Thursday, November 14, 2013
What a contemptible organization Lifespring in Saugerties, NY, is! What arrogant, incompetent, dumb people run it! I volunteered to teach a financial class. After I did, I tried to bow out. Too much to do. (I was also teaching a music class a Bard.) Then Susan Greenstein of Lifespring pressured me to continue. There were to be six sessions. I could fairly easily teach four. For the final two, I decided to get two speakers: a lawyer and a Certified Financial Planner. I know no professionals in the area, but a member of the synagogue suggested her husband, a CFP who turned out to be a former officer of the synagogue where Lifespring meets. He recommended a lawyer. I had never met these people before—never met them until they came to speak. But they were older men, veterans, and they did a good job. When I submitted my program, mentioning the two guests, all hell broke loose. What was I doing, inviting others to speak? I do that all the time. I set up programs all over New Jersey. I get doctors, lawyers, CPAs, CFPs. I’m trusted to vet the speakers—to make sure they’re smart and on the up and up. But Lifespring—via “Arzi,” the big arrogant cheese—kept berating me. Lifespring was even thinking of cancelling my program! (I should have.) I was also challenged on my sending emails to the students. Emails don’t differ from handouts. Except they’re cheap and fast. I could send articles I’ve written, important data about value vs. growth stocks, and so forth. At that point, I knew I was dealing with ignorant arrogant amateurs. But apparently Lifespring had been burned in the past by some of its speakers, who were selling things. And some of Lifespring’s speakers were terrible: a former convict who sold his music tapes, an almost senile old man, an authority on Italy who (it turned out) led people on paid tours of Italy. After the last class, with the CFP, the class manager sent a note rebuking me for allegedly pushing people to hire that speaker. Supposedly via an email I had sent out. Although I didn’t notice it at first, the class manager sent her nasty email message to the directors of Lifespring. I wrote back: What was she talking about? I had mentioned being impressed by the speaker…and then gave info about a RIVAL of that speaker. Actually, someone preferable, because he was fee-only—unlike the other speaker. The person who had written the note then admitted that she had made a mistake. That was as close to an apology as she issued. Susan Oistrach. Lifespring issue an apology? Are you nuts? I had liked teaching the class. The students were eager to learn; they asked good, sometimes hard questions. And at least one other school in the area was deeply skeptical of offering financial courses. Ridiculous. Older people need financial help; I was ideal to teach the course because of my background and because I don’t sell anything—I’m objective. So I decided to offer my services elsewhere. And I wanted to pass along written praise from my current students—who seemed appreciative. (Actually, I almost ALWAYS get great reviews for my courses—financial, musical, or whatever.) So I emailed the students asking for evaluations of my class—even though Lifespring had already done that. But Lifespring takes a helluva long time to pass along evaluations—rewriting them instead of just taking off the names of the actual evaluations. Besides, other places I’ve taught aren’t so suspicious. Usually the students pass along their evaluations directly to me, I tell them that I shall destroy any negative evaluations (a joke), then pass them along. I got a half dozen favorable evaluations at Lifespring, sent them to a school THEN PREPARING classes for between fall and spring, a school where I wanted to teach finance. Lifespring found out I had sought my own evaluations—and in its typical paranoid fashion rebuked me in an email. An email that was highly verbose and otiose. “Highly irregular.” Also, I had, without thinking, asked for evaluations that would include people’s names. Big deal. What was so terrible about having people use their real names? If they wrote anything negative, was I going to have them thrown to the lions? I should think that if they had negative things to say, they would just keep quiet. Lifespring’s officers, being dumb, apparently had never thought of that. I’ll never teach at Lifespring again. And shall discourage everyone I know from teaching there. Bunch of arrogant, rude amateurs not averse to treating their teachers like shit.
Thursday, January 03, 2013
About Fred & Adele Astaire
Even Fred Astaire Wound Up With Arthritis! As we age, arthritis attacks even the best of us. Including Fred Astaire. In her superlative book, “The Astaires Fred & Adele” (Oxford University Press, 2012), Kathleen Riley reports that as he aged he suffered from painful arthritis, largely “the result of the grueling nature and unusual longevity of his dancing career….” Her book is full of colorful details, bons mots, and brief profiles of the famous. In a word, it’s delicious. There’s a lot I didn’t know about Astaire and his sister, Adele. What a gifted couple they were! They danced together until she retired — to marry an English nobleman (who turned out to be a drunk). Some things I learned: + Fred and Ginger Rogers may not have been totally chaste. At the end of one “delightful” evening, Ginger reported, Fred gave her a kiss that “would never have passed the Hays office code!” When they met again a few years later, Fred was distant, explaining, “I’m married now.” One author, Martha Nomichson, gathers from this remark that they had a “subtext of a sexual history.” + Their father, Fritz Austerlitz, was Jewish, but converted to Catholicism to escape anti-Semitism. + When they performed together, starting when they were children, she was the more talented. (She was almost two years older.) While taking lessons in New York City, for a while they lived in Weehawken. + While they seemed to be the height of sophistication, they were born in Omaha, Nebraska. +Sir James Barrie (who created Peter Pan) asked Adele to play Peter Pan in a performance. She loved the idea, but her contract wouldn’t permit it. + Adele has been described (by John Mueller) as a “high-spirited, mercurial, petty, profane, acerbic, charming, possessive, witty, exasperating, unpredictable, loving, and, I suspect, deeply vulnerable woman.” + That clever writer Robert Benchley wrote: “I don’t think I will plunge the nation into war by stating that Fred is the greatest dancer in the world.” + George Balanchine, the choreographer, compared Fred to Bach—and said Fred danced as if he had no bones. + Fred watched a young dancer and called him “the neatest, fastest Charleston dancer ever.” George Raft was a dancer before he became an actor. + Adele may have had a failed affair with George Gershwin. “Absolutely I know he was impotent,” she once said. + Irving Berlin wanted Adele to play Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun,” and she considered it—but said no. + Fred was a perfectionist. Once, when Adele came for an evening performance inebriated, in the wings Fred slapped her hard on each cheek, making her cry. She sobered up; it was the only time he hit her. + He wasn’t an intellectual. He spent much of his time at horse races, golf courses, and pool rooms. + Adele wanted to be the most important woman in Fred’s life—even to the point of disdaining Fred’s wife: “…if only he hadn’t married that woman, I think he’d be completely happy,” she once said. + She occasionally said that she wished he had been a homosexual, perhaps because then he could have resisted designing women. + Fred told Adele he wanted to get married because “he didn’t want to wake up with the morning papers” and because he knew that many people thought he was a homosexual. “He was often, she said, the object of some male’s infatuation and even received propositioning letters.” + He married heiress Phyllis Potter at the last moment, rushing out to buy a ring. Headline in a paper the next day: “Astaire weds $30,000,000 Heiress with $5 Ring.” + He and Adele once shared a bill with Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, the great black dancer. His first words to Fred: “Boy, you can dance!” Said Fred: “That meant a lot to me.” + George Jean Nathan, the drama critic, pursued Adele, but he had a roving eye. He once told her that he had to meet with French ambassador. Adele found out later that the “French ambassador” was the actress Lillian Gish. + Cole Porter wrote “Night and Day” especially for Astaire’s voice. + His voice was nothing to write home about. But composers appreciated that he didn’t take liberties. And an English critic said Astaire electrified his audience “by singing a song with a mere semblance of a voice.” + When Adele died, at age 85, Fred was grief-stricken; a friend of Adele’s said her death was hastened by Fred, at 81, marrying a young jockey. + The most succinct praise for the two Astaires came from John Mueller in his foreward: “Nothing like them since the Flood.”
Friday, December 14, 2012
Letter to the Editor of the Woodstock Times 12/13/12 For Laurie Kirby to defend Fred Nagel against the charge that he is anti-Semitic is absurd. Nagel is so anti-Israel, so anti-Semitic, that he might even deserve the label “neo-Nazi.” Kirby should have read all the other poisonous, obsessive, unbalanced letters Nagel has written for months and months instead of just one. Nagel recently referred to the Liberty tragedy of 1967, where Israelis accidentally bombed a U.S. ship. His implication: Jews everywhere are the same. Those who bombed the ship 45 years ago are the same as those of today. It was a confession: “I hate all Jews.” Then Kirby shows how conventionally paranoid he is, referring to the so-called power of the Israeli lobby. The Israeli lobby has become the modern equivalent of the Elders of Zion, authors of the fraudulent Protocols. He tipped his hand. What about all the other powerful lobbies? Actually, Jews are a wonderfully divided group. On the one side, for example, is Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who gave so much money to defeat Obama; then there are the 70% of Jews who cast their ballots for Obama (including me). What an absurd letter Kirby writes! The anti-Semites have muffled their voices? They write lots of letters to newspapers…they sail to Israel to challenge the blockade aimed at keeping missiles out of Gaza…they get front-page articles in the Woodstock Times. Letter after letter from unbalanced people like Nagel encourage all the Jew-haters around here to publicly express their latent anti-Semitism. Yet it should be clear to everyone that almost all Israelis sincerely want peace….and their enemies in the Mideast, like the terrorists who run Hamas, proudly confess that they want not peace but Israel’s destruction. No wonder the majority of Americans still side with Israel. When is someone who is anti-Israel actually anti-Semitic? Abraham Foxman, who runs the Anti-Defamation League, has said: “Can you be critical of Israel and not be an anti-Semite? Absolutely. But can you be anti-Zionist and not be an anti-Semite? My answer there is, probably not — unless you are opposed to nationalism. You can be opposed to Zionism if you’re also opposed to Palestinian nationalism, French nationalism, American nationalism. But if the only nationalism that you find offensive or racist is Jewish nationalism, that’s anti-Semitism.” “… If you find an individual who detests nationalisms, he’s entitled to be anti-Zionist. But most of them only don’t like Zionism, and that’s a cover for anti-Semitism.”
Friday, December 07, 2012
Remember the Merm! Lots of Things You May Not Have Known about Ethel Merman She had a big voice and a foul mouth. I love listening to her voice – it was like a brass band going by, said Cole Porter – and I love the stories about her profanity…. Loretta Young, the actress, was something of a hypocrite. Although she had had a child out of wedlock with Clark Gable, she claimed to be mightily offended by curse words. On the set of her show, she vowed that she would assess any guest $1 for using a swear word. Ethel Merman used a swear word, and Loretta came over and demanded that she put $1 into her collection box for charity. Said the Merm: “How much do I have to put in if I tell you to go f--- yourself?” She was married (for 30 or so days) to actor Ernest Borgnine (famous for his role in the film “Marty”). In her autobiography she has a chapter entitled “My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine.” It’s a single blank page. Here’s something from Wikipedia: Borgnine “recounted how she came back from a film one day and said, ‘The director said I looked sensational. He said I had the face of a 20-year-old, and the body and legs of a 30-year-old!’ Borgnine answered, ‘Did he say anything about your old [c---]?’ ‘No,’ replied Ethel, ‘he didn't mention you at all.’” She lived from 1908 to 1984, and had a life marked by tragedy. Here are some things you might not have known about her: + She wasn’t very bright, said Stephen Sondheim and others. After playing opposite the handsome actor Tab Hunter, she was puzzled that he hadn’t made a pass at her. Is he a homosexual? she asked actor Jack Klugman, a co-star. Klugman replied, “Is the pope Catholic?” The Merm thought a minute, then said, “Of course. Why do you ask?” + She had been assured that she would star in the film version of “Gypsy,” but Rosalind Russell got the part – thanks to the efforts of Russell’s husband. The Merm dubbed him “the lizard of Roz” and called her loss of the role “the greatest professional disappointment of my life.” Russell’s voice in the film was dubbed by Lisa Kirk; The New Yorker called the film “thoroughly repellent.” + Offered the lead role in “Hello, Dolly” by David Merrick, for some reason she turned it down. But she joined the cast six years after it opened — and she was a sensation. + She had a torrid affair with Sherman Billingsley, owner of the Stock Club. + Her biggest success may have been her role in Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun” — although Betty Hutton appeared in the film version. What a mistake. A critic wrote of the manic Miss Hutton: “She should be given one number in the course of an evening and then be permitted to work off her surplus energies elsewhere.” + When she starred in “Annie,” she was getting pretty long in the tooth. A critic dubbed it “Granny Get Your Gun.” + She liked opera and was friendly with a few male opera singers. She joked about her lack of musical knowledge, asking someone, was my head voice or chest voice better tonight? + Pavarotti, admiringly, once said there was no break between the Merm’s chest voice and her head voice. + Her second husband, Robert Levitt, killed himself with an overdose of barbituates. Merman, who said she had truly loved him, felt guilty, believing that if they had stayed married that wouldn’t have happened. + Her daughter-in-law, the actress Barbara Colby, was shot dead for no apparent reason as she left an acting class in California. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Colby + She was competitive with most other singers, but not with Mary Martin, with whom she often sang. “She’s okay,” she said of Martin, “if you like talent.” + She was not widely accepted outside New York. Biographer Brian Kellow thinks the rest of the country was cool because she was so obviously a New Yorker. + She was annoyed that so many people thought she was Jewish. She wasn’t. + She was born Zimmerman, and shortened the name. + She sang for George Gershwin, before playing in his musical “Girl Crazy,” and he gave her this advice: Don’t ever go near a voice teacher. (Her voice was fine as it was.) + After singing for Gershwin, he asked her if there was anything in his music she would like changed. She marveled: George Gershwin asking Ethel Zimmerman of Queens if she wanted to change his music! + Arturo Toscanini, upon hearing her sing, supposedly said, “Castrato!” (A man, usually surgically altered, who sings like a woman.) + A critic compared her voice to that of Enrico Caruso, with its bigness of voice, richness, and steadiness. + In front of a hostile audience, when she was young, she said, “Screw you, your jerks. If you were as good as I am, you’d be up here!” + She complained about living for a while in Hollywood: She missed the nightclubs, the great restaurants, of New York — “the things that make life worth living just aren’t here.” + When Rodgers and Hammerstein cut their performers’ salaries because sales of one of their musicals declined, she was furious — and had them reverse their decision. Later on, whenever she heard their names, she started cursing. + After her mother died, hardly anyone attended the funeral. Said a friend, “Well, you can’t go through life telling your best friends to go f--- themselves and expect them to turn up at your mother’s funeral.” + She won all sorts of awards — a Tony, a Golden Globe, Drama Desk. She was the Queen of Broadway during much of the 20th century. + She served as a volunteer in St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, working in the gift shop and visiting patients. + Another good biography of her, besides Brian Kellow’s “Ethel Merman,” is Caryl Flinn’s “Brass Diva.” ETHEL MERMAN IN SONG Let Me Call You Sweetheart http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpFIzncnylo&feature=related After You’re Gone http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebSvhyTBawI&feature=related Lucy Teaches Ethel to Sing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hQQqSkv1xc&feature=related In “Airplane” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1wbbrkQDss Blow, Gabriel Blow http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmhC_M93bLA&feature=related No Business Like Show Business http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=psFzFh_EYV8 Alexander’s Ragtime Band http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miETmG8IUh0&feature=related On What’s My Line? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOP951kSvu0&feature=related With Judy and Barbra http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&v=W7AViKc52P0&NR=1
Saturday, December 01, 2012
Vivid Memories… (1) A middled-aged nice-looking woman sitting on the sidewalk on 47th street in NYC, the jewelry disrict, and weeping—her son, standng next to her, sorrowfully reaching out an arm to touch her— A businessman stopped to look at them—sypathetically-- I felt sorry for the mother and son, and wished that I were rich and could help them— I must have been in my 20s— Did I give her any money? $20? I hope I did-- I was living in WNY, and must have been maybe 10 years old. It was beginnnng to rain. A woman I didn’t know accosted me and said she had left her umbrella at a store—would I fetch it for her? The store was two blocks away—I retrieved it for her—she said, hesitatingly, that she couldn’t give me anything now but I should be there tomorrow night and she would reward me—I should have said, you don’t owe me anything-- I doubted she would show up—but the next day I was there… and wasn’t surprised that she wasn’t-- I was walking to work in NYC one morning—I looked into a Chinese laundry—an attractive, slender older woman was holding an iron, over an ironing board—she looked exhausted, and she looked at me ever so sadly—meeting my eyes—I hurried away— When I have remembered this over the years, I think of my going back there and silently giving her some money--
Saturday, November 17, 2012
The ‘Jewish Caruso’ Died 70 Years Ago… A conductor once said to Joseph Schmidt, the singer, “It’s too bad that you’re not small.” “But I AM small,” replied Schmidt, very much surprised. He was less than 5 feet tall. “No,” said the conductor. “You are VERY small.” His height was one of Schmidt’s problems. It explains why he rarely appeared in operas. Mimi, Violetta, and Lucia would tower over a 4-foot-11 inch tenor. (One reason Joan Sutherland sang so often with Luciano Pavarotti was that he was tall for a tenor, so she wasn’t all that much taller.) So Schmidt sang mostly in concerts and on the radio, although he did make a few movies — where his short height could be concealed. A few films are still available, including the popular “My Song Goes Round the World” (1934), about the problems of a short opera singer. Another problem Schmidt had was, of course, given the widespread anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 1940s, his Jewishness. He had even been a cantor, in Czernowitz (now Chernovtsy, in Ukraine), and remained active as a cantor all of his life. He and Hermann Jadlowker may be the two most famous tenors who benefited from cantorial training before becoming secular singers. (Two famous American tenors with cantorial backgrounds were Jan Peerce [Jacob Pincus Perelmuth] and Richard Tucker [Reuben Ticker], who were brothers-in-law. A contemporary tenor, Neil Shicoff, sang in a synagogue as a child.) Offsetting these problems was Schmidt’s wonderful voice. Sweet, expressive, seemingly effortless, and — for his size — powerful. He was called the Jewish Caruso. And the Pocket Caruso. He was born in Romania on March 4, 1904. His father was a tenant farmer, not interested in the arts; his mother encouraged her son’s interest in singing. He gave his first concert at age 20. When he was 24, an uncle took him to Berlin, where after an audition (he sang an aria from “Il Trovatore”) he was promptly offered radio and recording contracts. He became, someone has said, Berlin’s talk of the town. He also sang in Vienna, and critics in both Vienna and Berlin fell all over themselves in praising his voice. One wrote, “Whether he sings Mozart or Puccini, Tchaikovsky or Verdi, everything sounds as if it had been rendered in glowing colors.” A friend of his was the Jewish tenor Richard Tauber, who spent much of his life fleeing the Nazis. He tried to help Schmidt and even conducted concerts at which Schmidt sang. Tauber eventually escaped Europe for England. When Nazi Germany (in 1934) and Austria (1938) banned Jewish musicians, Schmidt went to sing in the Netherlands and Belgium, where he was very popular. He toured the United States in 1936, singing at Carnegie Hall with such famous sopranos as Grace Moore and Maria Jeritza. Later he returned to the Ukraine to visit his mother, whose husband had recently died. He then fled the Nazis via Belgium, then to Switzerland, where he landed in an internment camp as an illegal immigrant. He complained of feeling ill after digging ditches; the guards accused him of malingering. Shortly after being released, he died of a heart attack. He died on Nov. 16, 1942, at age 38, exactly 70 years ago. He is buried in a grave near Zurich. Schmidt has been described as “affable,” but not much is known about him. The distinguished English music critic, J.B. Steane, wrote about Schmidt: “His many recordings preserve a fine voice, well produced except for a certain nasal quality, with an exceptional upper range and a distinctive personality.” Mario Lanza, the famous American tenor of the 1950s and 1960s, is said to have admired Schmidt’s voice. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, liked Schmidt’s singing so much that, it’s been reported, he considered making him an “honorary Aryan.” (Tauber tried to become one, without success.) In 2004, Germany issued a postage stamp to commemorate Schmidt’s 100th birthday. Had Schmidt lived and returned to the United States, he might have joined the Metropolitan Opera, which — because the war had kept many European artists away — was in need of fine singers. There’s a half-hour film about him, available on videocassette from Amazon.com for $1.83 to $8.99, plus $2.98 shipping. It’s called “Bel Canto 2: The Tenors of the 78 Era.” To appreciate the beauty, expressiveness, and power of his voice, readers can listen to these recordings on YouTube.com: Una furtiva lagrima, L’elisir d’amore http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FD-yzw7ExY4 from La boheme, with Grace Moore http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etXs5onlHKk Last Rose of Summer (Medley) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfsgHtpMMow&feature=related There are a few wonderful CDs, too, including one from EMI.
Thursday, November 08, 2012
Written for my memoir-writing class… A Critic & a Cheerleader Miss Smith was a giantess. A giant of a woman. I didn’t know women could grow so tall. And she was my kindergarden teacher. Once I was playing with my classmates – and I scared them. I had a bad burn on my arm, and they were frightened when they saw it. I noticed Miss Smith staring at me. Open-mouthed. She must have thought that I had frightened the kids deliberately. It happened again—my shirt climbed up and there was the ugly burn. And Miss Smith staring at me severely. At the end of the kindergarden term, Miss Smith took me aside and said she wanted me to remain in kindergarden. To help the new students. To continue cleaning the blackboard (that had been my job). I went home and told my mother I was remaining in kindergarden for another term, to help the new students. My mother introduced a new term into my vocabulary: left back. And she confirmed my suspicion that I was not being honored. Kids can’t explain – and say: Miss Smith had misinterpreted things. I had NOT deliberately frightened the other kids. Years later, a little girl got hurt on a backyard swing. She came crying to her mother. What happened? The mother asked. I had seen the accident, and I explained. She had pushed the swing, run under it, and it came back and hit her on the back of the head. The little girl nodded her head approvingly and pointed to me. Meaning: He’s right. A damn smart kid, but she couldn’t have explained it. Neither could I have explained to Miss Smith. +++ Mrs. Horowitz was my first grade teacher. She liked me. And I was a good sudent. I got a lot of gold stars. She called me the Number Boy. Because I could count to 100 – my mother had taught me. I had learned to spell MAN. I had just learned how to spell SOUP. So I wrote on a piece of paper: I AM SOUPERMAN. Miss Horowitz came over to see what I had written, and seemed to be amused. She showed it to the other teachers. They, too, seemed to be amused…. I didn’t know why. I loved reading and I was good at it. I AM A GINGERBREAD BOY. I AM. I AM. I CAN RUN. I CAN. I CAN…. I still remember my first book… I once had a dispute with another kid, and to justify my behavior, I lied. I had thrown his cap away – and claimed that I had slipped on it, which was why it landed up so far away. A blatant, embarrassing lie. Miss Horowitz bought it. Actually, she felt sorry for me — and pretended to believe the obvious lie. She was very smart. She was known throughout New Jersey, I learned later. She had written children’s books. At the end of the term, Miss Horowitz told Louanne Battaglia and me that we were skipping. We were bypassing the 2A and going straight to the 2B. Miss Horowitz asked my mother to come to school. Was I in trouble again? No, my mother said, approvingly, I was skipping. Miss Horowitz asked the kindergarden teachers to come in and see the two children who were skipping. Miss Smith seemed stupefied. She stared at me and stared at me and stared at me. It took me a long time to figure out why.
Written for a memoir-writing class… A Few Happy Memories My high school physics class. Lucille Lauro was there. Cute as a kitten, sweet as milk chocolate, utterly irresistible. Our teacher: pleasant, elderly Mr. Sotong. The physics book asked: True or false? The speed of sound in air is the fastest speed known to man. Lucille Lauro said true. I shook my head and said No. Mr. Sotong looked at me, puzzled. Lucille Lauro also looked at me, puzzled. “The speed of light IN A VACUUM is the fastest speed known to man,” I said confidently. Mr. Sotong thought a moment. Then he slowly nodded his head yes. Lucille Lauro looked at me, frank admiration in her eyes. But…she wound up marrying a high school football player. +++ Duplicate bridge You don’t have to understand contract bridge to understand what I’m going to say. I was playing duplicate bridge, against a new partner and new opponents, a husband and wife. My partner bid spades, but our opponents got the contract – in clubs, I think. I started the game by leading one of my three hearts. Away from my king, which is considered a really terrible no-no. My partner scowled—because I hadn’t led a spade, which he had bid. The declarer thought my partner had the king and was angry that he was being finessed. The declarer then confidently and smugly led another low heart from the board to finesse my partner, and happily gathered in the trick. He grabbed the cards so quickly, I couldn’t see them. “Could I see that trick?” I asked innocently and sweetly. Sometimes I’m a real bastard. The declarer scowled. I was being persnickety, he thought, asking to see a trick he had easily won. And then…it dawned on him. He was thunderstruck. It was as if a powerful and powerful electrical current had zapped through his body. He realized the worst: I had the king!!! He was going down!!! I cooly produced the king and scooped up the trick and led a spade to my now deliriously happy partner. The declarer, I noticed, instantly fell into a deep state of depression. I still feel a thrill remembering that.
Written for a memoir-writing class… TURNING POINT in my life… I went to a small high school in New Jersey, so small that there were only 90 students in my graduating class. A girl who attended the Bronx High School of Science transferred to my school. She had ranked 300 out of 600 at Bronx Science. At my school, Memorial, she came in first. Valedictorian. That’s how much behind Bronx Science my own high school was. When I entered Columbia College, I was determined to prove that I was smart. That would raise my very low self-esteem. So I studied like mad. I memorized and memorized. I didn’t even live on campus; I commuted from New Jersey. Those students from Bronx High, Stuyvesent, Erasmus, and other famous New York schools were so different from me! I once read a French novel in which a young student marveled that some of her clever fellow students actually had “opinions”! I knew what she meant. When I read Aristotle, I memorized his laws. (Remember that name: Aristotle.)The other students talked about the significance of those laws. My God, they actually THOUGHT about things. I had won a chemistry award in high school. So I thought I would be skipped to an advanced chemistry class. I took a Columbia chemistry test. Hard as hell. Some Bronx Sci students were skipped to an advanced class; I wasn’t. Working my head off, I got adequate grades. OK, good grades. B plus. Naturally, I took easy courses. Which, for me, were languages. German, French. One class, for advanced students in ancient literature, I wasn’t doing well in. I think I got a C+ on one paper. So I dropped the course. And then there was my French class. It was the day before the all-important mid-term examination. So I finally did something clever. We had finished going over half the French textbook. The night before the test, I read through the entire French textbook. I memorized all of the new words. Two weeks later, the results of the French test came out. A national test. I had gotten an A plus. Thanks to that amazing A plus, my average went from B plus to A. I made the dean’s list. I was tickled pink. Of course, the only reason I got an A average was that I had studied so hard. It didn’t prove that I was smart…. So even my wonderful grades didn’t raise my low self-esteem. Now, when I was a junior I happened to meet a Columbia freshman who came from my very own high school. He was bemoaning how all those New York City students were so much better informed than he was. And he felt that he couldn’t compete with them—he was so far behind. “You know,” he said, in an unforgettable statement, that “when I came to Columbia, I had never even heard of ARIStotle!” I didn’t correct his pronunciation. I just said, reassuringly, “You’ll catch up. I did.” OK, how did this change my life? Well, I was disgusted to realize that even good grades in college didn’t persuade me that I wasn’t a complete jerk. But I thought about it. And it finally dawned on me that I didn’t particularly LIKE smart, quick-witted, well-informed people, bursting with confidence. Many of them were cynical, arrogant, competitive & nasty. (Oh, and brutish and short.) I liked warm, down-to-earth, friendly people. Conscientious people. Whether they were smart or not. And when THAT dawned on me, it also dawned on me…that I was smart enough.
For people my age… Do you remember Jimmy Cannon’s wonderful occasional column in the NYPost? “Nobody asked me but…”? Richard Watts Jr. wrote an occasional similar amusing column. Remember the NYPost sportswriter who wrote an article in mock-Indian whenever that great pitcher, Allie Reynolds, won another game for the Yankees? (DiMaggio had been asked what pitcher the Yanks should buy. His answer: Reynolds.) Remember listening to Baby Snooks on the radio? The great Fanny Brice. I tnink Frank Morgan (the Wizard himself) was also on that program. What was the program’s name? Remember listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio…and waiting to hear the thrilling Lone Ranger overture? (The William Tell overture.) Toscanini loved to listen, too. (He also liked watching wrestling bouts.) Remember the rumors that Uncle Don had said, “That should hold the little bastards” on the radio when he thought his program had ended? (Probably not true. Do you think that that fact-checking site would write about that?) How about ads for that movie with Jane (Boom Boom) Russell? The Outlaw. (Never saw it.) Do you remember the movie lines several blocks long when you went to see Bambi? Pride of the Yankees? Do you remember movie houses offering THREE movies? (My brother Roger and I saw three pleasant Westerns at the Alvin Theatre in North Bergen, then decided to see them again. But we finally got tired and left…and met our mother on our way home. She’d gotten worried. Do you remember all the movie theaters of our youth? It’s fun to recall all their names. The Temple, the Colony, the Rivoli and Rialto… Do you remember when Cardinals pitcher Murray Dickson no-hit the Yankees in an exhibition game? I was so unhappy, I had to get out of my house. Remember coal bins? We lost a cat in a coal bin. Didn’t find the body until the winter was over and all the coal had been burned…