A Stack of Photographs

by Ron Russo

I recently found a photograph, tucked inside an envelope within the large photo album that contains old family pictures. It wasn’t a photo I remembered, and it took me a while to figure the setting. My mother and her four sisters are seated in beach chairs, each of their husbands standing behind. And comfortably ensconced on Aunt Catherine’s lap is a red-headed, beaming four-year-old. That four- year-old is me.

After a moment’s thought, I realize that the picture’s setting is Bethpage State Park. Once or twice a year, the family would gather and go on a day-long picnic. Since neither my parents, nor any of my aunts and uncles, owned a house with a backyard, we always held our picnics at Bethpage.

What a thrill these gatherings provided! All the cars would rendezvous in front of someone’s home, then they’d follow each other to the picnic grounds. We’d meet at seven in the morning, usually on a Sunday. Each car was exploding with people and goods. To an outsider, it must have looked as if we were going on vacation. Food for three, yes three meals; folding chairs, blankets, portable radios, barbecue grills, charcoal, plates and cups, utensils, changes of clothing, The night before one of these events my mother would be lining up goods to bring, checking items against her list. “It looks like we’re going on a goddam safari,” she’d inevitably say. “It’d be easier to move.”

Once we got started, the four or five cars would compete to get to the toll booths on the Southern State Parkway first and pay the toll for all the cars following. Once in a while there’d be a slip-up and some stranger’s car would break into our line-up and get a freebie on the toll.

Picking the spot to settle in was worthy of a project for the United Nations. Too open, too shady, too sunny, too many tables nearby, too far from the restrooms, too close to the restrooms. When a decision was finally made, the cars would start to unload.

First item of business: get a fire going. That was my father’s specialty. Next, fill a huge pot with water to brew coffee. Oh, the smell of that coffee as it started to perc, wafting through the outdoors. Meanwhile my dad and one or two uncles would start heating a few griddles, which ultimately would fry the bacon. Then the eggs were cooked, sunny-side-up. Italian bread would get sliced and quick-toasted on the griddle, giving it a hint of bacon taste.

After breakfast, someone would take me and my cousins to the playground. We’d scurry around like wild creatures, competing for the swings, slides, monkey bars. It usually took a major effort to get us back to the picnic tables.

But back we’d go, as preparations for the mid-day meal were beginning. The women would start setting the table, and the men would start drinking beer. Each household would have brought a pot of spaghetti sauce – – specifically, the same tomato sauce with meatballs and sausage that we’d be eating if we were at home. Huge pots of water were put up to boil the pasta as the sauces heated. Bottles of red wine emerged as everyone sat for a midday meal.

Afterwards it was rest time – – and why not? Both the men and the women would have been working hard for the last five hours. And would have downed a fair bit of beer and wine. Aunts and uncles would sprawl across blankets or on beach chairs and try to catch a nap. But there wasn’t much quiet. Someone always had a story to tell or a child to keep tabs on.

Around four-thirty, we’d finally turn into an American family. Hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken would appear once the fires were again stoked on the grills. And potato salad. And cole slaw. And sliced tomatoes. Everyone would groan, “Who wants hamburgers after all we’ve had to eat already. Next year we’re going to simplify this.” But eat we did, and heartily. Someone would invoke an old Italian saying, “L’appetito viene mangiando” which is to say “Appetite comes with eating.”

As the sun would start to set, we’d begin packing up. This was the saddest time; I wanted these picnics to go on forever. One year – – perhaps the year in which the photo was taken – – I begged to drive home with my Aunt Catherine and Uncle John. They were my favorites. Often, at the end of a visit, either or both of them would catch me alone and slip me a ten-dollar bill. “Don’t tell your mother,” they’d say. I got my wish after Aunt Catherine yelled at my mother that it was fine for me to ride with her. About halfway home, I got carsick and vomited into my aunt’s lap. My mother wanted to kill me when we got home and she saw the mess I’d made, but Aunt Catherine shushed her, said it was worth it to have me in the car, and that was that.

Each following year, until I was in my late teens, we’d have the annual picnic. Thank goodness, I never vomited on anyone again. And though it was still suggested, the meals never got “simplified.” Appetite always came with eating.

Ron Russo has been motivated to write by participating in a number of writing study groups given at the LP². My thanks to coordinators and fellow writers.

Uncle Matt

by Ron Russo

I can still hear his voice, calling from the bottom of the stairs that led to our apartment. “Hey stupid. Make the coffee.”

“Are you here again? Get the hell out, I’m busy” my mother would reply to her younger brother, as she was smilingly putting up water to boil.

Saturday mornings, near noon, would often begin this way. Uncle Matt would come to visit, take a seat in the kitchen, and wait for my mother to pour the first of many, many cups of coffee. “Get the bottle out, too.”

“You old drunk, wait till I tell your wife you’re boozing so early in the day,” she’d say as she placed a bottle of Seagrams 7 and a shot glass in front of him. He’d nurse a sip of the coffee, then one of the booze, and settle in for a visit. When I was in college, I’d most likely still be sleeping. That was no obstacle to Uncle Matt. He’d walk into my bedroom without knocking, give me a shake and say, “Get up, Ronood, come have a drink with me. Best way to start the day.”

“Matt, for Christ’s sake, don’t turn my son into a bum like you,” my mother would say as he was pouring me a shot.

“Shut up, Ida, he’s a man now.” Then the talk would commence, starting with family catch-up. There were nine children in my mother’s family, so there was plenty of ground to cover. When that was finished, other stories would begin. “I saw Frankie Skimp last week, Ida. He was asking for you.”

“You and your thug friends,” she’d respond. “Frankie Skimp, Johnny Lay, Mikey Dee – – nice guys but all shady. None of them ever did a lick of legit work their whole lives.”

“Well, I did a little business with Mikey the other day.”

“What business? If you ever went on a job with one of those guys you’d crap your pants. And if you lived to tell about it, Josie would kill you.”

“Pay attention, Ronnie,” he’d say if it seemed my attention was wandering. With a finger crooked in my direction, Uncle Matt would deliver one of his famous lines: “I’m gonna ask questions when I’m finished, and you won’t know the answers if you’re not listening.”

Around one-thirty, my father would show up, laden with cold cuts, bread and various salads. Quickly my mother would set the table and soon we’d be feasting on prosciutto sandwiches on crusty Italian bread, with fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and pickled eggplant on the side. Once in a while, the visit would last till four or five o’clock, at which point my father would say, “Stay for dinner. Call Josie and tell her to come over and we’ll pass the night.” Often she’d agree, and she and my cousin Joanne would show up around six. By then neither Uncle Matt nor my father was feeling any pain. Dinner would be pulled together as my uncle continued to spin yarns, some true and some rather questionable.

“So they gave us an intelligence test at work last week,” he’d share. He was an operations manager at the Kimball corporation, and he’d made his way up with only an eighth-grade education. “The test put me in the top ten per cent.”

“Why don’t you go throw the bull elsewhere?” my mother would respond.

“No, really – – besides, what would a dummy like you know about intelligence?” he’d taunt her. “ I scored 180 out of 200 points. Remember that, Ronnie,” he’d say with a quick glance, finger pointing at me. Often the evening would progress with us watching a movie, if something good was on. But sometimes Uncle Matt would say, “Charlie, get the ukelele. Let’s show these cayoodle kids what real music was like.” “Cayoodle’ was one of many words he’d invented, generally translating to ‘not-so-bright.’ A medley of songs would ensue, always including “That Old Gang of Mine” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” “Sing with us” he’d say to me and Joanne. “You should know the words by now. You better – – it’s gonna be on the test.”

Even on his deathbed Uncle Matt maintained his pose as entertainer and raconteur. On my last visit to the hospital, he had a new roommate – – a very old man who moaned loudly and incessantly. When I greeted my uncle, he beckoned me closer. “Ronnie, go to the nurses’ station.”

“Sure, but why?

“Tell them not to order lunch for this guy tomorrow.”

“Okay, but why?”

“Because I’m gonna strangle him later.”

Ron Russo has been motivated to write by participating in a number of writing study groups given at the LP².  My thanks to coordinators and fellow writers.


by Charles Troob

The Harry’s Shave Gel can is a narrow seven-inch-long cylinder. I grasp it with my left hand, into which it fits comfortably, and press the curved dispenser with my index finger. Out oozes a viscous white cream, filling my waiting right hand. The obvious symbolism amuses me. I wonder whether the Harry’s design team was similarly amused when they created this suggestively shaped can.

I smear my face with the gel. I use a finger to fill the cleft in my chin, and think of my mother, who for some reason was delighted by this feature of mine. Then I spread my hand to cover the area under my chin and my neck, gently massaging the sides of my windpipe. This lubricated contact of my warm hand with my face is a mildly erotic and luxurious start to the morning.

I place the bladed side of the razor against my left temple, under the sideburn. I gently pull downward and over the jaw line, removing gel and hair as I go, repeating this until the entire side of the face has been shaved. I shave the chin, spreading the skin to expose the hairs in the cleft. Then I move to the right temple. This side is a little trickier because I’m right-handed; I have to raise my chin to position the razor at an appropriate angle.

I lean my head back to shave the neck and under the chin. I make short vertical strokes, gradually moving from left to right. It’s like painting a wall, except that I’m removing whiteness rather than adding it. Usually a musical earworm in my head accompanies and guides the rhythm of my hand. It’s a jaunty tune, from the finale of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love): the quack Dr. Dulcamara sings it to hawk his cure-all patent medicine. (You can see and hear him at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI8VUsb2Z7s. ) A few years ago this melody came into my head while I was shaving, and it returns unbidden when I begin my short strokes—Pavlov would understand. Occasionally I hum along or jiggle my body in time with the music.

Before the doctor finishes his sales pitch most of the gel is off my face and in the sink. I rinse with warm water and rub my hand over my neck and jaw to test the smoothness. Invariably there are still a few bristles. I am fair, and can get away with a not-very-close shave, but if I’m feeling obsessive I stroke a few more times to improve the job. Then I towel down—I’ve showered before shaving, and am almost but not quite dry at this point. I leave the bathroom to dress for the day, feeling pampered and refreshed.

The mustache? Ah—that’s another story.

Charles Troob: I’ve been a participant or a coordinator of the LP² writing workshop since 2010, and I’ve been shaving considerably longer than that.

Music Mania

by Lorne Taichman

My current playlist has one entry, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. I listen to it at least once a day, and if rushed, I tune to the first movement and skip the rest. I love the way it begins so hesitantly and then gains in confidence as the theme is developed. It moves me each time I hear it. No. 4 has been the sole occupant of my playlist for the past few years. Before I focused on No. 4, I spent several years listening to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, also a masterpiece. I spent the 1990s in the company of the Emperor, that is the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5. I know – I am the most boring and unimaginative listener. I am a borderline obsessive compulsive when it comes to music – I understand. I can’t help it. Let’s face it, when it comes to music we are not fully in charge.

I was first introduced to Beethoven’s piano concertos in the early 1990s when I purchased a five CD set with all five concertos on the Telarc label performed by Rudolf Serkin. The nice man at the CD store said they would never wear out, no matter how many times I played them. After a ruthless number of performances on my weary CD player, one CD began skipping, another developed a weird sound, and one just wouldn’t play at all. With the loss of that CD set I migrated to YouTube.

I think I know the origin of this fixation. Some sixty odd years ago, for reasons that now elude me, I bought a record of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. You know – “dah dah dah dum.” Well, after listening to that several hundred times, I recall feeling physically lifted, suspended in space, while the music rushed headlong on to its crescendo. That was the moment I fell in love with classical music and Beethoven in particular. Over time, I did manage to listen to other pieces. As a teenager, Ravel’s Bolero was good for making out, though those opportunities were infrequent. For several years in the early 1970s I listened only to James Taylor singing Fire and Rain. I loved the gentleness with which he came at those sad lyrics. Focusing on James Taylor was my attempt to be hip. For two years from 1980 through 1982, I gave all my attention to Dvorak’s New World Symphony. That piece seemed to capture the promise and hope of America. But when I learned that my brother had a deadly form of cancer, I punished myself by abstaining from listening to that piece. A few years back I enrolled in James Smith’s IRP class on Beethoven…masterful. I attended the entire series of lectures and concerts on the Beethoven symphonies given by Leon Botstein, the conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra. All nine symphonies are glorious, but they do not calm the soul like the piano concertos.

Some weeks past, I attended a country western concert at Symphony Space by a group called Ham Rodeo. It was unusual and energizing. When I returned home, I put on No. 4, just to settle down. I enjoy going to the NY Philharmonic Open Rehearsals at Lincoln Center. In fact, recently, I attended a rehearsal concert by piano soloist Stephen Hough. He was rehearsing Concerto No. 3 for a performance that evening.

You may be wondering why I ignore Beethoven’s piano concertos No. 1 and No. 2. It’s not a mystery. I enjoy them, yes, but they don’t capture me in the same way as Nos. 3, 4 or 5.

I should confess, I also listen to the 3rd Movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It is the auditory definition of beauty. On NPR, I once heard of someone who listened to that movement every evening of his life. Now, that is an obsession.

For some years a disturbing thought about death was how would I manage in the absence of those musical pieces. In my musings, I imagined myself, looking down from above, witnessing my family and friends as they went about their lives. But the mystery was, which concerto would I be listening to, No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5, or even the second movement of Symphony No. 9?

Lorne Taichman: This essay was written in 2019 for the Advanced Autobiography Study Group coordinated by David Grogan. Lorne has been a member of IRP/LP² for about nine years.

Lunch at Le Marine in Paris

by Sara Petitt

I sit in a magnificent blue and white striped tented cafe in the newly renovated Le Marine.

The couple sitting next to me are bird like and delicate. I can’t imagine either one being married to anyone else. Such perfection in pairing is unusual to see.

I can’t discern if they are Swiss but they may be.

They talk in hushed whispers. The man is in his 70’s and wears a large expensive watch with a multitude of functions. He rubs his chest where his heart is and flexes the fingers of his left hand by stretching and recoiling them.

I fantasize that he has suffered a heart illness recently. He protects his heart the way a pregnant woman strokes her belly reflexively without even knowing it.

They are too refined for dessert. Just an expresso after a lunch of salad.

I observe less of the woman because she sits beside me. As I would expect she wears a thin gold wedding band. There is no need for flashy diamonds. Not only would they weigh her delicate fingers down but they would contradict her quiet and unobtrusive appearance.

I wonder how many bird-like children they have and what professions they are in. Is finance too vulgar for them? Trade would not work either. They would have to limit their communication with the outside world to slender-boned creatures like themselves.

I feel as if I belong to another species of Homo sapiens looking at them.

Voila, they alight and leave me at my table imagining.

Sara Petitt has a BFA from Bennington College where she majored in Fine Arts and minored in Literature. Although she has always worked professionally in art as a teacher and designer her second passion is writing. LP² gives her the opportunity to pursue her writing.

The Invasion of the Pasta People

by Pat Fortunato

When Did Everything Change?

Some say it was the Vietnam War, when we stopped believing a single word our government said, including “and” and “the.” Maybe it was when we started calling love affairs “relationships,” thereby sanitizing the romance right out of our sex lives. Or was it the rise of political correctness, when suddenly absolutely anything you said about anyone became incredibly insulting to someone.

I agree with all of the above. But I have another explanation:
It was the day we started calling spaghetti “pasta.”

Growing up as an Italian-American, the only time I remember hearing the word “pasta” was in conjunction with “fagioli,” although we were more inclined to call that bean and macaroni dish “pasta fazool,” a Brooklyn-American version of Neapolitan dialect made famous by Dean Martin in the song “That’s Amore.”

It was love all right. We loved our macaroni, which was different from spaghetti, both of which came in many varieties: from angel hair to bucatini, tubitini to ziti, ravioli to lasagna. In truth, we were very fussy about which pasta (although we didn’t call it that) went with which sauce, and everyone and his uncle (and, especially, his aunt) had their own, fiercely held opinions about this. But we called them by their names, so that it was linguini with clam sauce, or spaghetti and meatballs.

There were Meatballs Back then.

These days, it’s all different. And mostly for the better. You rarely encounter soggy, overcooked lasagna or baked ziti anymore, and you can get all kinds of stuffing for ravioli, not just the classic and one-time ubiquitous cheese. Now spinach is a given. Not to mention mushroom. Or duck. How about lobster! Crab!! Veal and truffle!! Almost anything you can think of. And so far, I haven’t met a ravioli I didn’t like.

It’s just that somehow I feel injured. . .

The general American public, against which I have nothing, or very little, has co-opted my heritage. They talk about pasta as if they invented it! They no longer marvel at my family’s Sunday spaghetti dinners. Although, to be fair, we really don’t have those any more. For one thing, we learned the word “cholesterol.”

And yet. A small part of me (and many, although not all, parts of me are small) does feel cheated.

How dare they take my people’s favorite food and make it their own.

Sometimes I yearn for the days when non-Italians spoke of making a spaghetti dinner and “We” felt superior to “Them,” because “They” had no idea how to make sauce, which we called “gravy.” Good god, some of “Them” actually used ketchup! And rinsed the spaghetti after cooking, or ate it with bread and butter—and milk! Grotesqueries, all.

But not any more. Now people know about all kinds of fancy pasta. Vodka sauce has become pedestrian. Rachel Ray makes saffron with lentils and tagliatelle. Personally, I never heard of saffron until I traveled to Spain, although lentil soup was a staple, especially when there was a ham bone left over from last night’s meal.

Spaghetti carbonara, about which my uncle once said, “If I want bacon I’ll go to the diner,” is now commonplace. Even at some diners. And don’t be surprised to see fettucine primavera on the menu. Fancy restaurants? Fuhgeddaboutit. Malfatti (roast suckling pig and fresh arugula), anyone? Burrata ravioli with truffle oil? Tagliolini with mussels and peas?

You name it, some ristorante has it. Everyone has it. Harrumph.

My only consolation is that not everyone, practically no one, in fact, has experienced the joy of home-made ravioli. Made. At. Home. My job was to cut out each piece using a kitchen glass, then to prick the edges with a fork. I bet I could still do it if I had to. And I used to make a mean sauce, and still might, but why? I don’t have to.

I can get perfectly good tomato sauce in a jar these days, plus any kind of pasta I can think of — and some I’ve never heard of — and not just in Italian stores (not many of those left), but in almost any supermarket. Things change. It’s called progress, as opposed to Progresso, another trip down meatball lane. And as I’ve said, it’s mostly a good thing.

But I ask you this: If Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony, and stuck a feather in his hat . . . would he call it “Pasta?”

I think not.

Pat Fortunato: After working in the publishing business for many years, I now write for pleasure, especially for my blog: MY AGE IS UNLISTED.

I’ve Lost It!

by Pat Fortunato

As a result of watching far too many versions of Law and Order, I have become incredibly jaded, desensitized to the viciousness of violent crime, and suspicious of everyone. But that’s not the problem.

The thing that really gets to me is that when they search a suspect’s apartment (that’s “toss the perp’s crib” to you, bub), looking for a piece of evidence—a gun, smoking or otherwise, or a ticket to Tahiti — they find the damn thing in what seems like mere moments. “What do we have here, Lennie? Looks like the professor is planning a little sabbatical.”

Or, the exact opposite happens: they don’t find what they’re looking for —and are absolutely Positive that it isn’t there. “The place is clean, Liv. Let’s take a look at the car.”

I, on the other hand, am constantly losing things in my apartment, things that go missing for hours, days, months, years, and in a few sad cases, forever. That poignant phrase, I know it’s here someplace, can be heard echoing endlessly throughout my kingdom.

So what I want to know is this: Is there any way I can hire the people from Law and Order to search my crib, er, apartment. Not for tickets to Tahiti (I should live so long) or guns (I have no weapons except for cooking knives, which are rarely sharpened). Not for any kind of incriminating evidence actually, although that depends on how you define “incriminating.” No, I need these people to search for things that are missing in inaction (MII) and that I have all but abandoned hope of ever finding.

Some of these items are about the size of a gun, or not much smaller, so the cops should have no trouble succeeding where I have failed. Hey, Mike, have you seen my travel iron, last used in 1996? (Mr. Big can toss my crib any day.) Or the travel alarm clock, which probably became MII about the same time as the iron. How about the tape measure that is “always” in the closet in the den, but isn’t there now. Or the one remaining hot plate that isn’t cracked. (Didn’t I have dozens of these at one time?) Or the color photograph that was on the bookcase since New Year’s Eve 2000 (a group of us celebrating the Millennium at the Algonquin) that has suddenly disappeared. How about the gold and green eye shadow I used on New Year’s Eve? I really liked that. Haven’t seen it since the first of the year.

And the misses just keep on coming. . . A partial list of what I’d like the detectives to find include a heating pad, a hairbrush, a pair of plastic earring backs, and an extra key for the apartment. And I can never find a nail file when I need one. Yes, those last few items are small, but these guys find things as tiny as hairs and hairpins (DNA! DNA!). Surely, a nail file or a key would be no problem. Then there’s the heart-shaped bookmark from Tiffany’s.

Actually, there were two of them, one traditional and one in a more abstract shape from Elsa Perretti. And the robin’s egg blue pen, also from Tiffany’s. Okay, someone may have taken the bookmarks and the pen (unlikely, but possible), but who would walk off with that ratty heating pad or the earring backs?

The detectives are also good at finding evidence in the form of paperwork. A suspicious bill from Guns ‘R Us, or a receipt from the One Night Stand Motel doesn’t stand a chance when they’re on the case. Hell, I’d even give them a heads up. Don’t bother with the rest of the apartment, guys. Go directly to the den. There you’ll find the File Cabinet from Hell. And in it, somewhere, are the following items that I’d pay real money to find:

•The manual for the Sony TV purchased about 8 years ago so I can figure out how to use the closed caption feature.
•The list of restaurants in Paris for a friend who’s going there this week (I smell overtime pay on this one).
•The letter that was supposed to be attached to my will that specifies that you must all tell a “Pat Story” at the funeral and get very drunk afterwards.

Actually, I’d like to keep the entire staff (staffs) of L&O on retainer so that I could call night and day for emergencies. For example, to find the envelope I just had in my hands (IN MY HANDS!) five minutes ago (FIVE MINUTES AGO!) and can no longer find. I’ve searched all over. Retraced my steps. Went back to the kitchen. The bathroom. The closet where I was foraging around for gum (which I also didn’t find). The stack of newspapers to be thrown away. My purse, where it had been earlier.

Here’s the thing: I can’t find an envelope that I had five minutes ago, but they can find an important piece of evidence which may or may not exist, may or may not be in the apartment they’re searching, and if it is, could be just about any place. I realize that there is a difference between Life and TV, but this is ridiculous. I just know that if Vincent D’Onofrio, who played a detective on Criminal Intent,would tilt his head the way he always did (that man must require serious chiropractic care), he would tell me where – and why —I lost the letter. He knows everything.

Maybe I should see a shrink: Am I losing all these things in place of my mind? Because I harbor hidden hostility to heating pads and hot plates? To create confusion so that I don’t have to think about real problems, such as why do I watch all those episodes of Law and Order in the first place? Is there a void in my life that I have to fill with reruns? To replace the important things I’ve lost. Like my youth? Hell. Where is Doctor Wong when you need him?

Or maybe this is a purely practical problem of too much stuff/not enough space because I insist on living in Manhattan. Although on the surface the opposite might seem true, it’s actually much easier to lose things in smaller living spaces than larger ones. You have no attic, basement, or garage for storage, so you are forced to pack everything, densely, in boxes and drawers, beneath the bed, under the sofa, behind the sofa, jammed in closets and cabinets, high and low, in an apartment so crammed with things that you can’t bring in a deck of cards without destroying the delicate ecological balance.

And yet. I do suspect that there actually is some underlying psychological cause for all this losing of things. It must have something to do with sex. Everything does, or so it seems. Anyway, I finally found the envelope. It was buried in the bedclothes. See? I told you it had sexual undertones. Or is it overtones? Geez, now I’m even searching for the right word. Those detectives are never at a loss for words. Always there with The Wisecrack. They used to feature their smartass remarks in The Case So Far, a little segment that summarized what had happened up to that point, in case some of us viewers got . . . lost.

Sorry about that; I am getting punchy thinking about all the things I have lost in my apartment that they could find if I were a victim (Let’s not go there!) or a suspect. Hmm. What if . . .. I were to become a suspect in a crime. Something I didn’t do and could, eventually, prove my innocence. Would they let me watch while the cops searched my apartment? Would they find the hairbrush? The tape measure? Would they get cranky if I even mentioned the travel iron?

Look on the bright side; if all these things are lost within the four walls of my apartment, they aren’t truly lost, are they? They’re only misplaced. Ergo: I could find them if I conducted a thorough enough search. I know it wouldn’t be easy, even though those shows drive me crazy by making it look like it is. Still. What if I devoted a day, or two, or three, or however long it took, to sifting through all the stuff that I have accumulated. Would I find anything interesting? Incriminating? Things I forgot I had. Would I get all nostalgic and start Googling people I’ve lost track of? Would I find useful things? Or duplicates and triplicates of things I had already replaced?

Maybe, just maybe, I would actually throw away some junk and clear out places so that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have this problem so often in the future. I did this when the kitchen was remodeled and I hardly ever lose anything in there anymore (except the knife sharpener—and the hot plate). Could this level of organization coexist peacefully in the entire apartment?

And what would I do with all the time I now spend looking for things? Would I read more? Would I write more? Would people laugh? Is that a good thing?

Frankly, detectives, I don’t have a clue.

Pat Fortunato: After working in the publishing business for many years, I now write for pleasure, especially for my blog: MY AGE IS UNLISTED.

Death and Dying

by Mark Scher

At home we never talked about death and dying. I assume that silence was due to my mother’s state of mind after her parents’ tragic deaths. They were shot by German soldiers during the World War II while hiding in a village near Warsaw, following their escape from the Warsaw ghetto. My mother witnessed their execution from her hiding place in the attic. I was told by her friend that after the war, when she had to identify her parents’ bodies, she went into a deep depression and considered aborting me. Neither she nor my father ever wanted to talk to me about it, and the subject of death was a taboo in our house.

But, of course, it was impossible to avoid the topic of death even at my early age. I first encountered it when I was about 10 years old when my uncle died of a heart attack. He was my father’s only sibling, and my father who was deeply attached to him, was extremely distraught. I was also sad and upset, because I felt very close to him; he looked like my father and like him was kind and gentle. He was only 53 years old when he died, and my parents rightly thought that I was too young to attend his funeral.

I can never forget the sad story of a girl named Irenka, one of my neighbors in the building. She was only 13 years old (three years older than me), which meant that she had been born during the Nazi occupation of Poland. She was a daughter of a highly educated Jewish couple, who were friends of my parents. Irenka had always seemed happy and friendly, but one day, she swallowed a large number of sleeping pills with the intention of killing herself. It was a miracle that she survived her suicide attempt, since she was close to dying. I found out later that she was an adopted daughter of that couple. Her natural parents had been murdered by the Nazis. She survived the war hidden by a Polish family, and soon after the war, she was adopted, and she had no idea that the couple were not her natural parents, but other people knew her past, and some “friendly soul” decided to tell her that she was Jewish. It was such a shock that she decided that she did not want to live any longer. Fortunately, she survived, but it was not an isolated event in the post-war Poland.

My father’s funeral was the first funeral I ever attended. I was 21 and a third-year law student. My father was not a healthy person, and he was often ill, especially in his later years, when he spent many days in bed or in the hospital. He had many health issues as a result of his life during the war, and had three heart attacks, the last of which killed him on March 7,1968. He was only 65 years old.

That date is important because of the circumstances surrounding his funeral. My father was buried at the state military cemetery, where some notable people were buried regardless of their faith. He was an atheist, so a religious ceremony was out of the question. But it was not an ordinary funeral because of the dramatic political situation in Poland, leading up to the outbreak of student protests at the University of Warsaw against the communist regime on March 8.

Usually, it took a few days or even a week or more to arrange a funeral, but because of the tense atmosphere in Warsaw, and the skirmishes between the police and students, the university administration where my father was a professor decided to organize the funeral as quickly as possible to assure the presence of the faculty, before the political events deteriorated even further.

It was a painful experience to reach the cemetery. There was a massive police presence, stopping and searching most of the vehicles, and the traffic was moving slowly. The air was full of smoke and heavy with tear gas. Despite these difficulties, many friends, family members, and university colleagues of my father were present.

Mark Scher: I came to the United States as a refugee in 1969. I am a graduate of law schools in Poland the the United States. I practiced law in New York for over 30 years. I have been a member of LP² for the past 15 years and I have coordinated or co-coordinated 10 study groups.

Quest for Meaning

by Mark Scher

I came from a Jewish family and I do not think single drop of Aryan blood flows through my veins. It is an absurd thing to say, perhaps, as all racism is absurd.

At the same time, I have never been a Jew in the religious sense. My mother’s family left the Judaic faith many years ago and could have been considered radical assimilationists, and many of them are buried at the Catholic cemetery in Warsaw. When I was a year old, my mother had me baptized at the Catholic church in our neighborhood. I was not aware of this fact until during my last visit to Poland, before my mother’s death. She gave me my baptismal certificate together with a medal of the Virgin Mary and described the circumstances surrounding my baptism.

Why did she have me baptized? She, my sister, my Brazilian aunt, her husband and their daughter were all baptized in a Catholic church, and many of them, especially my Brazilian family are not aware of their Jewish background and very religious. My sister even made her first communion. I think that my mother, although herself a Polish patriot from a very assimilated family, was fully aware of Polish antisemitism, especially after the notorious pogrom in Kielce a few months before my birth, and she probably decided that a baptismal certificate might make my life easier in an antisemitic and fanatically Catholic society. She simply wanted to protect me. My babysitter used to take me to church, when I was a young child, and I do not think that my parents cared one way or another. In addition, we were always celebrating Christmas and Easter, and I was completely ignorant about such important Jewish holidays as Passover or Jewish New Year. Religion was never a topic of interest or discussion in our house, except once.

Following the political liberalization in Poland in 1956, Catholic religious instruction was introduced in all schools in Poland. One of my schoolmates with whom I was friendly decided to try to make a good Catholic out of me and convinced me to go to the initial class. I went out of curiosity. The catechist was thrilled to have a Jew in her class and excited about the possibility of a good deed for a Catholic Church. When, after coming home, I described my experience, my father, who was a declared atheist, got very upset. (I don’t think my mother was so concerned, because I remember that she was smiling.) At any rate, I never went back.

I am not a convert, since I never changed religion and from the religious point of view, I am neither Jew nor a Christian. I became aware of my Jewish background by accident from my schoolmates but until 1968 (the year of a government-organized antisemitic campaign in Poland) did not consider it too important, and I was never personally affected by antisemitism. I never experienced any unpleasantness in school or at the university.

Even now, although I feel Jewish (not in a religious sense) and I am interested in Jewish history and culture, I do not consider Jews the epicenter of the universe, nor the most phenomenal of nations.

My wife, despite being a nonbeliever like me, has much stronger Jewish feelings that I, and it was her decision to send our son to a Hebrew school in preparation for his bar mitzvah. I was rather ambivalent about the whole process because of my upbringing, but she probably rightly decided that our son should be aware and conscious of his background. Despite my initial indifference to the whole process, we joined a modern and progressive reformed temple in preparation for my son’s bar mitzvah ceremony. I found religious services boring but inoffensive. Currently we do not belong to a synagogue, and I am not interested in joining any religious institution.

As I get older, I am no longer as anti-religious as I used to be. I would probably consider myself not an atheist but an agnostic, and I am not really preoccupied with the existence of the Supreme Being or life after death.

Mark Scher: I came to the United States as a refugee in 1969. I am a graduate of law schools in Poland the the United States. I practiced law in New York for over 30 years. I have been a member of LP² for the past 15 years and I have coordinated or co-coordinated 10 study groups.

Sidney Lumet, Film Director

by Sonya Friedman

Sidney Lumet had recently married a friend of my husband Herman, and we were invited to dinner. His was a large handsome brownstone near the 92nd Street Y. It had a rather somber interior with dark walls; however, on those walls were stunning American paintings mainly of the Wild West by Frederic Sackrider Remington.

Sidney’s wife Paidy (this was a third marriage for each of them) was a superb cook now married to, Sidney told us, a superb eater. The first course was artichokes. I noted with silent admiration how Sidney lined up his used leaves in a perfect circle around his plate, like the petals of a flower.

He was a charming host – no shop talk, at least not about his work. His many questions were about Herman’s documentary films and my subtitles for foreign films. At 8 p.m., he abruptly rose from the table, said goodnight, and retired. Paidy told us that he was – as usual – shooting the next morning and that anything in the world that would not pass in front of the camera lens did not, for him, further exist.

A few months later, Sidney phoned me to ask if I’d oversee the Italian subtitles for his new “Prince of the City,” which was to premiere at the Venice Film Festival. The film is about a narcotics detective in the NYPD, who, for idealistic reasons, chooses to expose corruption in the force, with dire consequences for him and those he turns in. An Italian translator was already at work on the subtitles, and Sidney wanted me to be sure that the Italian vividly replicated the rough-and-dirty slang of the original dialogue.

(As a Fulbright film student in Rome in the 50’s, I had lived in Trastevere, then a working-class neighborhood with its share of petty crime. No American girl had typically been seen walking its streets. I’d heard a lot of local slang.)

I was intrigued. Sidney wanted to send me to Rome to oversee the titles, but it was early summer, and I was at our Vermont country cabin with my husband, who didn’t want me to go. (I had just recently returned from Europe on a job.) So Sidney said he’d arrange for the Italian translator to come to me in Vermont. Little did he know I was on an isolated hill near nowhere. Herman and I arranged to put the signor up at a small inn about five miles away.

The translator, Signor O, set off from Rome to change planes in Brussels, where unexpectedly there was a total strike on air travel that grounded Signor O for three days. “Better him than you!” my husband said. It was decided that O would return to Rome and we would work it all out by phone (long distance calls, no cell phones back then).

Every morning at 6 a.m. my time, I would leap out of bed, quickly wrap myself against the Vermont chill, and converse with Signor O. As I heard his titles, I pointed out that much of his language didn’t have the roughness of the English.
-“Ah, Signora S., we don’t have all those drug terms here – like your ‘horse’ or ‘skag’ or ‘speedball.’”

– “Really? How about if you double-check at your local police station and give a listen?”

He called back, excited. “Signora, they do have a word for every one of those terms! And, of course, I’ll use them.”

Next, what to do about “fuck youse” and “cocksucker” and “your mother’s slit”? Again, he did his research and again called in the appropriately purple Italian equivalents – triumphant about finding this newly discovered vocabulary. I could now assure Sidney that the Venice Film Festival would get the full dose.

The film was praised at the Venice premiere (September 1981) and then got kudos in the States (even without subtitles).

A few months later, Signor O. was coming to New York and wanted to meet me. At our lunch at the Plaza Hotel, what a shock and probably a great disappointment for him to find that Signora S was a rather ordinary, well-turned out lady. Nothing even resembling a narco moll. We spoke of politics and the weather.

Sidney was delighted by it all. As was I.

Sonya Friedman: As a writer/translator, I created subtitles for many foreign-language films (Rossellini, Fellini, Godard, others) and was the innovator of “supertitles” for opera (The Metropolitan Opera Company, New York Opera, Seattle Opera, others). Among the documentary films I directed is “The Masters of Disaster,” which was nominated for an Academy Award, and was broadcast nationally on PBS.