Torture in the Sky Club

My flight to Boston has been delayed, which means that my short stop in the Terminal A Sky Club has changed to a two-hour stint.  The club is crowded and I sat within earshot of a man who is giving line-by-line edits for a term paper to a person on the phone, whom I can only imagine is his child. 

My ear is hooked.  I cannot stop listening, even as I’m becoming infuriated on behalf of this kid’s teacher.  

Because every teacher I know has had this experience: The kid whose writing is poor and whose grasp of details is weak, turns in a paper that is polished and substantive and does not appear to be plagiarized.  Because his helicopter Dad (or Mom) wrote it for him.  You know right away that something is off, and go to work to devise future assignments so that it doesn’t happen again. 

And I’m angry in other ways too — I wouldn’t do it for my child.  My parents didn’t do it for me (they would not have been able to).  And there are so many other kids whose work is as good or better than this one’s who don’t have this advantage.  It’s privilege in its rawest form, and it’s incredibly unfair.  

As soon as I sat down I heard the word “Plessy,” and thought, “Well, that’s not your usual Sky Club conversation.”  Ears perked, a quick glance over my shoulder showed a Word document on the man’s computer, and the rest of the one-sided conversation offered plenty of clues about what Dad was about. 

First I sat through a complete mini-lecture on Plessy and then Brown. It sounded like an explanation I might have offered to students as I taught them, but I wasn’t sure why anyone in an airport lounge was explaining these two cases on this level, which was decidedly a high school or intro college level.  

In between filling in the kid’s factual knowledge (Supreme Court justices rule on the law; it’s the Court, not the judge, who issues the decision, the role of lawyers, prosecutors, clients …), Dad did some wordsmithing too, in a way reminiscent of that social studies teacher in Ferris Bueller.  Three quick examples, out of too many:

  • “Now here you say the “chief justices voted.” How many chief justices are there?” Clearly Junior’s answer wasn’t satisfactory, because he repeated the question, with increasing emphasis on the word chief, three times before trying another tack.  “Well,” he said, “how many justices are there on the Supreme Court?”  Pause.  “There are nine.  So how many are chiefs?”  Eventually the kid got the message that there was only one Chief Justice.
  • “Now, this line where you talk about Marshall’s record, when you say ‘he ruled in favor of,’ there’s one word that means ‘in favor of’ that you should use.  What’s one word that means ‘in favor of.?’”  The kid wasn’t getting it, so Dad provided more hints.  “It’s two syllables, and begins with a ‘u.’” Finally he gave it to the kid: “Upheld.”
  • Discussing another case, he notes, “Now you write that it was ‘six female and six male.’ Six female what? Chickens? Cats? Monkeys?”  Junior’s not catching on, but finally says that he was writing about the jury.  “Well, what’s another word for female?” Dad prompts.  Finally, Dad tells the kid that “women” is a better way to write it. 

This line-by-line coaching took the better part of an hour.  Dad basically rewrote the paper, even waiting while Junior transcribed what he suggested.  “Read that sentence back to me,” Dad urged before moving on to the next one.  And in between Dad would chuckle over how clueless his son was, as if this education-by-parent-by-phone was how things should be and, after all, what else could you expect. 

So I imagine Junior’s college essay and college papers will get the same treatment.  Maybe Dad will do his taxes for him until he’s 30.  Most likely, he’ll pave the way to internships and jobs.  

To me, that’s the swamp.  And I just sat next to a swamp creature. 


Wrapping up 2017 in Alabama

I’m not a regular writer of Christmas letters that chronicle the year, but this has been a busy year, and we’re far away from family and many friends.


  • I decided not to retire this year, something I’d been considering. But realized that the work that was coming my way this year would require being in shape, so  …
  • On January 4 Lifelongnewyorker started a diet, determined to lose all of the seven pounds gained since the election, plus a few more. Every day began with two scrambled eggs, with a modest protein-plus-salad at lunch, and smaller portions at dinner. The most important part: cutting out what had become my customary two three glasses of wine at night.
  • Mid-month, The Abandoned One’s band, Out of System Transfer, had an open night on their Southern tour between gigs in Atlanta, Georgia, and Pascagoula, Mississippi. We cleared out our garage, invited friends and neighbors, and had a short show. IMG_5668
  • Mr. NewYorker spends lots of time at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, where he is a docent; when he’s not doing tours or attending docent meetings, he’s putting in serious hours building sets, watering the lawn and whatever else needs to be done at the Cloverdale Playhouse. In January, he worked on set for The 39 Steps.


  • Mr. NewYorker turned 65. We celebrated with a trip home to New York and tickets to Hamilton.  I was supposed to speak at Fordham, but a blizzard intervened (and I recommend staying at a Manhattan hotel near a subway line during a blizzard) and reminded us of how cold it gets in the city. We got to see old friends, and took a long walk through Carroll Gardens and Red Hook with Lifelongnewyorker’s sister and brother-in-law. On Union Street, we popped into a bakery to buy regina cookies to take home.
  • Little did I know that this trip would be the first of many that added up to 100,000 miles this year. Lifelongnewyorker does not want to hear your airline stories. She has lived every single one of them. Business trips in February included Washington, D.C. and San Antonio.


  • Mr. Newyorker was cast in The Crucible and began rehearsing on nights and weekend. During the day, he helped build the set.
  • Because of the Great Washing Machine Disaster we moved, with our three cats, into a one-bedroom apartment at our local Homewood Suites. Here’s the short version: We didn’t notice that the washing machine hose was loose where it connected to the machine and was slowly leaking onto the tile floor. That steady drip saturated the subfloor, which caused the oak floor in the kitchen to buckle. Kitchen cabinets had to be removed and high-powered, loud dehumidifiers ran 24/7 to dry the subfloor.  The kitchen floor had to be ripped up, replaced and finished. Because the kitchen floor is contiguous with the dining room, the living room floor and the foyer, they too needed to be sanded and refinished. Which meant boxing up our belongings and having our furniture moved and put in storage. Oh, and because the seepage traveled in the other direction, too, we needed to pull up and replace the flooring in the hall and bedroom. Lessons learned: 1) turn off the water when the washing machine is not in use; 2) have good insurance.
  • And, if you want to see freaked-out cats, move them into a hotel for weeks.
  • Meanwhile, Lifelongnewyorker went to Austin, Washington DC, San Francisco and Dallas, where she saw an old high school friend for the first time in over 35 years and another friend for the first time in eight.


  • Thomas Proctor took over Mr. Newyorker’s life as he rehearsed for his role. Proctor is not the kind of person you actually want to live with. The play opened in late April to critical acclaim and sold-out audiences. With a post-apocalyptic setting, it was not only timely but one of the best productions Lifelongnewyorker has ever seen in community theater.
  • Lifelongnewyorker went to New York and to Lexington, Kentucky, where she observed this lamppost. IMG_0456


  • We were very happy to move back home, and pledged to be more vigilant about potential disasters.  Lifelongnewyorker soon became convinced the roof was leaking.  (It wasn’t.)
  • A lifelong dream fulfilled: Lifelongnewyorker spoke at Harvard. Another highlight of that trip: Going into the Legal Seafood in Cambridge for dinner, grabbing a seat at the end of the bar and finding a brass plaque that identified it as Robert B. Parker’s usual seat. IMG_0482
  • Later that month found me in Philadelphia, which is much better than W.C. Fields would have had you believe.  It’s a great restaurant town.


  • The garden looked great in June and, when I wasn’t in Washington or New York, I noticed a lot of mating behavior among the lizards.
  • Mr. Newyorker put on his best Southern accent and appeared in a staged reading at Cloverdale Playhouse.
  • We may have to consider a new name for the Abandoned One, who spent the month looking for a new apartment to share with his girlfriend.
  • After six months, LIfelongnewyorker was pleased to have lost 15 pounds.  It didn’t last.


  • IMG_5752We flew to Baltimore to our niece’s house to surprise Lifelongnewyorker’s older sister and her husband and celebrate their 70th birthdays.  Almost everyone was there, except for The Abandoned One, who had other plans.  It was great to see all nine of my parents’ great-grandchildren in one place, a rare event.
  • I went to New Orleans for a two-day meeting, and drove.
  • Mr. NewYorker and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a trip to Hawaii.  We married young.


  • We spent the first half of the month in Kauai and Maui. The food was good, and we celebrated our anniversary with exotic cocktails and a lot of dessert. Lifelongnewyorker gained at least five pounds.
  • While in Hawaii, I got my lifetime Senior pass to National Parks for $10, before the price went up to $80. There are rewards to aging.
  • We also met a local restauranteur who hailed from Red Hook and whose Italian chef/husband made great pizza.  This one is artichokes and pepperoncini.  It was unbelievably hot.  But good. IMG_0577
  • When we came home, I decided it was time to replace my 10-year old car.  I bought a Miata with a retractable hard roof which I drove to Pensacola for, yes, another meeting.  We call it the transformer car. IMG_0598


  • We joined the Old Cloverdale community garden and planted lettuce and arugula.IMG_0606 (1)
  • Mr. Newyorker continued to hone his set building skills on And Then There Were None. 
  • Lifelongnewyorker went to DC, Boston and Colorado Springs.  In Colorado Springs, I had dinner with two friends from my teaching days.  It was great to see them both.


  • Took our annual drive to the Kentuck Arts Festival, one of the highlights of life in Alabama.  Great art, good music, nice drive and, since it’s October the weather might be in the 80s but the humidity is gone.  This year, though, rain threatened.
  • October is cotton season in Alabama. img_0652-e1513551311549.jpg
  • Lifelongnewyorker has no idea what else her husband did in October. She was on the road to: Joliet, Illinois; Clinton, Tennessee;  Pensacola Beach, Florida; New York; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Menlo Park, California. In October, she achieved platinum medallion status on Delta. And yet she’s still somewhere around number 36 on the upgrade list for first class.
  • While in California, I got to spend some time with a former student, who is as smart and funny as I remember her.IMG_0612
  • One of the meetings was at the Alex Haley Farm, which is a magical place even though you’re not allowed to smoke, use alcohol, or swear.
  • Another meeting was at Facebook. The campus is everything you’ve ever heard about it; I can’t say anything else because they make you sign a non-disclosure agreement agreeing not to reveal what you’ve seen inside.


  • On a rare weekend at home and one with beautiful weather, we took a day trip to Moundville Archeological Park, a Mississippian culture city that once held over 10,000 people. They built mounds and specialized in funerary practices.  Like Horseshoe Bend, it’s beautiful and haunted .
  • Lifelongnewyorker travelled to DC and San Francisco.
  • Mr. Newyorker help build the set for Little Women.
  • We flew home for our regular Thanksgiving at Lifelongnewyorker’s sister’s house in New Jersey where both ham and turkey are served and bourbon is an increasingly popular ingredient in side dishes.
  • The next day, after driving the Abandoned One to work in Brooklyn, we went to Manhattan where Lifelongnewyorker was scheduled to appear on MSNBC. She got full hair and make-up and then, minutes before going on, was bumped because a holiday crowd panicked at at the Marble Arch Underground station in London.
  • We stocked up on baccala and regina cookies and brought them back to Alabama.


  • We returned to New York the week after Thanksgiving so Lifelongnewyorker could do an educators’ workshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we could enjoy some time in the city.
  • We both came down with terrible colds.
  • I brought regina cookies back with me. The woman in the row in front of us on the plane was carrying 20 pounds of Junior’s cheesecake. If I thought they’d stay fresh,  I would have brought back a dozen fresh bagels too.
  • On December 12, we felt a lot better than we have in a long time about living in Alabama.
  • And now, in mid-December, we’re looking forward to a visit from Abandoned One and his girlfriend.
  • And at the end of the year, we’re resting.







When the Unexpected Arrives

Mr. NYer and I are among the last people who still send Christmas cards.  Okay, that’s only partially true: We do receive cards from others, so someone else is sending them.  And we actually send holiday cards, because we have friends who don’t celebrate Christmas, plus there’s always the chance we won’t get them out in time to arrive before December 25, in which case they’re New Years’ Cards.

My mother always sent cards. When she sat to do the Christmas cards, she wrote the salutation to every member of the family, including all the kids.  She’d often include a note.  The cards had to be hand-addressed, too.  At some point she gave in to the logic and ease of pre-printed return address labels and self-stick stamps.  Helping her stamp and seal Christmas cards introduced me to the wonders of using a soaked sponged in a cup instead of your tongue.

We get fewer and fewer cards every year, but because we live so far away from friends and family, we feel it’s a good idea to keep sending them.  But we’re lazy — I print out address labels and return address labels and we order cards with our names inscribed.  Rarely do I have time for personal messages, and I’ve never been one for the annual letter, although I enjoy reading them from others.

Most of my cousins are on this routine exchange with me.  We send them a card, they send one to us, and only if we’re all using photo cards do we figure out that someone has lost weight or let her hair turn grey, or got a new dog.

Yesterday, as we were leaving to go to a friends’ house, Mr. NYer brought in the mail.  It included a card from one of the cousins whose greetings tend to be as impersonal as mine.  Mr. NYer opened the mail and said, “Take a look at what your cousin sent you.”

There was a note, in my cousin’s neat engineer-style print.  He thought, it said, that I’d enjoy seeing this letter my mother sent his father (her brother), before any of us came along.  It was from 1945, and she was writing to her favorite brother from Brooklyn.  He was in Europe.

My mom died 15 years ago, about six months after my uncle had died.  The fact that this piece of paper had been kept by my uncle, as he made his way home from the war, and saved, through his marriage and family years; and that his son had held onto it for over 15 years and still had it, and that it was now in my hands, kind of knocked me back a bit.

Especially since my parents saved none of their own wartime correspondence.  I’m sure it was copious — they married in 1942, before my father’s induction and nearly 4 years of service in the South Pacific.  But it was theirs and not for the prying eyes of anyone else.  As far as I know, those letters were destroyed soon after my Dad shipped to the west coast and disembarked from his train cross-country.

So, we’re about to go out the door, but I have this letter in my hand in my mother’s handwriting, and I have to quickly read it, knowing that I will read and reread it over and over in the next few days.

It’s dated August 11, 1945.  To jog your memory: that’s a couple of days after the bombing of Nagasaki.  There was word that Japanese “accepted” the terms of the Potsdam agreement, which called for total surrender, but no formal surrender.  That would come four days later.  Her brother was in Europe, having participated in the Normandy invasion as a glider pilot and slogged through the Battle of the Bulge.  Her husband was in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa was one of these), part of the massive build up of troops and equipment being assembled for an invasion of Japan itself.  About his postings she simply said, “I’ve certainly learned a lot of new places since the war, places I never knew existed.”  And probably would have been quite happy to have never heard of them.

She nods to the moment in history, saying that she imagines he’s heard about the offer of surrender, and writing, “We are all living by the radio, so to speak, to see if it’s accepted. I for one hope so.  This war has been bloody and long enough and it’s time this slaughter was put to a stop.”  She describes the mood in New York as “quiet,” noting that “Everyone is waiting for the official word before celebrating.” But she adds, “Me, I’ll wait until all our boys come home.  Then, I promise, to get drunk.”

And anyone who knew my mother knows how unusual that promise was.

Mostly she’s chatting about what they’re up to at home.  She’s been busy helping their sister-in-law who’s just had her second child.  Meanwhile, another sister — who worked in a shipyard as a Rosie the Riveter — was “on vacation this week getting her place fixed up.”  Four siblings were all married just before or during the war, but waited to set up separate housekeeping until their spouses were back.  My aunt must have been expecting her husband soon.  And despite the vast relief at the prospect that the war might finally be nearing an end, she noted that it might not be all good news.  “I just wonder,” she wrote about her sister, “how much longer she’ll have her job as a welder.”

Another sister, the youngest at 15, “wasn’t working anymore” she wrote. “I made her quit, her hours were changed every day,” my mom wrote. “I never knew when she was coming or going.  She was also gaining too much weight eating all that ice cream.”

And anyone who knew my mother will find that one easier to believe.  Not knowing if someone in her care was “coming or going” was still a concern 25 years later when I was 15.

But there were other issues to explore, too.  My uncle had apparently sent home two rifles. It’s impossible for me to imagine my mother was happy about this, but she managed to conceal any disapproval.  She reported that their youngest brother, then in his teens, “greased them both then put them away.”  But she couldn’t quite resist.  “What do you expect to do with them? Go hunting or just keep them as souvenirs?”  And then, a bit of commentary about her father.  “Pop wants to hang them up on the dining room wall.  You know Pop; he want to hang everything up.”

It’s after 7 pm.  She’s been managing the house, acting as mother to her siblings (my grandmother died five years earlier, and Mom was the oldest girl), and now, at close to 8 pm, she wrote that “I’m waiting for Pop to cut lobsters so I can cook them for him.”  But she added, “I hope you get home before the end of lobster season.  If Pop knew I wrote you about what I was going to cook, he would yell at me.  He thinks you feel bad because you can’t have them.”

I, for one, feel good about having this little glimpse of my mother before we all came along.

An Abrupt Change of Plans

Twenty-two months ago, I turned 60.  The next day, I sat at my computer and created a table four rows across and six down.  I typed the numbers 1-24 into the boxes, printed it out and posted it on the wall of my workspace.

A month later, I crossed out the 1.  Every month afterward, I crossed out another number.  Last time I did it, at the end of November, there were only three boxes left uncrossed.

As some of you have probably guessed, I was counting down to the day when I could, if I wanted, retire and begin to collect Social Security.  In the last few years I’ve thought a lot about how I want to spend the rest of my life.  If nothing unexpected happens, I figure I’ve got 15 or so reasonably active years ahead of me.  I’ve worked pretty much nonstop for a long time, since I was a college student.  I have other interests besides work, something not all my colleagues can say.  I enjoy travel, love to act and direct, would love to have time to write, and have so many books to read.  My mother worked until she was 70, but not me.  Because even though I might reasonably have 15 years or more, it’s also true that I might not.

So I figured that, sometime within the next three years — maybe one, two at most — I would retire and launch into the next adventure.  At times I was bored; sometimes tired; often just wanted to have the freedom to pick up and go.

But last week I unpinned the paper with the 24 boxes from the wall above my computer and I ripped it up. On November 9, everything changed.  And it’s good, it’s okay.  There’s too much work to do and I’m too fired up to retire.  More than that, at a time when lots of my friends are feeling helpless, I’m actually in a place where what I do might make a difference.

Turns out that I remembered that I thrive in opposition.  I’m a natural-born rebel.  If he were alive, my father would agree.  Well, the opposition has a job for me, and I’m all in.

What Happened to the NY Bagel?

I’ve been in NYC for three days and have yet to have a bagel, which is kind of remarkable. Bagels and real Italian food are usually my first stop.  I was due to leave today (am on the Acela now, Washington-bound), so this was my last chance.

The other day, heading to the 4 train, I spotted a likely spot just inside Grand Central.  It was called Bageli, or something like that, and I drew the conclusion it would have, well, bagels.

This morning, though, I discovered it had all sorts of other breads, artisanal spin-offs of traditional ethnic fare including a very tempting poppy and fig strudel-y thing.  But I wanted a bagel, so headed downstairs to the food hall.

On the way I passed fully armed guardsmen in camouflage, bullet-proof vests and enough equipment hanging off their belts to … do what?  I’m not sure, but they looked prepared. I remember how this heightened level of security became commonplace after 9/11, and I’ve certainly gotten used to see it everywhere.  But it still made me sad.

Arriving downstairs, I saw a stand for “meats and dairy” and felt I was close to a genuine New York bagel.  I approached.  Yes, they had poppy.  This is something you can’t get in Alabama.  Besides the fact that what passes as a bagel in places like Panera Bread is in reality a small loaf of bread, it also comes in bizarre flavors like Asiago and blueberry, but not in the quintessential and rather pedestrian poppy.  What is that about?

I also saw that they offered just the right selection of spreads.  No raising walnut, or strawberry cream cheese.  No.  they had plain cream cheese, cream cheese with scallions, and lox cream cheese.  I ordered a poppy with the lox spread.

His next question caught me by surprise, just like the select bus on 23rd Street yesterday.  “Lettuce and tomato?” he asked.  I must have looked at him as if he’d lost his mind, and then collected myself.  “No.”

Toasted? he asked next, another option that was never offered in my youth.  “Is it fresh?” I countered.  He nodded.  I said, “No toast.”



Incident on a Cross-town Bus (en route to Macy’s)

In two short months, Lifelongnewyorker will mark seven years living in Alabama.  Despite this tenure in the warmer and redder regions of the country, Lifelongnewyorker holds to her name.  The city is the city is the city and, though changes will be noted, it will never be alien.

Except for the incident on the cross-town bus.

Because I’m older, richer and busier than when I was younger, I take cabs in New York now, especially to get cross town.  I also walk when properly shod, and continue to take the subway when it makes the most sense.  It made the most sense last night when I bought a $10 Metrocard and took the 4 express to Crown Heights to have dinner with the Abandoned One.  It was nice to note a few improvements in city life: illuminated, easy-to-read street signs in midtown.  Signage on the subway letting you know how long before your train arrived.  And it was nice to see that some things don’t change, like how easy it is to not swipe the card properly.

This morning I left my hotel on Park just south of Grand Central and walked in the crisp autumnal air to the event I was attending at Baruch College, on 24th & Lex.  Originally I was planning to return home tomorrow but I have to take a train to D.C. instead to participate in a press conference on Friday.  I packed enough to tide me over, but I packed my “casual nonprofit/academic” garb, not business wear.  I know enough though about DC to know I would really need a suit or a dress and jacket.

So I hatched a plan: In the two hours between my morning event and my next afternoon call, I would use the remaining dollars on my Metrocard to grab a crosstown bus to 6th Avenue, then transfer to an uptown bus, hit Macy’s, get a suit and return to my hotel with time to spare.

What could go wrong?

I find the bus stop at 23rd and Lex and soon enough spy a bus heading westbound.  I do notice that it’s a “select” bus, and wonder what exactly that means, but dismiss the thought.  The bus stops, I get on, I put my card in the card reader and move the the back. But I don’t get far, because the bus driver is calling me.  “Ma’am.  Ma’am.  You can’t use the card on this bus.”

What?  I’m confused and, worse, I feel like a tourist.  He says something about needing to pay in a machine, and having a receipt and that I need to get off or I will get a $150 fine.  Have I been gone that long?  Is this what happens in Trump’s America?

I do what I’ve learned to do in the South: Be polite, charming and confused. ” Oh, my,” I say, “have I been gone that long?”  It turns out that this is a special kind of bus on busy routes where onboarding is speeded up by having people swipe their card before they get on the bus.  He points out the blue machines.  That’s where you pay, he said, and you get a receipt — one that looks like any receipt you’d get anywhere — and flash that at him while you board.  Bonus: You can board front AND back.  Then — and here’s the tricky part — you’re supposed to be ready to flash it when you leave to some kind of inspector who, if you don’t have it, will slap you with a $150 summons.

My bewildered display of charm melted the driver’s heart.  “Okay,” he said, finally. “Stay on and, if they stop you, tell him I’ll be your witness.”  Alrighty.

So I get to Macy’s.  It’s already decorated for Christmas and it’s overheated and really crowded.  Not the right conditions to get in and out.  I take the escalator and not that this is not the Macy’s I’m used to.  The Herald Square Macy’s clearly has its eyes on tourists with Euros and other currencies to burn.  On the second floor, there are little boutiques for very expensive shoes — you know, the ones with the red soles and the pricetags north of $700.   Several of these suites exist, tucked like chapels into the sides of the cathedral of commerce.  Around me are shoppers, spending money, browsing the really  pricey stuff and the sales racks.  For a week now, I’ve been acutely aware of the impact of the election on people.  They’re sad, close to tear, shellshocked.  Or, they’re normal looking people I pass on a hiking trail or sit next to on the plane, and I wonder, “Are they Trump voters or not?”   Here those thoughts hold no sway.

And yet.  And yet, it never really goes away.  I arrive on the 5th floor and, before heading to the suits, move toward racks of dresses that look tailored and businessy, the kind of thing you could wear under a suit jacket for a press conference.  I see one that interests me and reach my hand out towards the hanger to get a closer look.  My eyes fall on the label: Ivanka Trump.  Instantly, I pull my hand back as if from a hot stove, and a slight gasp escapes my throat.  I look around to see if anyone noticed, and wonder if the sales people see this all the time.

So, off to the suits, to find a second, sadder reminder of the unexpected.  I find racks and racks of what can only be described as “Hillary” suits.  Long tunic-y coats, designed for generous coverage over the hips.  In teal and burgundy and green, white and black.  Some are jackets, some are sleeveless.  But there is no doubt that style mavens and Macy’s buyers thought they were going to be the new thing,  like Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat.

I bought a suit skirt and contrasting jacket.  It will read “suit” and I’ll be able to use it again.  I did not buy pants, or a pantsuit.  I did not go for the tunic jacket.  I did not choose teal or purple or blue or burgundy.  I chose black, which matched my mood.




The Day After Election Day 2016

I just succumbed to a Facebook posting temptation.  You know what I mean — you read a post that really bothers you and type a reply and then, instead of hesitating and deleting it, you hit post.

This was a rant from a former student denouncing people who had the nerve to compare the way they feel today to the way they felt on 9/11.  I know it’s a personal topic for her; she’s married to a police officer and, like many on Staten Island, knew people who were lost that day.  She said that anyone who invoked 9/11 — as if it belongs to only some of us — should be ashamed.  And that if you couldn’t live with a Trump presidency, well there were options.

But you see, I was one of those people she was complaining about.  Last night, as the results were coming in, I posted, “I’m having flashbacks, seriously, to the way I felt on 9/11 in NYC. I feel like my country is under attack.”

I added the “seriously,” because I understood how it sounded, and I wanted friends to know I wasn’t being hyperbolic.  Even before I saw her take-down of my feelings, I’ve been aware that today feels like only two other days in my life.

One was 9/11/2001, when I was in Manhattan and the towers were struck and our country was attacked.  I was afraid, terrified for my family and my country, and desperate to get off Manhattan.  And acutely aware that, no matter what else happened, history’s course had changed and nothing would be the same.

The other was on 10/22/2001, six weeks after the attack, just as we were nervously adapting to the new normal that was security checks, national guard deployment, acrid smoke and the eternal burning downtown.  On that day, I got a phone call at work from a man who identified himself as a police officer and told me my mother was in Staten Island University Hospital. When I got there, I learned that she had been hit by a school bus as she was crossing the street.  With massive head injuries and a heart that kept failing, she died a few hours later.  We, her children and grandchild waited, worried, a few yards away, but never saw her alive again. The world, once again, changed entirely that day.

The point is, I know what it feels like when everything changes.

I don’t make these comparisons lightly.  I am a student of history, and I see no good coming from electing a president whose character, temper, and experience alone should disqualify him from the office, and whose positions and statements on fundamental democratic institutions like the press, the courts, treaties and the Constitution, should worry us all.  I have never really believed in American exceptionalism, although it’s certainly attractive to think that we’re a nation specially blessed by God and somehow exempt from history.  But the reality is, as I think I’ve taught, that we’re subject to the same kinds of weaknesses, interests and institutional degradation that affects all nations.  Except for our belief that “it can’t happen here.”

Well, it’s happening.  Because it wasn’t simply that a monstrous candidate was chosen by less than a majority of the voters (with a big chunk not voting at all), but we also saw an end to divided government.  The House, the Senate, the Presidency and, soon, the Supreme Court will all be in control of the party that has terrified half the nation.  Oh, and so are most of the states.  That means there’s no institutional checks on power (remember checks and balances?). Want to “free up” the libel laws to prevent the press from criticizing people in government?  That law might just pass.  And be upheld on appeal.  What if this president, known for a disturbing tendency to go after enemies, no matter how insignificant (remember Alicia Machado?), decides to use the power of the FBI, the IRS and other agencies of government to punish his political enemies.  Who’s going to stop him?

Maybe those are far-fetched worries.  And the fact is that my life is not likely to change drastically.  Yes, there might be changes to Social Security and Medicare that impact me, but I am of a race and class that can probably weather a few years of setbacks and bad government.  And I’m old enough that degradation that results from relaxation of environmental protections won’t degrade the air and water I depend on for the next twenty or so years of my life.

With all this in mind, I responded to the former student’s post.  I told her I thought it was a mistake to take people to task for their feelings; that you kinda had to take those on faith.  And I admitted I was one of the ones who said that, and that I stood by it, and I politely explained why.  And, of course, the very first person who replied was not as polite.  His profile picture was of Trump leaning out of the window of a limousine with a semi-automatic handgun in hand.  I imagine it was photoshopped.

Others agreed, saying that you couldn’t compare a presidential election with an incident in which people suffered and died, and where people were still dying years later.  That’s said from a position of privilege and safety, from someone who is pretty confident that the election isn’t going to be personal for them.  The truth, though, is that presidential elections ARE matters of life and death for some people.  Members of the military; civilians who will be gunned down in mass shootings because we don’t know how to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental health issues; children born here whose families will be broken up because their parents are undocumented; people who can’t afford decent health care.  The election is personal to them, and I stand with them.

I regretted having engaged.  I’m in the advocacy/hearts & minds business and I know that there’s no point trying to reach those who will not hear.  Focus your efforts on the ones who are receptive to your message, who will benefit from support and skills.  Tend your garden, not the weeds.

So, having done one thing I don’t usually do — enter the fray where there’s no one listening — I did something else I never do.  I unfriended her, not wanting to read the vitriol that, despite the president-elect’s call for unity, was certain to pour forth.