Thursday, February 04, 2016

Schoolmates … senior year, 1950


Recently one of the “Jeopardy” questions was: “What poem ended with these last two lines… out of the ash I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air.” Believe it or not it was an easy one for me to answer correctly since I went to High School with the author, Sylvia Plath, and it's one of her most famous poems, “Lady Lazarus”.

Yes, that's us from the Wellesley High School yearbook of 1950 and you would never guess that the sweet girl pictured above me could be the author of those lines. I can't say that she and I were best friends but we were definitely companions. We sat next to each other in Mr. Crocketts English class and would often critique each other. We were also in the school play “The Admirable Crichton” by J. M. Barrie and on the same tennis team. So, if you had asked me then what her future would be I would have been hard pressed to answer, except to say that she would probably have some sort of writing career.

She had always been intense and, to the high school standards of the time, I suppose a bit peculiar too. (A suicide attempt in the early 50's reinforced her differences.) She was a very pretty girl, fun loving and flirty ...which I'm sure was a cover-up for the deeper feelings that she wasn't able to share with us, although she tried very hard to be accepted. I remember one Sunday in particular when our Unitarian church group set out on a picnic. When the boys spied Sylvia they made sure that she rode with us and I knew there was going to be trouble. She was up front between two of them and became more and more uncomfortable as they kept telling her how she made them feel and then, as we slowed down at a work area, she suddenly lurched forward and threw herself out of the car. We were so relieved to see that she only suffered scrapes and bruises but I've often wondered what it did to her soul.

After she committed suicide in 1963 the British critic A. Alvarez wrote these words: “It was only recently that the peculiar intensity of her genius found it’s perfect expression...she was systematically probing that narrow, violent area between the viable and the impossible, between experience which can be transmitted into poetry and that which is overwhelming. It represents a totally new breakthrough in modern verse, and establishes her, I think, as the most gifted poet of our time. The loss to literature is inestimable.”

53 years have passed since Sylvia died but I remember her fondly. I wonder if anything would have been different if we, her classmates, had made the small effort to get to know her better.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Total recall … or not.

In July of 1959 my first child was born at Lenox Hill Hospital in NY City. It was an easy birth but I was still pretty uncomfortable for hours after the birth. My roommate was a lovely woman who was expecting her third child and she could empathize with me. She was also looking forward to seeing the Catholic priest who made daily visits. 

In the meantime I figured that I would feel much better if I could lie on my stomach so I scrunched up my legs and tried to turn over. It was much harder than I thought it would be but I finally managed to get half-way there. I had just about made it when the door opened and there was the priest ! By this time the sheets that had covered me had fallen to the floor, my “open down the back” pajamas did just that and my exposed and starkly bare bum was all he could see of me !! He graciously backed out and didn't come back.

In July of 1960 my 2nd child was born at Lenox Hill. I had completely forgotten about that embarrassing experience until a strange thing happened. This time I was in a private room and when the door opened I saw that it was the same priest from the year before. I explained that I was not Catholic but would welcome a visit and as we chatted it came out that I was there a year before. “Aha…” he said, “I thought you looked familiar. I never forget a ……………...face.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

WOW … the Good Old Daze !!! … 1957

Recently a friend sent me an article she'd picked up from the Internet. It was a pictorial comparison of
prices in the '50s as compared to today … for example: back then we paid 25 cents per gallon of gas,
7 cents to mail a letter and, jeepers creepers, $2.00 a night to stay in a hotel. It was interesting and got me thinking of where I was around that time.

I was three years out of college in 1957. I had three jobs under my belt (a short stint with a Boston Ad Agency, 6 months at WWNY radio station in Watertown, NY and over a year at KEYT TV in Santa Barbara, Ca.) and I was finally ready to get where the real action was ... New York City.

Luckily a friend knew someone at WABC radio and I applied and was hired there at the meager salary of $13,00 a year. I was able to pay rent and cover the basics but that was about all. It wasn't until I read my friends email and did the calculating that I realized what I would be paid for that same job today. Look at this:

Pretty incredible isn't it? But what is really eye opening is that a salary of $110,500 a year paid today to someone working in New York City will still just barely cover the necessities.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Freedom of speech ...

I think that the first time I truly became aware of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution was when I saw a picture of white robed and masked men marching on Washington. This was back in the 40's and I asked my father about it. He explained that they were the Ku Klux Klan and I was shocked when he told me of their belief in white supremacy and how they operated through fear and hatred.

Why can't we stop them and put them in jail?”, I asked and dad went on to tell me how everyone in our country has the right to freedom of speech and can express their beliefs, no matter what they are, without fear of imprisonment. It was a hard concept to accept and it still is; but, I understand it better now and realize its what sets us apart from those that rule by force and total censorship.

Having said all that I can accept that Donald Trump has the right to his opinions. What I find more difficult to accept is that his fiery rhetoric   (which is often based on half-truths or his own imagination) has caught on with such a large part of the population. Can they actually believe that a person who acts more like a school bully than a statesman be a viable president of our great nation? Can they overlook his lack of knowledge in worldly affairs? Is their hatred so strong that they cannot see the disaster that our country would face if he were elected?

I am frightened and apprehensive that it has gone this far … way beyond what most of us would have thought possible. I pray that reason will come before it's too late. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Eerie and Gorey encounters ...1978

My oldest sister Mary lived on Cape Cod near the famous writer and illustrator Edward Gorey who passed away in 2000. His home is now a museum and I've been fortunate to have visited there two times while visiting Mary and another sister, Peg, who also lived on the Cape.  Sadly both sisters are gone now so my Gorey days are over.

However, Mary's daughter Wendy (my niece) was with me over the Holidays and her presence brought back this memory.  Her brother Chris (my nephew) knew I was interested in Edward Gorey and he wrote to me about his mother and he going to a restaurant in W. Barnstable where they often ran into him.   Chris writes:

"She took me one day when I was 17 and ... I was able to shake his hand and thank him for all the creepy entertainment he had given me over the  years.  He was very eccentric and was wearing bright red lipstick and black eye liner. I was a huge fan from the time I was in my first year of High School. I can still recite every word of  his alphabet book The Gashleycrumb Times.  'A if for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by bears', etc.
I  called Gorey when I was in High School to see if he would come in as a guest.  I pleaded with him but he kept saying 'I'm sorry.  I'm just not good at that sort of thing.'  His pen and ink drawings are brilliant and worth looking at for anyone who in not familiar with his work."

Thanks. Chis, for the first-hand information.  My introduction to the world of Edward Gorey came when I watched the opening of Mystery Theater on PBS and found out he was the illustrator.  I've been hooked ever since.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 … Back to Basics

No, I don't want to go back to this age but I sure would like to regain some of the joy and enthusiasm that I felt then. I’ve just about had it with this crazy world of ours where greed reigns supreme and hatred and fear seem to be the norm. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to raise a well-rounded and loving child in this atmosphere. I know that I can’t change the world but I can certainly try to improve my small part in it and I start with this resolution for the new year:

I am simplifying my life and I started by cutting out all the “stuff” that I once thought I needed but that actually has bogged me down for years and has left me feeling overwhelmed. I've started the process already and it's amazing how liberating it is. 

Clothes I haven't worn for years go to the Coalition, books to the free book exchange at the Post Office and odds and ends to Goodwill. This de-clutters my life and leaves me with just those things that I cherish and that I now have room to display. I've also been thrilled to actually find some long lost treasures while cleaning out the closets and drawers one of those being a small book entitled “A Child's Journey with Dickens” with an inscription to “Captain Lee” (my grandfather on my father's side) written in 1915. I have no idea who Jacqueline was but she and others obviously enjoyed each others company at "The Roost" during World War I.

So it's back to basics for me. A new outlook on life and lots of breathing room are all I need to face 2016 head on !

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Venice ... 2001

Over the holiday my niece Wendy and I were reminiscing about our separate trips to Venice and it reminded me of the time that my friend Douglas and I spent a month in Italy. We were lodging in Monasteries and, besides the affordability, we’d been pleasantly surprised at the convenience, the cleanliness and the wonderful hospitality that had been extended to us. We stayed in Rome, Orvieto, Bavagna, Gubbio, Cortona and Florence and now it was on to Venice... our destination, the Casa Caburlotta. (the middle building shown in the picture.)

When I made the reservations I had been careful to explain to the Sisters that Douglas and I were not married. Some of the Monasteries were very strict about this and I wanted to make sure they knew that we were traveling friends and would be staying in separate rooms. It was early evening when we arrived and we couldn’t see a light in any of the windows. This didn’t bode well but we pulled the door rope and were rewarded with a bell tone that was loud enough to wake the dead. It didn’t seem to wake the Sisters, however, and it took 3 bell pulls and 15 minutes before a very old nun dressed completely in black (and with a dark frown to match) opened the door. I had verification of our reservations and I presented it to the Sister. She took a long time pouring over the document and finally allowed us to enter. She pointed to a chair and, with hand gestures, instructed Douglas to sit! Then she took my arm and we proceeded to the second floor where she showed me my room and gave me a small packet of instructions. I realized that I was in for the night and hoped I’d catch up with Douglas at breakfast.

My room was quite sparse but very clean and comfortable. The next morning I did find Douglas in the breakfast room and he was still chuckling. It seems that the Sister situated him about as far away from me as possible. He was in the students quarters on the top floor and access to his room was by a set of stairs far removed from mine. However, it was our good fortune to meet a fellow traveler at breakfast who had stayed many times at the Monastery. He said that he didn’t think there was a Sister there under the age of 80 and that they were very strict but loving. I had my doubts about the “loving” part but we were there for four days regardless.

The next days were filled with all that Venice has to offer. We’d leave early in the morning and return after dinner. The Sisters were thawing a bit toward us...although they still made sure that we separated in the front hall before we retired to our rooms. On the morning that we left I was amazed when the most austere of the sisters said she had a remembrance for me. She gave me a hug and a small glass pendant from Morano. I will always cherish that gift, but it was the gift of her smile that I will remember truly was “loving”.

My trip was entirely different from the one Wendy took. She spent 3 months there on an arts Fellowship at the Scuola Internazionale de Grafica. If you want to savor the “real” Venice in all its glory click on here: