Tuesday, June 13, 2017

PREJUDICE


I called my local hardware store early that chilly morning. I enjoy shopping in person at this particular store. But before heading out on this gray, damp day, I wanted to be sure what I was looking for was still in stock. I needed a portable heater. It was May, and the damp cold weather had continued for days. I was freezing, dressed in heavy sweats, and swathed in my winter quilt at night. The heat had been turned off in the high-rise building where I live. We’re a development built in the early seventies meaning we have a two-pipe heating and air conditioning system, not four, which, also, means it’s either heat or air conditioning. Once the heat is turned off and the air conditioning turned on, or vice-versa, we’re stuck. It would take days of draining pipes to reverse.

It was seven in the morning when I called. I knew the store would be open. It caters to painters and building contractors who come early to load their trucks with supplies. A man answered the phone with a firm assured voice. He sounded like his name would be something like Rob White.
“Yes, we have a few heaters left,” he said
“How much,” I asked
Between 40 and 80,” he replied
“I’ll be right there.”
Once I arrived, I asked at the Help Desk for the number of the aisle where I could find the heaters.
“Aisle sixteen on the left.”

            I headed that direction and looked for a Rob White, someone I’m used to relying upon to guide me through my hardware shopping. These guys wear red vests (and they are usually guys, the women generally assigned to housewares or the paint selection areas) and give the same attention to those looking for a certain size screw or a special type of light bulb, as they do to shoppers interested in one of the big outdoor grills that line the sidewalk in front of the store entrance. They are all business, sure of their knowledge. I wonder how they learned so much. Were they once former builders, fixer uppers in their own homes, or naturally inquisitive about how things work. Do they learn on the job?

There was no Rob White around. I looked in the aisles on either side of sixteen. Then a red vested man came through the aisle hauling a large box. He stopped with his unwieldy box across from the heaters. His skin was brown. He had bad teeth, was tall and skinny. His English was heavily accented – East African, I thought. He wasn’t what I would call, a cheery, how can I help you kind of guy. Where was Rob White? I wanted a Rob to help me. And then I felt myself flood with shame. I can do this.

I asked questions about each model and wondered. Can he explain to me, a not so handy person, the differences, the advantages and disadvantages of each model?  Will I understand him? Does he understand me? I will, can do this. I must.

I hated myself for first hesitating, for being judgmental, shamed for the recognition of my prejudice. For my wrongful assumptions about his capability. He never smiled. He did not have the robust sound of Rob White. But the Rob Whites don’t smile much either. He opened the box of the model he thought would fit my needs.  
“I need a demonstration, how do all these buttons work,” I asked.
He demonstrated. I sometimes had to repeat or reword my questions. I warmed to his knowledge and smiled. He still did not smile. He repackaged the heater. I thanked him. I’m still recoiling from my initial reaction. I’m still righting myself.

           






Saturday, January 14, 2017

WHEN WE SANG

It was wartime. Everyone was patriotic, or that’s how I remember my childhood and my family. My father’s brother, Uncle Nathan was drafted. My father just missed the age requirement. Our neighbor, Sam Cohen was drafted but stayed stateside. My mother was a daytime Air Raid Warden. I remember the pale blue denim pantsuit she wore on patrol, her chunky mid-heel, lace-up black oxford shoes with short white fold down socks (ankle socks they called them then), her helmet. The sirens sounded, and she left home to patrol the neighborhood. She attended weekly classes to learn first aid treatment and practiced on my sister, Sally, and me. Her handbook lay open on the kitchen table, to be sure she was following the proper way to tend broken limbs. Sally and I were either complaining or giggling. 

During those years, our extended family gathered on a routine basis – most Saturdays at my maternal grandparents’ home in Baltimore on Pulaski Street. On Sundays, usually in the evening at our home on Columbus Drive - Pulaski and Columbus, prominent names of American history – Pulaski, a Polish military commander and American Revolutionary War hero. Columbus, who is attributed to have found the “New World,” our America.

We all had pianos. Uprights they were called. My Aunt Clara, my mother’s younger sister, was a concert pianist and a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory. Our living rooms were small in these two row houses where we all gathered. The upright piano in our home was against the wall behind which a staircase led to the second floor of two bedrooms and a den. The den housed a bookcase filled with a complete set of THE HARVARD CLASSICS and volumes of Book of the Month Club – where we sat together, and my mother read poems to us – Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha, The Children’s Hour, Evangeline.”  Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven and Annabel Lee.” Emerson’s “The Snow-Storm.”

But it was downstairs where the family gathered – our family of four, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mother’s side. Sally and I were given the job of passing out songbooks. Aunt Clara sat on the piano bench in front of the upright. She played. We sang. In unison.

We sang, “Over there. Over there.” “Those Caissons Go Rolling Along and Anchors Aweigh.” “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. “Off we go into the wild blue yonder.” We sang, often off-key, with gusto. We sang “America the Beautiful.” And after - hot tea, iced in the summer, and home baked cookies. This was years before I took and failed at piano lessons.

And then early one August evening came news of the Japanese surrender. We kids celebrated by taking pots and pans and their covers from our kitchen cupboards and banged them together, as we marched up and down Columbus Drive. My mother was upset at the destruction of cookware she had protected so carefully during the years of metal (and other) shortages. A neighbor reminded her, “Now you can buy new ones.”



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Choose Me

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is looking for a new Chair. I read the names of those interested in THE WASHINGTON POST, those vying or being considered – men who’ve experienced winning and losing in the political arena, looking for a stepping stone to the grandeur that keeps eluding them. I am proposing a viable alternative.
“Throw out the bums.” (A line attributed to Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd president of the USA). Choose me!

Choose a University administrator, if not a Chancellor or President, someone close to that office. Choose me. I’m here, ready. I’ve worked with many Presidents during my career in higher education. Choose among our cohorts of talented, visionary leaders and managers who have guided our nation’s higher education institutions to academic excellence and financial strength through massive social, economic and technological change. Choose among those who expertly meld the needs and wants of a variety of fractious constituencies - constituencies with factions within and between their ranks.

Choose me – A writer. A reader. Choose someone who reads, not only the tomes of “how to” and the reflections of historical eras and personalities, choose someone who reads essays, short stories and fiction, memoir, and other creative written and spoken forms. Choose someone who explores the light and dark places in the human psyche and experience. Choose someone who understands that telling the story of the miniscule is not only the story of self, but of the universe. Choose someone who can weave the tales of country and parties and peoples. Choose someone who weeps, who feels viscerally both joy and pain in the theater of film and stage and life.

Choose me, who persevered through bullying and misogyny at home and in the councils and boardrooms of commerce. Choose me of the quotidian. Choose among the many, like me, who worked the phone every day for three months to elect a city councilman Choose a me who while walking my dog in my new neighborhood met a candidate for state legislature and participated in his campaign. He lost that one, but came back to win another. Choose me who befriends. Choose from all the “me’s” with transferable expertise and accrued wisdom, the me’s who understand the groundwork to be done because we’ve done it. Choose among the me’s who are not teetering on this stepping stone to prepare for the next, but who will work to do no more or less than this - to lead a moral renaissance.








Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I WONDER IN CURSIVE

Preface 
I refer you to The WASHINGTON POST, July 27, 2016, page 1, far left column headline, “Don’t write epitaph for cursive  just yet”  By Joe Heim.
There have been other writers on thIS subject - the value of teaching and learning cursive writing. One of note was by Gene Weingarten, also a WASHINGTON POST writer that appeared in THE WASHINGTON POST MAGAZINE, October 28, 2012. 
 And to mine below first written of August 15, 2011- unpublished, rejected – prescient.

I WONDER IN CURSIVE   Norma S. Tucker,  8/15/11

I hear cursive writing is being tossed out of the curriculum in some schools. Not needed in a communication world of text messages, tweets, and e-mails. One only has to handwrite one’s name, and print lettering often will do. I used my internet browser to find out, is this really the case? Some say it is antiquated; schools should concentrate on typing skills. The alternative argument: learning cursive style is important to childhood brain development, refinement of fine motor skills, hand strength, and finger dexterity.

Writing personal notes and letters by hand is considered passé. I think of all the personal handwritten correspondence that has provided our society with insight into our lives as well as observations in the wild and on the spot historical accounts. I bemoan future generations who will miss the thrill of opening a mailbox to see a handwritten envelope - to recognize or question the distinctive handwriting, to ponder the nature of the message inside. But will there be mailboxes in the future like the one I open with a key in the lobby of my high rise, or those brass letter slots inserted in the front doors of town and suburban homes, or the mailboxes with flags perched on posts in front of rural homes? 

I try to move with the future, though it seems to me I don’t need much of it. My digital camera, desktop and laptop are probably considered vintage.  I text my grandchildren and grown children. I bought an e-reader, good for reading on the metro or waiting in a doctor’s office, if I’ve remembered to charge it. Easy to carry and no dirty hands from toting The Washington Post.  Now I read the paper at home where I wash my hands between sections while one or another of my electronic devices is under charge.

I like to write personal notes, to choose which note card to send to a particular person – plain buff, or a Native American proverb on the front, or an artist’s rendition. I select which pen to use, the blue Waterman my daughter gave me one Mother’s Day or a sterling silver Tiffany purse pen I gave to my mother and retrieved for myself after her death. I pause for a moment, think how to thank, or congratulate, or console.   

I learned cursive writing in second grade. Miss Prager passed out half-sheets of mimeographed papers with repeat patterns of two dark lines separated by a middle fine line. We used our sharpened pencils to fill the fine middle line to the bottom dark line with cursive small case a’s and c’s. Small l’s and h’s touched the top line, t’s and d’s slightly below; g’s and p’s went below the lower dark line to the next middle fine line. 

In Mrs. Sinclair’s fourth grade class, we were introduced to pen and ink. My parents bought me my first fountain pen, a red Esterbrook, and two bottles of blue-black ink-one for home, one for school.  

Some kids had trouble with cursive writing. I wonder, could that have been a predictor they would become physicians, a field in which practitioners are known for indecipherable handwriting. Does poor cursive handwriting indicate success in college organic chemistry, an undergraduate requirement for admittance to medical school?

I suppose handwriting analysis is a dying profession. At amusement parks and fairs, I lined up at the handwriting booth to wait my turn to have someone tell me about myself - what the distinctive shape, size, and slant of my writing revealed about my personality. I wonder, what will distinguish one’s individual style of printing?

The word, cursive, comes from a Latin root, flowing.  One letter flows into another to form words. Words flow into streams of thought, declarations, inquiry, fantasy, and opinion.  Ancient philosophers and scholars, Renaissance and Enlightenment luminaries, and American revolutionaries wrote our cherished texts in cursive. We queue at museums, libraries, and archives to view protected, precious documents written in cursive. If we don’t learn to write it, how will we learn to read it.  

For those like me who believe in the value of teaching cursive writing - for its place in childhood development, its individuality, personal touch, historical significance, its utility, and its flow, fear not. There are numerous on-line programs to teach, learn, and practice handwriting, cursive style. Some even include Miss Prager’s worksheets.








Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Solstice

Recent days have been long for me - going no place and nowhere, retreating to bed, and following prescriptive orders. I've been homebound, sick, lethargic, languishing. Obsessive, too, like focusing on a grocery list that included mayonnaise and Bon Ami (my favorite cleaning powder for kitchen and bath, it means, good friend) and even more concretely, Duke's mayonnaise, light. My sick days began toward the end of May. Today is the day after this year's June 20 summer solstice, and I ponder. As the solstice approached, I started to feel better, wanted to go shopping for the Duke's light mayonnaise and Bon Ami. For my first trip out, I allowed myself an hour and a half to go grocery shopping at my nearby Giant and found everything else on my list except these two items of my obsession. I had no immediate need for them. A good bit of mayo was still in the Duke's container in the fridge, and I had an almost full can of Bon Ami. What makes for such an obsession?

Is it the sun, the moon, stars, planets, season change, cosmic markers? Or while my body fights microbes and viruses, is my rational thinking obscured? Does constriction of activity along with the passageways of breath lead to constriction of my thinking to two items on a grocery list?

Over the next pre-solstice days, I made a second grocery trip to another Giant store, a larger one, and, again, no Duke's mayo light and no Bon Ami. 

"I'll go to Target." I know they carry Duke's. So on Sunday, the day before the solstice, I stood before a shelf of cleaning supplies. Incredulous. No Bon Ami.

"Get a hold of yourself. Take the damn Comet," (the celestial name for another brand of cleanser). 

I did. Then to the condiment aisle and lo and behold, Duke's light mayonnaise, fully stocked. You would think I would have grabbed one, maybe even two to add to my oversized shopping cart with the lone Comet. But, no, I obsessed further (maybe it was a meditation) comparing the amounts of trans fats and cholesterol in Duke's light, regular, olive oil. Not much difference I found, all three had too much for my cholesterol count. Like the Comet, I damned it, and selected another brand with zero cholesterol. 

So what does all this have to do with anything? Is it the languishing, the narrowing focus of life, the containment, the mind trying to find some order out of the biotic wars inside? What causes such a narrow, unimportant focus? Would a psychiatrist have some profound insight - or a neurologist? Why do I choose to write about this?  I don't know. It just seemed like something I had to do.

Don't even ask me about Trader Joe's fragrance free dishwasher powder. That's another story, maybe a sequel.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

SWELL


The lead actress was a bit awkward. "Not fluid," I said to my grandson.
We were talking about the production of "Singin' in the Rain" that he directed and co-choreographed as a senior thesis project in his college theater studies program. I attended the last night of the show amidst a packed and enthusiastic audience. Lots of cheering and applause.
"But, hey,"I continued, "She did it. She sang and danced and said her lines. She's brave."
"She's not a theater major." he said. "She just wanted to do it. It's what I have to work with."
"She's brave, and I'm being picky," I said.

"Overall," I continued, "It was swell."
Note, I didn't say - It was awesome or amazing or, even, cool - the terms du jour. It was swell.

I thought about my choice of the word - swell - a visceral, perhaps sublimal reaction. A word Gene Kelly or Donald O'Connor might have used back then, in their time, in 1952, when they appeared in the movie, "Singin' in the Rain," played on the big screen, then referred to as the "silver screen."

I just couldn't get the word, swell, out of mind. Was it because I felt so proud of my grandson? How he took a seemingly dated production and made it relevant. How he incorporated the various forms of dance, how he pulled it together with lighting and sound, music, costuming and character development. After all, directors have the last word.. This while writing a senior thesis, taking courses and exams, all in a high pressure academic environment.

My heart swelled - a fullness different from when I hear evocative music when I feel an inner fullness, an expansion and twist, more in my abs than in my heart. My throat swelled too. I had to swallow during the curtain call. Before I could speak.

Our conversation was over a late after theater supper. My inner parts were back to size and shape. Almost. We talked more about the show, what wine to choose, the vegetarian menu choices, next day plans.

And my mind, my inner speech and ears could only hear, "It was swell."





Monday, March 21, 2016

ICESCREAM

            Katie brought mint chocolate chip ice cream to my little soiree on Thursday, March 17, 2016, Saint Patrick’s Day. I hoped the cream part would be green, and it was. Green – the symbol of the day, the color of four leaf clovers. Shamrocks, they are called by the Irish. Maybe there are some other symbols I don’t know. I’m not Irish. The day is fun. I remember back in the eighties when I was asked to join a group of colleagues from another college while attending a meeting, to celebrate after work at a local Irish pub. I was ready in my green velvet jacket. We drank Guinness and other libations of Irish origin or lore.

In Baltimore, my hometown, the Sunday before is highly celebratory. Streets are closed throughout the downtown – the tourist areas of the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, and Federal Hill. The march extends for hours. That annoys me when I forget the day of the parade and am stuck in traffic, seriously delayed to visit family and friends who are not Irish.

But back to Katie and my Saint Patrick’s Day soiree. Katie baked brownies. Not that I asked her. She told me. 
“Okay,” I said, “ how generous, ice cream and brownies.
She made them from scratch. I thought - who brings brownies to a Saint Patrick’s Day party. She must be thinking of the intent, not the Saint. She, like me, is not Irish.

The party celebrated the birthday of our mutual friend, Pat. I decided to change the annual format – from lunch out to an at home celebration. Also, I always have Irish whiskey around – my preferred alcoholic beverage. Her full name is Patricia, and she was born on Saint Patrick’s Day. I won’t say how many years ago. I asked her for a list – no more than ten including the two of us.

Carla brought her contribution the day before, green olives and green mint jelly. Eve came with green cheese, I found a yellow one called Dubliner. Rose came with a tray of   chocolate holiday decorated iced mini cupcakes. I bought Irish soda bread and green shamrock shaped Irish shortbread cookies. Cassie brought a couscous dish. Even I know that’s not Irish. I cooked the corned beef and sauerkraut for the traditional Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage. I don’t know the why of these food traditions because I’m not Irish.

The house smelled. The hallway too. My neighbors may have inhaled, but they said nothing. I think one may be Irish. Her last name seems so.
Charlotte called. “What can I bring?”
“Potato salad,” I said. “Isn’t there something about Irish and potatoes.”
I thought afterwards, wasn’t there once a potato famine in Ireland. Maybe that’s not such a good idea. But I didn’t call her back.

Famine and celebrations, so much literature about feast and famine, I thought as I fork tested the doneness of the corned beef. I remembered there was a great migration of Irish people to the United States in the mid nineteenth century. Immigrants they were, having a rough time with discrimination and all its attendant diseases. Maybe that’s why we find what is the Irish in us on Saint Patrick’s Day. We are all– immigrants - new or progeny - all Americans – unless your ancestors were native to this country – American Indians or Native Americans, we call them. They, too, suffered greatly from discrimination and all its attendant diseases. 

Doesn’t Trump who screams about immigration, doesn’t he know, doesn’t he feel his Irish?