeare: ‘Thou . . . art confederate with a damned packe, To make a loathsome abject scorne of me. . . .’’’ I was hoping she wouldn’t ask me to explain Will because I seldom understood what he wrote.

”You excel at all three - loathsome, abject and scorn. Your days may be numbered.” I looked for a smile or a smirk. Neither appeared.

“Hence,” she continued, “the law has some validity,” she opined.

After a pause, she tacked in a direction I had not expected.

“Remember, we had once been lovers, but we provoked so much scorn in each other we had to quit fucking. Would we have started if Scorn Laws were on the books? How much agony we would have been spared, well, I would have been spared. You never seemed to be in agony. You seemed to relish the agony and the scorn with our sex.”

She was right. I was never in agony. Nor was I ever scornful that I could recall. Was she imagining how scornful I was and how agonizing it was? Her body was enough to erase scorn and agony from the lexicon. I don’t ever recall expressing scorn toward her or feeling scorn from her, only desire. Now, with a set of laws on the books, I’m being told our lovemaking was full of scorn and could not have happened if the new laws had been in place. I beg your pardon? I was tempted to dump the rest of my mug of Peet’s over her. Oops, that might be scornful behavior. Can I pretend scorn without being punished?

”Hmm,” I hummed until I could find the words but not before she let go with another round:

”You were the importer of the scorn from France, across the street, outer space, wherever you could find it, and therefore you could have been arrested not for the distaste at having your body on top of me but for scornful imports. Ah . . . the law could have saved me . . . that’s why I’m beginning to think I like it. I’m now protected,” she shouted, as if she were talking to whoever lived across the street.

“May I ask what was scornful in my language, my caressing, my body, which, if I remember, you keep asking for more of. That hardly fits the published definition of imported scorn.” I said, feeling hurt and defensive.

“O come now. Are you being scornful?”

“Honesty is not to be confused with scorn.”

“Change the subject. You were just so close to being scornful, and you know what the new law requires,” she shot back.

I had no idea where to take this conversation. It was true we had quit fucking, but not, I was certain, because of our scornfulness for each other but, almost the opposite, our adornfulness for each other. [I know, I just made up a word.] Didn’t we quit, I uttered under my breath, while turning my head to drink the rest of my Peet’s before I regretted doing what was rolling around in my head, Didn’t we quit because you went into therapy, fearful of the adornfulness we both felt, and unexpectedly ended up screwing your rail-thin, quick-draw (her words), smooth-talking therapist who has since been defrocked. I decided not to remind her of the scorn she expressed over his behavior before and after his defrocking and disappearance.

“Do you remember how scornful the critics were of your last show - the inverted canvas - and yet you made thousands. Under the law imported critic derision not permitted, therefore no reason for anyone to pay you any attention, right? Maybe these laws are absurd?” I queried, trying to sound offhanded and not knowing where I was headed with this question.

“Watch it! You’re verging ever closer to scornfulness.”

“And the scorn you heaped on the critics in return for their scorn of your paintings. . . .”

“Not scorn at all but correction of misinformation,” she declared without taking her eyes off the page.

“Need I remind you,” she continued, “You have the habit of importing so much scorn into every conversation and conference that you’ve been left virtually unemployable. Doubtful this law could have saved you or should have, but had it existed you might be spending your time in jail at the taxpayer’s expense, not worrying about your next royalty check.”

Not where I’d expected the conversation to go. I knew scorn when I heard it, and I tried to ignore her last remark, not knowing whether I must report her for violating the law.

“Enforcement should be interesting,” I offered instead. “You tell on me and I tell on you because from what I read there’s no money in the budget to organize a bureaucracy.” Silence.

“In the words of Sir Henry Neville, screw the authorities mightily and munificently!” I proclaimed with gusto and pride.

She pulled out her cell, and with the crooked smile I had come to fear she began to dial the number in the article.


LEARNING TO SKI, LIVING AT TAHOE, INSTEAD OF BUYING A ROCKING CHAIR - A TRIBUTE TO AN ALICIA!

(Photos interspersed through the text mainly from Tahoe,with family members, some taken by my daughter and some by an ex-lover. Thanks to all.)

In my late 50's I decided out of the blue to learn to ski. I have no idea why this challenge popped into my mind. I knew a couple of skiers but not well enough that they'd ever say, learn to ski so you can ski with us. I was in good shape, having played club tennis for 25 years, almost daily, and having jogged for 20 years, a few miles three or four times a week. I was losing interest in tennis. It was slowly dawning on me I couldn't play singles 2-to-3 hours a day much longer - doubles bored me - and I couldn't keep jogging on asphalt and concrete without damaging my knees. I was looking for substitutes.

Skiing was a duo of new challenges. The other was weight-lifting. The two had nothing in common except for timing and a jewel of a person named Alicia. First, the pre-Alicia years. I lived in State College, and on the outskirts was Mt Tussey. It had a ski slope with a single lift. The vertical drop was a few hundred feet. You could make your descent after unloading at the top by going right or left and sticking to the center. It took far more time to ride the lift than ski down the mountain. It barely qualified as a ski area, but it was formidable to me. I rented/bought the equipment I needed, and for the final weeks of the first season plus the initial months of the next season I couldn't get off the bunny hill. The instruction was mediocre, and the one trip to the top was a disaster. I kept at it, as I'm wont to do. In contrast weight-lifting was going much better than the skiing. I was amazed how quickly I could push up the weights. I was depressed at how many times I fell down on the bunny hill. I could not turn or stop or stay up for more than ten feet without tumbling.

Here is the connection between the gym and the mountain. I was standing by the water foundation, taking a break from the bench press, when I heard a question: "You certainly hang out here a lot." I turned to face a young lady, standing next to the leg press. She was small in stature, well-proportioned, trim and scowling. "Yes," I said, "I come almost every day. This is a totally new and mesmerizing venture for me." We introduced ourselves and spent a while talking. I learned she taught aerobics at the gym, had graduated from Penn State, wanted to study veterinary medicine and was more or less in between graduation and applying to graduate school. The scowl became a smile that could melt ice miles away. I knew I was much too old to be thinking what I was thinking, but I also knew exactly what I was thinking - if I were 25 instead of near 60 - a fruitless fantasy. For the next few years we had our own special times out - dinner, coffee, walks in the woods with her dog and her friends and their dogs, so many memorable times that she takes up many pages in my daily journals that I can be obsessive about keeping.

In time I learned she was a skier and actually taught skiing at Tussey. I told her how klutzy I was at my age and was about to give up. "Meet me at the mountain . ." on a day and at a time I can't recall, "and we'll check it out," she said. We met, she took me to the top of the mountain, and as I stumbled off the lift, she said "Ski! - Go right and I'll follow" or something to that effect. The command to SKI I remember as clearly as if it were being shouted in my ear at this moment, as I sit by my sliding-glass door on a snowy Ann Arbor day; the direction I'm less sure about. I was terrified, but off I went, falling, getting up, sometimes with her help, until I was about half-way down, exhausted. We sat for a few minutes, and it was then that she delivered her diagnosis in a verbal style that is her didactic trademark - clear, precise, no-nonsense language. Let the skis do what they're supposed to do, and by all means be aggressive about letting them do what they do. (I never forgot the word aggressive and recalling it saved my butt more than once.) I'm not kidding when I say I got up, took off and pretty much reached the bottom without a serious fall. I also watched her ski in utter astonishment because her skis never touched the snow - they seemed to be magically suspended a few inches above anything soft or solid. I was wondering if some form of ether came to exist between the experienced skier and the white stuff.

We practiced a few other days. I was getting better, slowly, but to this day, 15 years later, I can still see her verbally instructing while skiing backwards. I could barely ski forward. During one of those sessions, I struck an ice pit, hit the ground with a thud and rolled part way down the hill. (Rolling down slopes will became, as you will soon read, a trademark of mine.) Within seconds she was at my side, telling me not to get up until I was sure everything was OK. I felt the fall, that was for sure, but I was fine.

My skiing life had begun. I skied at Tussey several times a week, weather permitting, as well as at bigger resorts in Western PA with my brother and his family and in New England with my daughter and her husband. After our initial sessions Alicia and I seldom skied together because she was holding down several jobs and her time on the slopes was limited to instruction.

I had planned on taking early retirement, and I spent a couple weeks each summer touring potential retirement sites. One summer I ended up at Lake Tahoe quite by accident. The gods had stopped playing their mischievous games. Why not here, I asked myself, where I could ski in the winter, kayak in the summer and be within easy reach of one of my favorite cities. I returned the next summer, my last before retirement, and bought a condo within 15 minutes of the ski area Northstar. At 62 I became a ski bum. Although better off financially than the 20-year-old ski bums, for whom the term was invented, I embraced the role enthusiastically. I skied most every winter weekday and a few weekends, when the slopes were overstuffed with skiers. In the next 6 year I skied millions upon millions of vertical feet.

Needless-to-say during the first days on the Tahoe slopes I was utterly baffled how to navigate all the snow. The first weekend in my newly-purchased condo, 3 days before my daughter arrived from Boston to ski during the Christmas week, 5 feet of snow covered the basin and the ridges. I'd never seen so much snow, and I'd certainly never skied in that much snow. Many such storms came and went during the 6 years, and not only did I have to learn how to ski in deep and sometimes heavy snow but also how to drive. In the East I'd skied mostly on ice and I'd learned how to use the edges. In Tahoe snow, which in contrast to the champagne snow of the Rockies, is called Sierra cement, heavy and thick. I had to learn some new techniques because edge-skiing was less effective. After a fresh snowfall I marveled, as I watched westerners, bent at knee, almost in a sitting position, traverse the snow in small takes. I never quite learned the technique well enough to look like one of them, but I got better especially after I invested in the new parabolic skies. When it turned icy, as it did from time to time, I could show off my eastern skills. To be perfectly frank, there's not much good to say about ice skiing after skiing in snow of varying depths. I don't live in the West any longer. I ski with my grandson once a year in New England - it's fun to watch him develop and even to give him a few tips, but I miss the Western snow, even the Sierra cement. Several years ago we arrived at a Maine resort in a snowstorm that left the mountain covered by the next morning with almost 2 feet of fresh powder. I felt at home once again!

I have many memories from the Tahoe slopes. Although Northstar was my home-base, I skied at all the resorts with the exception of Kirkwood - the old-timers said it had the best snow - and one or two small resorts. For me Squaw was the most demanding, but Alpine Meadows was not far behind. At Squaw I skied K-22, not well I confess, but I made it from top to bottom. One of my best ski stories comes from Squaw. I was skiing with my brother, and after we had unloaded, crossed the edge and started down, I hit a patch of ice, and I knew immediately all was lost. It was a sheet of ice under a light layer of snow. I slid what seemed like 500 feet. In fact, since I couldn't stop myself I just lay back and, while waving to the riders on the lift above, I let myself slide until I ran out of ice. When I stood up to cheers and applause I had no idea where my skis and poles were. I was soon joined by a man with exactly what I had lost. He asked how I was, I replied, it was a hell of a ride. He smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and only then did I notice his badge: "I'm 70 or older, and I ski Squaw". Being 70, which was still ahead of me, I thought, can have its rewards.

At Northstar, I developed a routine. I tried to arrive by 8:30, to reach the top by 9:00 and to record 10 to 20 runs before noon. The number of runs depended on the snow, the weather, the crowd and, of course, my legs. On many weekdays I was the first track-maker on the backside where the descents were 1,500 to 2,000 feet. I mostly skied alone, and I came to cherish the mornings when I had little company on the lifts or the slopes. I usually was home by noon, ate a hearty lunch, took a short nap, worked on my research and spent an hour or so in the late afternoon lifting weights at Nick and Deb's gym in Incline Village. I'd become an able skier, so at 66 I decided to learn snowboarding. The previous year I'd skied several million vertical feet at Northstar and was entitled to a free snowboard plus a couple rounds of golf.

Boarding was harder than golfing. I got to the point, though, where I could board from the top of the mountain to the lodge. If I were a younger man, I would have chosen boarding over skiing. I loved plowing through the snow on a board instead of slats and constantly making edgy turns. Everything about boarding seemed paradoxical until it happened. Maybe if I had been a skate-boarder or surfer I'd have a different perspective. I gave up boarding because my hands spent a lot of time pushing off in the snow and I was afraid I might sprain or break a wrist. At my age any such injury takes forever to heal. The young kids told me not to worry, I'd get better - and I should buy wrist supports - but I never found the comfort zone to stick with it.

I left Tahoe because the remoteness of living in the mountains started getting to me. I tried ski bummery late in life, but I also had other interests. Those interests began to assert themselves. I moved from Tahoe to Paris and slid into the urban world almost as easily as I slid down that Squaw mountain. At Tahoe I made wonderful friends, whom I still have, fell in love with a beautiful woman, who unfortunately for me was married, bought a Harley, which was way beyond my aging skills, and fulfilled Alicia mandate - "Ski!"

Shortly after I moved to Tahoe, Alicia moved to the Rockies. We talked about getting together and skiing on our respective mountains. We never did, and then we lost touch. Not having Alicia in my life left a blank.

By luck a year or two ago I learned that after a delay Alicia's finished her veterinary degree and is now in practice. In a curious turn of events, possible only because of the Internet, I came across her name while I was trying to track down the history of a nickname - Hooch - that I was playing around with in a piece of fiction I was working on. I'd come across a link with the nickname and, of all things, her name. I haven't revealed that Alicia was an animal lover unlike anyone I'd ever known. She took risks in trying to rescue neglected or abused animals, and some of the stories that grew out of those ventures scared me. But animal rescue, perhaps the less scary type, is still a part of her life. The link I came across was about a cat with the nickname of Hooch, although originally the name was Mooch. I can only imagine that Mooch was the name that Alicia had given the kitten when rescued. You can read the story on the blog listed below, and you will understand why even after all these years, a decade since we last saw each other, I have not forgotten what a jewel she is. If you want to help - I know how many good causes there are because my mail box and my email box, like yours, are filled to overflowing - nonetheless, if you want to help, donate to or volunteer at your local animal rescue or welfare agency. That may make you feel so good that you'll grab some skies, find some snow and run down that mountain.

And if you can't ski, well, just remember, if Alicia hadn't almost literally pushed me off the lift and down the mountain at an unbecoming age, I'd be writing about a rocking chair.

Go to Feline Rescue, Inc, Foster Tales, Shelter Stories and Adoption Updates: at felinerescue.blogspot.com

Related and more recent story, go to Tucker.



FRIENDSHIPS WITH OR WITHOUT FACEBOOK,

I have an anti-social streak. I've known this for most of my life, and while I can't explain it to myself or to others, I do not regret it or try to escape it. It's a curious trait because I meet people easily – academics, truck drivers, clerks – but I make little effort to develop friendships or hold onto them in the way that other people do. I've always marveled that my parents who lived to 90 and older had the same set of close friends until the end. With these friends they took vacations, played cards and most importantly kept in touch. That hardly describes my life. I can barely count a half-dozen friends from public school through graduate school that I have remained in touch with in my adult life. Divorces have a way of scattering friendships as well as initiating them. Almost my entire circle of current friends dates from my divorce 20 years ago. The circle is not large, but the connections are deep, at least for me. We are not always in touch regularly, but when we hook up again, the past flows smoothly into the present. Unless, of course, the parting was a smashup - then what’s the purpose. I cherish these few friendships, I also know that I let them drift because I’m not sure how to push them ahead. I fight with that inner fear that I feel closer to them than they feel to me. Hence, a distance that I have come to accept sadly as the way it is.

A psychiatrist-acquaintance (I could not call him a friend) once rendered a quickie opinion – I had a dark side that was deeply distrustful of those around me and also of my ability to deal with them. I haven’t a clue if he knew what he was talking about. I have thought about what he said, even as I have entertained certain doubts about his insights because while we briefly knew each other, he was also divorcing his wife but was refusing to sign the final document despite her pleadings to end it. I asked why? It was unfair to his wife and his lover. His answer was “I can’t, and I won’t until I’m ready.” Apparently “she” didn’t matter. I do not know how it ended, but I thought he was being an ass. I think we’re all capable of being asses, repeatedly and relentlessly, and I have no doubt I’ve acted that way toward people who thought of themselves as friends. Is that the dark side in all of us?

Nonetheless, dark side or darker side, whatever makes me more of the loner than is true of others, is part of who I am. I’m not living in some neurotic (DMS no longer recognizes neurosis as a disorder) or psychotic nightmare. There is no winter’s discontent in my loner’s role. I seldom feel lonely or anxious. I miss being in touch with some more than others. Several I wish I could see every day, but I also accept the reality for what it is. Our lives have moved in different directions, and we won’t soon, if ever, be seeing each other daily. The hardest times in the last 20 years have been when I’ve fallen in love with women who did not fall in love with me or who may have briefly and then vamoosed. Curiously, I found a way to deal with those despairing moments by writing about them. I began to compose fictional stories that in ways I can’t explain smoothed out the wrinkles that despairing moments might give rise to. That’s another story, however.

So the last place I ever thought I'd create a space was on Facebook. My kids joined and urged me to do the same. I hemmed and hawed, making all the usual excuses, but finally I did. I became a more active participant than my kids. I read the array of posts I get every day. I was under no obligation to respond - a feature of FB that may have made it initially palatable to me - but sometimes I did respond. I also added my own posts from time to time. It seemed to be working, although there were stretches when I did not want to read or post. The most ardent FBers are daily readers, posters and responders. I behaved the same way for short periods, but invariably I’d quit for a while. I commented to a couple of friends who were not FBers that I felt I should be more engaged than I was, joining the daily conversations, seeking new friends, creating links, playing games (which I thought were silly) and all the options available on FB. One friend retorted with “Feeling a bit crowded, are you?”

My friends' list came into existence in different ways. My kids' friends with whom I socialize in the real world became FB friends. A few colleagues from years past showed up through email searches. People I'd met at concerts, restaurants or even on airplanes also became friends. A few neighbors and kids of friends as well. My circle I was never large, somewhere around 60. I gulped audibly when one of my favorite servers at one of my favorite local eateries told me she thought she had between 300 and 400 friends. I wanted to ask her if she could name them, but I didn’t. She’s one of the sweetest people I know with a wonderful husband and newborn, and I didn’t want to make an ass of myself. But the question remains.

My range of friends went from young to old, rich to not so rich, religious to whatever the opposite is, pompous to easy-going. I had far fewer friends from my demographic cohort than from younger cohorts. I don’t get along with the meanies from my own cohort. I found the kids in their twenties, searching for their careers and/or their mates, among the most fun to read. They joked about themselves and their lives in ways that older folks seem to view as a risk. I did not always understand their language, but I generally got the point. And when I didn’t, I had no reluctance to ask for an explanation, which was usually forthcoming. Some of their experiences (as well as other FBers’ experiences) found their way into whatever stories I was working on. I knew I was also feeling restless about FB.

I sort of fumbled around with my own posts. I seldom plan out my days unless I have some tasks that can’t be avoided. My so-called “working day” starts with a mug of Peet’s seldom before mid-morning and ends with a glass of wine after a workout with weights. What happens in between it a lot of imagining. reading, thinking, writing, editing, pacing, not activities that lend themselves to FB posts. My day, unlike most FBers, is personal, introspective, nonlinear and played out within the same 1,000 sq ft. When I was writing more history than fiction, my day had a more concrete feel. It doesn’t so much anymore. I’m seldom in touch with the news, the latest gossip, the scores of the games, trips here and there, the crisis of the day, all the stuff that constitute FB postings.

I was talking to a young lady whose name I did not know. I assumed she was on FB because she was young - my stereotyping mind at work. When I asked, her answer was pointed and humorous: “Why would anyone do that?” Several weeks later I quit FB. I didn’t have an answer to her question.

Postscript: I still Tweet (noillusions). Twitter is more suitable to a guy with my proclivities. I like the challenge of 140-character limit. Except for a few friends who happen to be Tweeters too I’m mainly anonymous. I Tweet whatever, whenever, because I have an urge to do so without much regard for what’s going on around me. A few people follow me, and sometimes we tweet back and forth about something I’ve said or something they’ve said. Most of them I do not know except for the brief bio on their homepage. I don’t care to know much more. I don’t really need to. The vast majority of my Tweets fly off into cyberspace without landing anywhere in particular and die. That’s OK for a guy with my dark side.


STORY-TELLING VACUUM

I grew up in a quiet household (Christian, small town, Republican) where story-telling was taboo – if not taboo at least seldom employed. Our house had bookshelves but more knick-knacks than books. There was the Holy Bible and several other religious books, mainly devotional, and some other odds and ends that I think were passed down from other family members. A few books were purchased for me – Little Black Sambo, the Hardy Boys, the Mercer (name of my hometown) Boys, etc. My parents, (no my mother) subscribed to the Reader's Digest, a woman's magazines and a hunting and fishing magazine (for my father). They read a daily and a weekly paper, but I have no recollection of them even seated with open books. My mother was a curious woman, but her curiosity did not lead her to books. My father was less curious, and toward the end of his long life when I asked him what he had read, his answer was The Bible. I was surprised because I had never seen him reading the Bible except in his late years a copy rested on his night stand. He told me he had read it several times through. My father was as straight-shooter as there ever was, and to this day his remarks puzzle. If he was a Bible-reader, as he claimed, he was also notoriously anti-church with not too many kind things to say about preachers and their flocks.

My parents became addicted to TV, soap operas for my mother, wrestling for my father and game shows for both. Reading was no more a part of their elderly years than their younger years. When I published my magnus opus and showed it to them, and, as I expected, the silence was deafening. Before TV we listened to the radio but mainly at night. I don't remember the radio being on during the day. Once TV arrived the radio was finished except for summer baseball broadcasts. One distinct radio memory was Friday Night Fights with Don Dumphy, often with my parents and their friends sitting around the kitchen table, having beers and snacks. It was the radio broadcasts of the Pittsburgh Pirate games where I first encountered Rosie Roswell, who never traveled to away games, announced them from the ticker-tape (the clickety-clack could be heard in the background) and invented such phrases as “Open the Window, Aunt Minnie, Here It Comes” for home runs.

We did not own a Victrola, although my grandmother did and I was allowed to wind it up and listen to scratchy classical recordings. I was encouraged, in fact, to study music, and I took piano lessons on an old upright (its provenance unknown to me) from an early age (unfortunately no talent). I sensed from any early age that my parents with little formal education (my mother had a secretarial certificate and my father quit school in the 8th grade) had expectations for me that exceeded their own, but they were modest and ill-defined. In fact, I was apprenticed to be a butcher at 15 or 16, but that barely lasted a year. My life turned out to be the opposite of theirs – academician, writer and self-proclaimed connoisseur. I like to think that those tiny seeds of expectations, whatever they were, planted by my parents, both superb gardeners, found fertile ground and bore fruit. It's a good story.

It is story-telling I've thought a lot about in my later years. Conversations in the household, at the dinner table or in other group situations were modest affairs, and if my memory is correct devoid of stories. They told almost no stories about their own lives and seldom talked about other people's lives. Family gatherings, which were far more frequent when I was growing up than when my much younger brothers were, revealed some story-tellers, but the stories were pretty predictable for a family (worse on my mother's side than my father's) virtually untutored with respect to the outside world. Quite honestly, there may have been better stories than I remember because I was from an early uninterested in fishing, hunting, gardening, farming, mining, canning and hating Democrats. In our own household, I can say with some assurance that story-telling was a rare event. It would almost seem as if having expectations, dreams or fantasies was a sign of weakness. Do what you had to do each day, and don't be tempted by what was beyond your control or your preparation. I never heard the expression :be careful what you wish for”, but that almost seemed like the ruling mantra. Even when my younger brother and I tried to get them to tell some stories about growing up and growing old the results were pitifully small. I sincerely doubt they they ever considered the creation of stories as important or worthy, and while they heard stories on the radio or watched them on TV, and certainly were familiar with scores of Biblical stories, deconstructing their lives around sets of stories never occurred to them.

And the strange thing is that even as I “flew the coop” to use my father's description, I had little interest in story-telling. There was a time in my younger life when I thought story-telling was a waste of time (I was also a bad English student). And yet in the universe that I came to occupy stories were being told all the time in many different venues and under many different colors. I started reading fiction and poetry, but in some ways reminiscent of my parents and their TV hours, these stories were exterior. At times I thought I had not stories to tell or worth telling, and other times I thought it was a waste of time even as I was reading my way through Camus, Updike, Roth, Barth, Moore, Tyler along with the so-called canon of 18th- and 19th-century literary figures. Reading fiction was a diversion – that may explain why I don't remember as much as I should – and studying Mexican corn prices was the real stuff.

Later in life I made the discovery – how I'm not sure – that I was brimming with stories. I began to keep journals (now more than a quarter century) and soon began writing fragments of stories and then whole stories. I know I'm not accomplished in story-telling the way the story-tellers I admire are, but I keep going and more importantly keep trying new ways. Some years ago I tried writing an autobiography, but it was so hard and so ordinary (at least by comparison with the scores of memoirs, mostly of childhoods, marriages or minds troubled beyond anything I can relate to) I could never make it work. Making up stories based on life's experiences began to dominate my thinking about my life. So my evenings were and are often spent writing something fictional after spending all day writing something historical – might be argued that too is fictional. It doesn't matter whether anyone reads them. The fun is in trying to figure out how to make them work.

So I think, if I'd been surrounded by books and family members who could deconstruct Shakespeare or quote the NYT best-seller list would have found writing earlier or not at all. I have no regrets about the way things evolved because the discovery when it happened was serendipitous and because the world I grew up in and the world I've lived lived have combined to give me lots of material. At the moment I'm thinking about how my parents, who never once that I can remember, spoke about their courtship or their marriage for that matter, and yet that is becoming a thread in the story I'm working on now. I'll write about them on the basis of what I know (some photographs, for example) and on the basis of what I want it to be from what I remember about them, and in the end I'll have something that may fill in what I'm missing.

There was nothing in my childhood (as I implied above) that was traumatic, abusive, unsettling, punishing. My parents cared for their kids. The furnace worked, the larder (literally because my mother was an accomplished canner) was stocked, new cars (paid with cash) every two years, Sunday School and Church regularly, were among the hallmarks of my growing up. And the life that followed – a life I pretty much chose for myself outside the world I knew as a child, had some some unexpected twists and turns, but not so catastrophic I could make it the core of my story-telling. Nevertheless, there is ample material from my childhood and the long lives of my parents to create many stories. They just can't be true stories.


IN MEMORY OF A DOG NAMED TUCKER

Some months ago a dog I knew as a pup died. I just learned about it in a circuitous fashion, but I had to take some time to absorb it. It has been almost 15 years so Tucker had a long life and equally important a good life. I know it had to be good because Tucker's mistress stole my heart about the same time that Tucker entered her life. Our paths diverged a decade ago never to cross again, but even divergent paths cannot erase memories.

I remember the naming episode. Let see, why not start with a list of the names of the states. Names of states? A obvious question. Not at all obvious. That was the quirky, lovable style of the lady-in-charge, who had settled on Kentucky – don't ask why because I don't know why – but then decided to shorten it to Tucker (similar letters but a totally different rhythm). What did Ken-Tucker think?

I remember opening the back of my fire-engine red Volvo station wagon so that Tucker and several of her friends could jump in – seat laid flat – while her mistress and other friends/owners piled into other cars for a run in the mountains. Normally, I could be persnickety about dirtying the interior but not with Tucker – it was her's when she rode there.

I remember Tucker and her mistress playing among the mountain leaves. While sitting on the ground, she in her Grateful Dead shirt tossed leaves over her head, and Tucker emitting tuneful barks played catch with the falling objects.

I remember when Tucker came to the gym, where I lifted weights and her mistress taught aerobics, she would lie quietly with her head over her front paws and with an expression of indifference tinged with disdain at human endeavors. They could hardly compare to a good romp.

I remember when I was ready to move to Tahoe, and we - she plus her boyfriend and other friends - celebrated the two years we'd had together plus our uncertain futures and Tucker lying at my feet. Little did I know it would be the last time I ever saw Ticker and the next to last time I saw T's mistress.

I've learned to live with the separation – at my advanced age no choice – although many tears have trickled across cheeks normally known to display a stern and stoic character, but I've insisted the memories remain undiluted, in fact I've done all I can to make them richer. And, of course, in my own sappy way I've sung the lyrics the Impossible Dream (Man from la Mancha) untold times because I couldn't stop hoping.

Rest in peace, Tucker, and help me keep the Impossible Dream alive.

An Update I'm happy to report.

No, Tucker has moved on to wherever good dogs go. But her mistress has been in touch after a recess of eight or nine years. I'm thrilled, of course, to know she is in good health, enjoying married life and deeply ensconced in her veterinarian career. She remains as special and precious as when we were romping around Central PA with Tucker many years ago. Life has many circles, and this is one of most beloved I've known.



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