Aunt Ethel

She studied with Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, whom she called “Maggie.” She spent months at a time living with the Navajo and the Tutsis, taking notes on their primitive value systems. She got Ford Foundation grants to do scholarly writing in places like Paris and Hong Kong. Her academic artifacts are archived in the basement of the Smithsonian.

But the lasting image I have of Aunt Ethel is her standing in front of the refrigerator dressed in a full length quilted robe, long black hair tied in a bun atop her head, glasses hanging from a leather strand around her neck, withdrawing a new pack of Gauloises from the freezer.

She was the smartest person in the room and she flaunted it, in a subdued sort of way. A Brooklyn Jew by upbringing, she spoke English with a British accent. She took French for one year at City College, mastering the language with the inflection and cadence of a native Parisian. She knew every combination of five letters, in five different languages. And yet, I once almost beat her in Scrabble. Continue reading “Aunt Ethel”

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Red Diaper Hang, 2017

“What would our folks be saying about Trump?”

“Three words. Oy, oy, oy.”

“You think they’d be out protesting?”

“My father would’ve called him a typical Republican with some 21st century trappings and stayed home. But he died right after Obama got elected. Nice time to go.”

“My mom hated Trump for decades. She would have been apoplectic.”

“Yeah. And unfortunately, your dad didn’t even make it to Reagan.”

“Reagan. Fake news, before they coined the phrase. How’s your health? Hate to ask, but…”

“Two old Jews talkin’ heart disease? I’m fine with it.” Continue reading “Red Diaper Hang, 2017”

Subway Encounters

1982

He is feeling jaunty as he bounds down the steps to the subway platform. He’s coming off four back-to back-sessions, followed by an intense supervision with his trainees. Having an hour to kill before heading to his dinner appointment downtown, he gets in a few games of table tennis at Marty Reisman’s club on West 96th Street. 

He sees her as soon as he enters the subway car. Medium length curly black hair, dangling turquoise earrings framing pert features. No need for makeup on this gal. Wearing a pink sleeveless t-shirt with a black athletic bra visible underneath, baggy gray sweat pants. Black and white Adidas high top running shoes. Several black rubber bracelets on each wrist and a faux pearl necklace with a faith cross pendant hanging from her neck. She’s in her mid twenties, thirty on the outside.

She is busy writing in a spiral notebook, a sloppy light blue nylon gym bag occupying the seat next to her. She looks up and he realizes he is staring at her. They make eye contact for a few seconds longer than is the social norm. She smiles, shakes her head slightly, and in one graceful motion, picks up her bag and places it on the floor between her legs. With her petite left hand, she motions for him to sit next to her. Continue reading “Subway Encounters”