Monday, May 6, 2013


         With all the nonsense out of North Korea lately, I've been thinking a lot about missiles. At first it did not click so to speak but all of a sudden I said to myself hey, I've had some experience with missiles!
          I grew up around New York City in the fifties. After the Cold War began every household received a Civil Defense booklet, a how-to-try-to-survive-a-nuclear blast booklet. I used to read and reread the pamphlet which was kept in the kitchen junk drawer. It had a mushroom cloud on the cover. I'd look at the diagram which showed NYC as ground zero. Then I'd picture me in Belleville, NJ about 10 miles away in the next circle and wonder if the advice could possibly be of any help at all. When the bomb dropped you were supposed to shield your eyes and get under something heavy. It didn't take long, even for a seven year old, to come to the you've-got-to-be-kidding conclusion. An atomic bomb has dropped, I am 10 miles away and I will be just fine, thank-you, if I get under the dining room table? In school, we went into the hallway during bomb drills, crouched down and put our hands over our heads. We were in the hall to avoid the glass from the classroom windows. The book did not mention that instant incineration probably would be the thing that cooked our goose anyway - literally.
          When I was 10 we moved about 35 miles west of NYC. So now I was safe and sound in the second ring according to the Civil Defense booklet. I was also supposed to feel better because we lived 2 miles away from the Nike missile base in Hanover. The base is closed now but back then NYC was defended by missiles which would, what, try to shoot down the nuclear warhead? I guess that was the tactic. Somehow this scenario, too, was less than comforting.
          I also remember sitting in history class in high school in October 1962 on the most tense day of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We actually wondered if we would be obliterated by the Russians that afternoon. To say the least it was a very strange feeling, and one I have not had since.
          And when I took a job with the U.S. Army after college my missile experience continued. Part of my duties was to visit missile bases in northern Germany and play Bingo with the soldiers. I was very curious about these remote, deep in the forest sites and often asked to see the goods. Of course, information about the missiles and viewing them was off limits. We are not talking about the big ICBMs, rather Pershing  missiles which in 1968 were aimed and ready to strike Prague during a crisis there with the Russians and their allies. Those days, too, were filled with more than a bit of tension.
          Rewatch "Dr. Strangelove" to get an accurate (and hysterical) vibe of those times. You'll then understand the rest of the title: "Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." Today, however, I think we're still worrying but loving the bomb (and missiles) much, much less.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Camera in Crisis

     The word Holland should trigger thoughts of Rembrandt, cheese and chocolate, at the very least. The higher minded might add state-of-the-art flood control, diamonds and legalized weed. But thanks to a mildly dysfunctional family trip to Amsterdam, Holland makes me think of oozing cameras.
     It's a comical memory, although tragi-comedy might be a more accurate description. And my family was so prone to tragi-comedy. My mother's heels were always getting caught in sidewalk grates and she frequently burned holes in her clothes with falling cigarette ashes in the car where the effect was even more dramatic.
     The atmosphere on family trips was always a bit bizaare. For example, in London, my mother said "I'm going to take a nap." My sister said "but I thought we were going toWestminster Abbey." My mother said "why would you want to go there?" (Actually, my mother's favorite expressions were why would you want to do that? And why would you want to go there?)
     So. We are at some building on some plaza with some monument and a fountain in Amsterdam. And my father is taking a picture of his family with this Polaroid camera. I'm not sure why he preferred the Polaroid experience over a "regular" camera with film, but he did. (How wonderful is the digital camera of today!)
     I picture us posing there. Daddy takes the picture, waits the required time, a minute or two, and instead of removing a perfectly developed photograph on that thick layered padded plastic-paper, the camera seems to be melting and that picture with the rest of the film oozes out of the Polaroid in a black stream of sludge all over my father's hands. Then we see our picture dripping onto the Amsterdam square. 
     That's humorous, right? It's classic comedy. Unfortunately, my family did not have a very refined sense of humor. Or was it too refined? These frequent comedies of error were always viewed as tragedies in their eyes. And that's sad.
     After the oozing, the family flurry ensued. We ran around looking for a trash can, looking for a washroom while my mother intones her mantra - why does this always happen to us? My sister and I endure this stoically and there's narry a chuckle in what actually was an hysterical moment. That's sad. Very sad.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


For about one hour in June 1965 I thought I had landed a job at the White House. During the winter and spring of my sophomore year in college I spent almost every free minute trying to get a summer job in Washington, DC. Back then there were no cell phones, no computers and certainly no email. Applying for a job was a tedious process involving typewriters, postage stamps and "long distance" phone calls from the pay phone in the dorm "smoker."

In early June, I attended graduation week at Georgetown University and while I was in DC I inquired at several agencies about my job status. The replies were not encouraging and the ride home up the Jersey Turnpike after the graduation was long and gloomy.

Almost the minute I got home, though, I got a call from Western Union. They read me a telegram that said I had a summer internship in Washington in the Office of Saline Water. I was excited and told my mother about the call.She said: "Oh my God! I think Saline Water works at the White House!" I said "Oh my God, that's incredible!" and jumped for joy.

A short while later the actual telegram was delivered and it became clear that indeed I had a summer job in Washington and that it was in the Office of Saline Water. But Saline Water turned out to be a branch of the Department of the Interior that dealt with issues of desalinating water and not a glamourous executive in the White House!

My mother and I had a great laugh over this misunderstanding but I admit to having been a little disappointed.  I enjoyed a very interesting summer in Washington after all and actually did make several visits to the White House "on business." As for the Office of Saline Water. There's still a lot of salty water in the world!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Possible Reasons Why I Am A Mess

   My mother told my sister and me, "Do not blame me for any of your problems."  OK. But I do believe parental influences such as (poor) advice do affect us!  For instance, here are some (believe it or not) bon mots my mother said over and over again..  I think you'll get the picture.

Clothes make the man (or woman) - definitely. 
Everyone looks better with blond hair. (I said but Mom Spanish women might not look better with
blond hair.  She said of course they do.)
More makeup is always better than less makeup. ("A little more eye shadow will do the trick.")
You'll get the job if you go to the interview in a really nice suit.
Your baby is going to be gorgeous.  I nervously said what if it's not?  She said why wouldn't it be?
Nobody will ever care what grades you got in college.
It's better to look good than to feel good.
One Christmas she said: "You are going to be so excited.  I got you two things everyone MUST have." Those two necessities turned out to be a string of pearls and a Gucci bag.

So.  Is it any wonder I'm a mess??  I was, though, pretty careful not to pass on this advice to my children.  Well, except for the makeup rule!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Incident in a Non Picture-ID World

     I had to renew my Minnesota driver's license last week.  The clerk took a quick digital photograph, confirmed some info, checked my vision with a high tech machine, took my check (not so high tech), and said I'd have my license in a week or so.
     This ordinary experience triggered the memory of my first driver's license application in the very, very pre- 911 world of 1962.  I was already a senior in high school as you had to be 17 years old in New Jersey before you could even get the license ball rolling.  After passing the written test with flying colors at the local armory, I failed the eye exam.  All the squinting in the world had not helped so I had to get glasses - actually very cool glasses with gold-flecked bamboo frames.  I also had to endure a little good sport humiliation in the school newspaper which published an article about my experience called "Blind as a Bat."
     Then with perfect 20/20 corrected vision I took the road test. It was a snowy day and I refused to go over 20 MPH on the slippery road and knocked down a snow fence while making a required "K" turn.  Needless to say, I failed but reigned victorious after a retake a week later on dry roads.
     Armed with the "she finally passed" required document I visited the motor vehicle office down on Speedwell Avenue in Morristown and applied for the Jersey license, a non-photo ID. Now here's the crazy part that you could never get away with in today's world.  I reported that I was 5'8" tall and weighed 135 pounds BUT that I wanted to lose a few pounds and was on a diet so would you please put me down for 125 pounds.  Sure, no problem.  My hair was brown BUT I said I was bleaching it and by spring it would be quite blonde so could you please put me down for Hair color: blonde. Of course. And eyes.  Having one green eye and one brown, I chose the one I wished I had two of.  "Green" ended up on the license.
     So in a couple of weeks I had a driver's license with no picture and a personal description that looked nothing like me! But I did eventually "grow into" my license as I had promised.
     To emphasize the state of pre-911 security even more, I used a NJ license for over 14 years while living in Minnesota. My father would renew it for me every three years and send me the new one which, of course, had a NJ address. And, oh yes, on top of it all it was in my maiden name! And nobody ever said boo about it.  On my own I finally bit the bullet and took another dreaded written test to finally get a Minnesota picture ID license.
     Oh yes.  And one more thing.  Did I mention that for four years I was living in a foreign country? It all can be quite a pain now but we are definitely better off in this post 911 world! And picture IDs are the least we can do for the cause.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Easy Memory Makers

     All parents want their children to grow up with happy childhood memories.  While Big trips, Big gifts, and Big events are impressive and certainly memorable, it can be the little everyday moments that kids will remember and cherish most.
     Here are ten easy everyday ways to fill your child's life with special moments so you'll be remembered as an extra special parent.

      Try to catch special events like eclipses, meteor showers and comets.  Or just plain star gaze and moon watch.  A telescope is great fun but not necessary. By day, look at cloud formations and sun position. 
      Short nature walks lead to long memories.  Point out flowers, trees, animals and insects.  Look for bird nests, cocoons, etc.
     Nicknames work anywhere but personal only-at-home pet names are fun and make kids feel special.
     Children love notes.  Leave a simple "See you later," "Have fun," or "Love you" on the pillow or fridge when you leave the house.  Tuck notes into backpacks and lunch bags, too.  Messages on cell phones, e-mail and answering machines are a nice surprise. 
5.   HUG
     Hug hello, good-bye, good night, good morning, or for no reason at all.  It's so easy!
     And use it often for instant celebrations.  Kids are so impressed!  Pink milk for Happy Spring, red for Valentine's Day.  Trust me.  Green mashed potatoes will not be forgotten!
7.   PARTY
     The team wins a game - have a party.  Celebrate half-birthdays (no presents - but cake or a special dessert is a must); the first day of school; the last day of school; good report cards and more.  Use your imagination.  Any occasion can turn into a party.  Keep a roll of crepe paper at hand and decorate in seconds!
8.   SAY YES
     Try to say YES more than NO.  Kids will love you for your "That's a great idea" or "Sure, let's give it a try."  It also raises their self esteem and opens creative minds.
     Keep up on the kids' TV, music, movies and fashion.  Don't aim for hip and cool, aim for knowledgable.
     Don't try to be your child's best friend.  Try to be you child's best parent!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Coming Soon

      Stay tuned for "Easy Memory Makers."  Tips on creating memories your kids will "cherish."  Ahhhhhh