Monthly Archives: June 2009

About a car…

_1990-1991-ford-taurus__180-1Jack’s car was not exactly pampered, having a maintenance schedule that consisted of an oil change prior to inspection every August. Most of the time, the 1990 Taurus remained in the heated garage below and in back of the tidy two-family house in Queens — its only companion the Volvo kept lovingly by the garage tenant who lived in Manhattan but visited most weekends. Thanksgiving, Passover and maybe some other times when the weather was good, Jack and Dora took it up to Albany to see their daughter Anita and the grandkids. Occasionally, he’d use it to chauffeur Dora (who’d never learned to drive) and her Hadassah friends to some special event although as the years passed there were fewer, and Dora, easily winded, barely left the house.

Jack had kept his optometry office on the first floor of his home, so the Taurus had never known the rigor of the morning commute. The practice had stayed open long after many of Jack’s patients had died or moved away or been enticed to try the big schlock houses — Cohen’s and Vision Center — with their designer frames and fancy window displays. In the end, the rising cost of malpractice insurance outweighed his desire to keep busy, and so he closed up the shop. He and Dora had talked about traveling, but she’d complain that her neck bothered her after long rides. The grandkids were getting older too, Matthew off at college. The Albany trips became less frequent.

Anita hinted that maybe he didn’t need a car. After all, she pointed out, the grocery store and movie theater were down the block, and they were still capable of getting on a bus though Dora had trouble with the stairs on the subways. Trains to Albany ran often, and now that Andrew had a license, there’d be no problem with his picking them up at the station. Jack replied with an edge to his tone that was rarely heard, that he was not yet “decrepit.”

One spring, he found himself with even less energy than his wife who finally convinced him to see a doctor where he received the bad news with the quiet rectitude that characterized his generation. Soon after the diagnosis, he decided to visit Albany. His youngest daughter, Marion, a childless Manhattanite who didn’t own a car, offered to drive him, but he insisted on doing it himself. A few months later, came his granddaughter’s bat-mitzvah, and he allowed Marion and her husband to drive the Taurus as he sat with Dora in the back, offering instructions on the best route and reminding his son-in-law that this was not a NASCAR event.

He didn’t leave the house much after that, and a few weeks later, he died in his bed. The Taurus though it was 15 years old, still had under 55k and was needed as Dora had made a hasty transition to Anita’s home while on the waiting list for an assisted living facility close by, and many things still needed to be transported. Marion thought she would hold on to it at least until the house was sold.

It turned out that street parking in her uptown neighborhood was less of a chore than she’d anticipated, and the car came in handy especially for the visits she was obliged to make almost monthly to see her mother. Finally, a reasonably priced parking space at her co-op complex became available, and the car no longer needed to be moved thrice weekly to accommodate the alternate side parking rules.

While they did not mean to treat the car badly, Marion and her husband were not experts on its care. On a trip to Vermont, they were sideswiped by a truck resulting in a dent and some damage near the trunk. Due to its age, the insurance payout wouldn’t cover the repair, so they spent the money elsewhere, and only months later noticed that water had leaked into the trunk, pooled inside the wheel-well and froze solid. As it thawed in the spring, a mildew odor pervaded the inside of the vehicle. They drained the water, dried out the inside and used tape and plastic to prevent future occurrences. While this shouldn’t have caused mechanical damage, things began to go wrong. The car stalled on the road. The alternator and battery were replaced, but a week later it stalled again on a busy street apparently due to a corroded wire. They didn’t trust the Taurus after that and felt it would be better off with an owner who knew more about its needs.

On Mother’s Day, they took it for a final trip to Albany, joking that that was what Jack would have wanted. They stopped by Dora’s little apartment and she proudly introduced them to the new desk clerk as she signed out for the afternoon and they all went to Anita’s. When they dropped her back off, Dora — never one for sentiment — said, “Well you’re better off renting for all you use a car.”

The ad went out on Craigslist. $299 OBO. Despite its still low miles and relatively good condition, only one respondent – a teenager in Brooklyn — wanted it for other than its parts. His offer of $200 was accepted. He didn’t need a test drive, was willing to take their word that it ran, and would be by to pick it up on Saturday.

The day before, Marion walked over to the space to get out the last of their things which included all of Jack’s insurance cards stuffed in the glove compartment, along with a few old wrappers for the Nips candies he and Dora had liked, and a couple of pieces of paper faded, with handwritten directions in Jack’s familiar scrawl.

She went back to the apartment and searched for something on the Internet, printed it out, returned to the vehicle, sat in the passenger seat and began, “Yit-ga-dal v’yit-ka-dash sh’mei ra-ba b’al-ma di-v’ra chi-ru-tei, v’yam-lich mal-chu-tei…..

When she had finished the prayer, she said, “Jack, I’m sorry we didn’t take care of it as well as we should have,” she paused then continued, “but you were never much about things anyway. You know where we all are. You don’t need the car to get there. You need to leave it, now.”

She waited a few more minutes, and then feeling a subtitle difference that could have been entirely imaginary, she left.

How I got to tell that story….

So almost a year ago, I’m listening to the WBAI – my local Pacifica station or as the better-half refers to it – Commie Radio. It’s The Next Hour, a Sunday arts show, and there are these two men talking about their theater piece which is called Two Men Talking . These two men who had met in a private Jewish day school in South Africa when they were twelve, tell stories about their evolving friendship and their lives. The show though it always features certain core stories is always different. I liked what I was hearing. Plus it was, as it often is on BAI, a pledge drive and for $200, you could get two tickets to the show and one admission to their all day storytelling workshop and learn a little about how to do what they do.

I pay my $200. Go to see the show which the better-half and I both found very moving although to say much more would be to spoil it. Then came the workshop.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, sunny, the sky was clear and it wasn’t too hot. I got to the building – a large studio complex in Greenwich Village where there was the smell of smoke and several entrances closed due to a fire that morning. The gathering crowd, the sense of “What the hell is going on?”, the weather, and the lower Manhattan locale all combined to remind me of that thing that happened a few years ago…. And if you were in the City when it did, you know what I’m talking about.

But we did manage to find our way to a spacious studio with a rooftop patio that with river views. The workshop was spectacular. Filled with really good storytellers, but the technique was challenging. Tell what happened. Sounds simple but when that means you can’t rely on your shtick, you can’t give an opinion or even tell how you felt, it’s tough. But the result was stories that flowed like conversation and allowed the listener to have his or her own experience. It reminded me of something I’d heard once about acting. It doesn’t matter if you can cry on a stage. The point is to make the audience cry.

I signed up for the 4-week advanced series. By the end, I felt like I had a handle on it and a few good memoir stories to tell and write. Then I got THE CALL. The two men were going back on WBAI and this time they were bringing some of their storytellers and I was invited. And so I got to tell a story on the radio. (I’ll upload it when I can find it and figure out how to do it. In the meantime, go here to see a written version.) All of the storytellers were radio virgins, we were sitting in a circle and it felt intimate and safe like the workshop.

After my story, Janet Coleman the host, asked Murry Nossel one of the Two Men, “How could she have screwed that up?”

Murray replied, “She could have told us how she felt.”

And that was the whole point of telling “what happened”. It’s a bit like saying “trust the reader” if you’re a fiction writer. If you tell how YOU felt, than you are telling the listener how to feel instead of allowing them to have their own feelings.

A couple of months later, I hear from Jerome Deroy who runs the business end of the workshops. He tells me that they are going to film some storytellers for the website and I’m again invited. I chose a more upbeat one than the one I’d told on the radio. It’s more upbeat than the radio story and a good one for aspiring writers and other aspirants to hear. Check it out!

Response to Right Wingnut Bimbette

So one of those blond conservative wingnuts with long tresses (not the crack whore with the big Adam’s apple, but a younger wannabe), wrote a column basically saying, “Oh my god, Jennifer Lopez and Sonia Sotomayor are both from the Bronx. Oh my god! And they’re both like uhm women! And uhm they are both Puerto Rican. So like THEY ARE EXACTLY THE SAME!”

I am not going to provide a link to this idiocy, but here was my response:

Do you get paid to do this? Because this is really some dumb, witless, idiocy. It reads like a joke-column in The Onion. I mean you really want to compare someone who got full scholarships to ivy league schools (Princeton and Yale) where she excelled, became the first Hispanic federal judge in NY state, and saved baseball in addition to making other decisions which clearly show her ability to put the constitution ABOVE her alleged political beliefs — to J Lo based on the fact that they both grew up in the South Bronx? The ONLY thing these two women are known to have in common is that they are Puerto Rican women from the Bronx and to imply that therefore they are exactly the same makes you sound kind of dumb or kind of racist.