Archive for September 2010

Continuing Legal Education – First Koala

September 30, 2010

Yesterday, I had to take a class in law.  I am a lawyer and New York State requires all lawyers to take a certain number of hours of law classes every couple of years.

Although most lawyers complain about them, the requirements are probably a good thing, at least in principle.  Laws change; people forget; you can’t take everything in law school.

Unfortunately, the classes actually pertain to, you know, law. Which means that they can be–well, not to mitigate it, put too fine a point on it, split hairs, obfuscate the truth… a bit boring.

Although the speakers do try, their topics are…dry.

And usually the lectures are taped, so there’s not even the frisson (okay, let’s not go wild here) the mild distraction (the possibility of tics, throat-clearing, unfamiliar windows) of a live performance.

Yesterday’s lecturer was particularly  lawyerly.

Yesterday's Lecturer

The great thing about watching a videotaped lecture is that one is free to doodle while listening without actually being rude.

The other good thing is that you can eat a sandwich.   Mine was tuna fish.  I also had a little pasta salad.

Black & White Tuna Sandwich (and a bit of rigatoni)

But how long can you stretch out a tuna fish sandwich?  Or a little pasta?  The guy in front of me had  a reddish ear.  (You’d see it if this were in color.)

Black & White Recreation of Reddish Ear

(This is a re-creation–I actually erased that drawing in case he turned around.)

It was a lecture on business torts–the types of actionable offenses people commit in advertising, for example.   Be very careful about disparagement of competitors.

Elephants jump to hand.   But everyone tells me that there’s no future in elephants–that that territory has been completely explored by Babar.  You’ve got to spread out, they tell me.

Ears… ears… ears… koalas!

First Koala

Okay, the first one is just recognizable, but the second—

It really would be better in color--

One thing I never before realized is that koalas look remarkably like robots.  Also, like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.  Especially if they are not done in color (which would show the variation in their fur.)

This was getting really discouraging and the lecturer had only just started on the Lanham Act.

Note Presence of Dog!

I’m sorry, I can’t help it.  At least there’s a little dog.

Elephant a la Astaire

Okay, so there’s not even the little dog this time.   But he’s tapdancing!  When does Babar ever tapdance?

(What was that about disparagement?)

The Unseen Eye – Tyler Clementi

September 29, 2010

The Unseen Eye

A few years ago, living alone with my tween/teenage daughters in an old apartment building in Greenwich Village, I got a phone call from a man who said he had just moved into the apartment above.  He told me with great concern and even seeming embarrassment that, after moving in, he had discovered a hole in his bathroom floor through which a tiny camera had been inserted.  The hole peered into our own downstairs bathroom.  He’d found a bunch of videos too, he said: in fact, it turned out that the prior tenant had been filming us through this hole for a very long time.

I really am dense.  (“Naive” is too sophisticated a word.)  I let the guy go on for some while, only breaking in to question him about how this was possible, whether my children had been filmed too, all the while staring in terror and disbelief at our intact but cracked=at-the- edges-and-heat pipe bathroom ceiling.  It was only when he started describing activities that took place in our all-female apartment on a monthly basis that I began to understand that this was not a concerned new neighbor.

I hung up in a panic.  Had I heard a chortle at the end?  My shaking fingers called the police.  The officer, with a kind, but knowing, New York accent, explained to me that it was a crank call and that it was almost certain that no one had filmed me or my daughters.

A further examination of my ceiling supported the truth of what the policeman said.   But I just wanted to grab my kids and run.  I felt exposed, terrified, a failure as a mother.  The fact that I knew I was over-reacting only made me feel more stupid, more exposed.

The policeman thought the call was probably random.   Still, I felt watched, not so much by a hidden camera, but by my crank caller.  I tried hopelessly to recreate the conversation.   Was I the one to bring up the fact that I had children?  Had he mentioned the address?  The apartment number?  Nothing felt safe, and I felt myself to be idiotic.

And I was an adult.  Who hadn’t in fact been filmed.  And who had had no actual contact with the caller.

I think back to this now when reading about Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers University student who recently committed suicide after being secretly and illegally filmed during an intimate encounter.  I think of it especially after reading the readers’ comments concerning the story.  Most are sympathetic to Clementi, though some say that the boy must have had self-esteem issues to begin with.  (Others argue for life sentences for the filmers.)

I know nothing about Clementi, or his tormenters, beyond what’s been reported;  I’m sure the full story will have further complexities, cruelties, stupidities.  But it’s easy enough to imagine a young man, a college freshman, feeling horribly and irretrievably exposed, and plunging into despair.   Easy too to imagine the callow, attention-craving, stupidity of the exposers.

So very sad.

Agh! (“Childing” Aging Parents)

September 28, 2010

As some friends know, an aging me has spent much of the last month trying to sort out health and care issues of aging parents.  I am not really writing this post to complain (or vent!) but because it seems that this is an increasingly common situation in today’s world, at least among people of my generation.  Following years of parenting children, many are suddenly trying to learn how to skillfully “child” aging parents.

I am not at all good at it.  It is simply excruciatingly difficult to persuade parents, especially parents, who like mine, were marked by the Depression and World War II, to accept the idea of outside help, especially paid help.

There are generational obstacles at play, then too, the natural reluctance of age==issues of ego and feelings of self-worth.

Of course, there are also “simple” problems of logistics, economics, ethics (issues, for example, of free will).

Perhaps more difficult are problems inherent with certain types of personalities.  People change as they age– some distinguishing characteristics (hair, for example) fade or even wear away, while many other traits (let’s say, noses, or ears, or how about stubbornness seem to accentuate.

Some of these personality traits, as well as age-old habits, even belongings, can feel like like life rafts for the elderly–they are clung to with desperate persistence even when the weight of years of flotsam causes them to drag their charges down, or worse, speed them headlong into a dangerous waterfall.  (Leave out the water.)

More painful difficulties arise from  the emotional history between the parent and child–all those incidents, tendencies, expectations, frustrations–similarities.  The same personal traits mentioned above may have already played starring roles in each of the parties’ lives–sometimes to great and wonderful effect, sometimes less so.

History, memory, reverberation–even small sounds are magnified in an echo chamber.  How confusing that these same echoes are interpreted so differently by each side–the parent who feels that they can never please the bossy child; the child who feels that they can never please the bossy parent.

An impasse.  With a history.  And echoes.  Complicated by love, guilt, control!  All played out with a semi-reversal of roles, and with the backdrop of looming disaster.


Colbert Link (Congressional Testimony Re Undocumented Migrant Farmworkers)

September 28, 2010

For those interested in my last (sincere but kind of goofy) post re  yard work and Stephen Colbert’s recent testimony in Congress, here’s the link to Colbert’s (sincere but kind of goofy) opening statement.

Yard Work – Colbert In Congress – Draft poem

September 27, 2010

Yard Work is Hard Work

Stephen Colbert, amazingly, made an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee Subcomittee on Immigration last Friday, testifying on issues related to illegal migrant farmworkers in the U.S.  Colbert’s alleged expertise on the issue arose from one day spent with migrant laborers in which he learned that farm work is “hard.”

Colbert’s testimony is fascinating on many levels; a few that especially struck me:  (i) his chutzpah in appearing at all (to highlight the issue with his celebrated bump);  (ii)  his chutzpah in maintaining the Colbert “persona” (the narcissistic, jingoistiic, know-it-all, conservative talk-show host) throughout the testimony, even when it did not seem much appreciated by his audience; and (iii)  his chutzpah in making an oddly sincere and thoughtful contribution to the debate.  It’s all pretty crazy; the aftermath too.

In the meantime, I had an independent, and far more pampered, experience of agricultural “work” this weekend.  (I hesitate to make the comparison to either Colbert or migrant farm workers–my experience was as much in the nature of exercise as work and completely voluntary.)  But, it gave rise to a draft poem.  (Note that the competitiveness at stake is not with Stephen Colbert.)

Raker’s Progress

Yard work is hard work;
raking makes for aching
even for the frequent
grass-comber, but for the grandiloquent,
hell-bent on proving that she
can too do it, that she can more
than do it, certainly
as well as he,
it makes for a sore
next day.

To Hope, Boot Camp, Tortellini

September 26, 2010

Is Just One A Tortellino?

We have a wonderful young family member soon to complete Boot Camp.

He loves tortellini.

We worry about him.

I’m sure they have plenty of pasta in the Army, but is it the right kind of pasta? Even noodles are acceptable (he’s a tremendously adaptable guy), but what he loves are tortellini.

So far he seems to like the food okay; still we worry.

Here’s to hope; here’s to prayer; here’s to good fortune; here’s to tortellini.

Bernadette Peters and A Chocolate Egg Cream (With Fry)

September 25, 2010

Bernadette Peters With Egg Cream

I really like Bernadette Peters.  She is all the things a musical performer should be–supremely professional and uniquely graceful with a vast range (not just of the vocal but of the dramatic).   But I realized recently that my affection for her was based on more than all that.  There is also a certain warmth by association, the kind of personal, Proustian aura that may incite much fandom.

It started with her wonderful performance in Annie Get Your Gun on Broadway years ago.  My children and I went to the show because we had a friend in the cast.   He very kindly arranged for us to meet Peters backstage.  She seemed then (and now) just about the prettiest person I’d ever seen, like a creamy bouquet of purplish pink flowers.  My younger daughter especially was entranced.

But my affection for Ms. Peters really sparked the second time we saw that show (my daughter was extremely entranced).  We went with another set of friends, also with children.  I was feeling a little guilty.  Seeing the show twice was a huge extravagance–I had recently separated from my husband and had moved back from Brooklyn into Manhattan to be near my children’s private school–all factors which made money extremely short.

As a result,  I was happy that we settled on HoJo’s, a place that seemed both affordable, but had real seats, for the post-Broadway snack.

Oh HoJo’s!–I hadn’t been there for years and had almost forgotten the HoJo mojo–that wonderful creamsicle orange, swimming pool turquoise, giddy scent of fried clams!   (Oh childhood!   Oh tartar sauce!  Oh New Jersey turnpike!)

The father of the other family, Alan, was the only male in the group so he tended to fill a rather large spot in our table’s center stage.  A friendly, wise-cracking and rather short guy (otherwise completely unlike Bernadette Peters), he ordered a chocolate egg cream, which, when it was brought to the table, had one small crisp french fry floating below the foam–at  first  a source of mystery (was it a bug?) then amusement, as was the egg cream itself.  It all just seemed so New York.

Which brought me to the bemoaning of our new apartment.   It had been the best I could afford, but had turned out to have several significant drawbacks–features which I felt I should have noticed before I signed the lease.

Ah, but there was a learning curve in assessing urban real estate, Alan said.  On renting his first apartment, for example, he had not noticed that there was only one electrical outlet–in the whole apartment–which was located in the bathroom ceiling as part of the bulb light fixture.

He recounted the next several months, hooking up a full-size fridge to the light socket, unplugging it to shave  (with electric razor), reaching in (once he squeezed into the bathtub) for the occasional cold beer.

Whenever he rented an apartment after that, he said, he was very careful to check for electrical outlets.

With a rueful grin, he ordered another egg cream, asking the waitress to hold the fries…errrr… fry.

We could not stop laughing.  Alan had great delivery, but there was something more –the reflected brilliance of Times Square/Broadway/theater–whatever–that evening became imprinted as a silly, happy, children-in-New York memory, indelibly linked to Bernadette Peters.

Which is one reason that I recently went to see her in the revival of A Little Night Music. by Stephen Sondheim.

Frankly, there were several times in the production when I wished for a little less night music.  The actors were good, and though I admire the type of mind that can coherently rhyme “raisins” and “liasons,” good actors and cleverness alone can’t quite carry me through three hours.  There is just too much of everything in the play except for likeable, fleshed-out characters and/or an intriguing plot.

Except that there is also Ms. Peters.  Send In The Clowns, her big number, is not a favorite song, with all its potential for the hackneyed.   But her sensitivity, vulnerability, voice, timing, expressions, put one in touch with what is the best in performance–the sculpted but true moment–the poeticized real–something that is both wondrous and immediately recognizable; an empathy-inducing shimmer that, incredibly, is reproduced again and again, night after night.

I was so happy to see that my affection wasn’t all based on egg creams (with or without fries.)

Slopes (By The Hudson – Draft Sonnet)

September 24, 2010


Difficult days call for draft sonnets.   Here’s one written on the MetroNorth train up to Poughkeepsie, a beautiful ride along the shore of the Hudson River.

(This really is a draft, freshly minted; suggestions welcome.  I’ve used slant rhyme and, I’ll admit it, an uncertain rhythm though I do work with a certain foot count.)


On the Hudson, they’re almost horizontal.
(In the heart, their sheer drop takes the breath.)
At riverside, they wear a dusky mantle
as they carve out the only darkness
in the evening sky.  I am the kind of
person who wants to beg a dying friend
not to go, but keeps enough of the mind of
reason, science, skill, to make me bend
that hurting will to the speakable.
Still, it echoes in my soul–’don’t go, don’t go’.
Eating on the train, my lap a table,
outside, a sudden night blanks high and low,
slopes of grass and bank no longer seen,
only lights–across, here, there–and, where close, green.

What Didn’t Quite Suit Us – Women’s Wear Workplace Circa Some Time Ago

September 24, 2010

Speaking of pens, I am writing with a new one.  And it’s blue!  (Cobalt!)

And I’m wearing a bright green sweater (chartreuse!) on a day in which I am to meet with a client.

And shortish pants–cropped!

(I actually put on a suit jacket before leaving home, and then a blouse, and then a different sweater, and then the jacket again, and different, longer, pants, and then the green sweater again–instead of the jacket and that blouse–and then an underblouse, and then back with the cropped pants, and then I was really getting kind of late so I had to just keep on what I had, although when I got to the office I did take off the underblouse once more, but kept on the sweater.)

There has been a revolution in women’s workplace clothing over the past twenty years.

When I started as a young (I’ll admit it) lawyer, it was all blue (as in midnight) or possibly black, and cut into cookie-cutter suits.  I am talking jacket and skirt suits.  A woman partner (woman partner!)– there were a few of those back then but they were mainly wealthy women who practiced trusts and estates on their wealthy friends–could get by without lapels and possibly even red , but the lowly first year associates had to stick to the basics.  (As in blue, black/blue-black.)

I bought my first suit at a small dark shop on Orchard Street.  Harvey Bernard, midnight blue, pinstriped—the narrow skirt was a real b—- to try on behind some bolts of fabric and dust.  (For that price, I expected a changing room?!)

I wore the suit nearly every day for several months.  It was a curiously hermaphroditic ensemble with padded square shoulders, mannish lapels on top, below, a narrow slightly slit skirt.  The inside held a curly-q bow and some kind of silky blouse (no cotton).

I remember getting an extremely short hair cut a couple of years later and a senior partner pulling me into his office to berate me on its boyishnesst:  (i) “how could you do this without consulting me?” and (ii) “you might as well wear trousers.”

Trousers were introduced at the firm by a visiting Japanese attorney who would not have comprehended any complaints about her attire.  We all quickly followed…. suit.

The good part was that it was kind of uniform—you couldn’t really worry about whether the clothing was an expression of your inner self .  (What you worried about was whether the job was an expression of your inner self.)   This made for a relatively easy morning—stockings, skirt, jacket, bow, worrying about the job.

No Return/Reprieve For the Pen

September 22, 2010

This was a stupid incident, but it’s stuck with me.  It happened when I went to the office of an accountant on a recent trip to Florida to visit to my elderly parents.

A part of me really does believe that you shouldn’t just a book by its cover.  But there’s another part of me that makes judgments based on “covers” all the time, that makes judgments before I even see covers.

Here the judgment started with a phone conversation with the accountant’s receptionist/secretary.  The timbre of her phone voice was crisp, nice enough but edged–the kind of “niceness” that said I darn well better be nice back.   I hate to politicize everything, but I sometimes associate this kind of crisp, slightly demanding, nice voice with a certain worldview–one that  favors Nixonian law and order, the Rockefeller drug sentencing mandates, three strikes you’re out, black and white (no grey), and multiple tours of duty for reservists (‘they signed up,after all’).  In my mind, the voice goes with very neat, slightly curly hair and a certain kind of Republicanism.  (Yes, I know this is unfair.)

I should confess that I was also being nice but edged back (though my hair is stick straight.)

I had initiated the call to check on a missing tax return that I found out (from the receptionist) was being done on  extension.  I quickly explained that if the return could be completed while I was in the area, I could save the accountant a lot of trouble by picking it up (it is usually delivered by the accountant personally), filing it, and making arrangements for the payment of the accountant’s fee.

The receptionist mumbled something grumpy about the accountant just finishing corporate returns, the due date not being until October, and the end of the week coming fast.  I asked her to please relay my message.

The next day, sure enough, I got a call that the return would be finished that afternoon and that I could pick it up the following day.

And here’s where the interesting part began.  (Sorry for all the prologue.)

I got to the accountant’s office mid-afternoon.  It was empty, but I was also tousled, and the receptionist had me wait while she licked some envelopes, finished some notes.

I gave her the check for the accountant’s fee.   She reviewed it, then asked me to sign a receipt for the return, handing me a pen.

The pen didn’t work;  I apologetically (but probably slightly triumphantly) handed it back. 

“That’s funny.  It worked this morning,” she said with some irritation.

I apologized that it might be me, something about the way I held it.  But she, with a quick flick of her wrist, and not a single experimental scribble, tossed the pen into the garbage.

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I never throw away a pen lightly.  Not even after multiple tries.  And shaking.  And very vigorous scratching about.

“It really might be me,” I repeated.

But she nodded dismissively–”better safe than sorry.”

(There would be no more trouble from that pen.)

I have thought about her words for some time.  What could be unsafe about a possibly malfunctioning pen?  What, the source of sorrow?  That someone in the accountant’s office (chockfull of other pens) might have to retrace their signature?

I wanted to actually slither through her receptionist’s window and retrieve the poor pen, but she was so definite; her lips pressed together, her hair immoveable, her safety protected, that I did not dare make an appeal.  Thankful that she worked for an accountant, and not the IRS, I grabbed the return and ran.