6D Phantoms of the Opera

October 31, 2007

Henriette wanted to become an opera singer and sing for the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City. I don’t know the whole story, mostly because as a child I was not paying attention. I was not paying attention because I was a whiny, self-obsessed, self-pitying child who detested my grandparents and parents. I’m not sure how much to criticize this child.

I tried to grow up a bit as I got older; I now consider myself in terms of emotional maturity to have reached the age of 13, although I have reached the chronological age of 63. Early next year, I will reach the chronological age of 64. I don’t know if I will reach the emotional maturity age of 14, but I am not optimistic. I suspect I am advancing one year per decade. By the time I reach 73, it may be too late to grow up emotionally.

Anyway, Henriette met a man named Morton who told her he knew and loved opera and could coach her in opera so well she could become a successful opera singer. They married and moved to New York City, so they could be close to the Met.

Apparently, being her opera coach was so strenuous that Morton did not have enough energy left to hold a conventional job that paid money. Henriette was so grateful for his coaching that she worked as a waitress to support him so he could coach her.

Apparently, the rest of my family did not like Morton very much. Not only was he a “kept man,” I remember dark remarks about his being anti-Semitic (even though he had married a Jew).I would guess that I could sum up the general family opinion as: pompous twit.

When I was in high school, my father’s job at the time working for a defense contractor took us to various part of the country. I attended six high schools in three states.

The last high school was in Rockland County, New York, a suburb of New York City. At about the age of 15 or so, I once went into New York City and spent a couple of days with Henriette and Morton. During my visit with them, I had a traumatic experience which left me scarred for life. I will describe this childhood trauma and abuse (and relate how I eventually overcame it) in my next message.


6C Chicago Bohemian Society

October 30, 2007

The three cousins told the rest of us (privately, out of earshot of our aunts) that Diana had so dominated their father, the doctor, that he died a “broken man.” I was not surprised, though I fond Diana less irritating than I had found my Grandmother Agnes.

After Grandfather Harry had died, broken or not I don’t know, Agnes had left Chicago and come to live with Naomi in Orange County, California, so I do remember her. I did not like her, but then I didn’t like most of my family very much.

My three sisters had apparently been part of bohemian Chicago society in the 1930s. I can drop a couple of famous names, at least in retrospect. Apparently my family knew the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, at least slightly. I believe when I was a baby I was introduced to him once, or at least displayed to him.

(Although my daughter did not know Frank Lloyd Wright, she has a strong dislike of him and his work. I have not discussed this with her in detail, but Wright’s life was filled with commotion and turmoil. He does sound like a bit of a jerk, although perhaps a very talented jerk.)

My Aunt Naomi once told me that she and the other bohemians of her time used to sit in cafes and talk about the great novels they were going to write, and other works of art they were going to create, but in most cases they just talked about them and never got around to actually doing the writing and creating.

To illustrate the value of hard work, Naomi told me that one of the members of the café society would disappear for long periods of time, and actually write a novel. Several more books appeared over the years. His name was Nelson Algren. His most famous book (which I’ve never gotten around to reading) is Man with the Golden Arm, a book about morphine addiction.

Algren who had been in jail (for a minor crime) like many people of his time was a leftist and an advocate and spokesman for the poor and outcasts of society. I don’t know if the comparison fits, but I think of him as sort of the “Jack Kerouac” of his time.

As bohemians, my father’s three sisters all had artistic ambitions. Although she did not become a famous ballerina, Naomi did dance professionally. Apparently the apex of her dance career was dancing in the chorus line of a road company production of the famous Musical Oklahoma.

As I mentioned, Diana became involved (like her mother) in children’s theater. My impression is that the work she did in this area was not as dreadfully awful as her mother’s. Next, Henriette the opera singer.

6B My Father’s Sisters

October 28, 2007

My father had three sisters: Naomi (who became a ballet dancer and ballet teacher), Diana, and Henriette.

Aunt Diana split with her family in her twenties because Grandfather Harry gave enemas to his children. Diana considered this activity as child abuse and sexual molestation; her sisters considered it as “Just what Papa did because he loved us and wanted us to be healthy.” As a result, Diana moved to New York City and married a doctor. By marrying a real doctor with a real “MD” degree, Diana showed her alternative-health care obsessed family that she wasn’t a victim of their bizarre beliefs.

Aunt Diana and her sisters avoided having contact with each other for about 60 years. After Aunt Naomi had lived abroad for a number of years, finally living in Taiwan with her millionaire daughter Joanna, who had learned Chinese, married into a Taiwanese mercantile family, and become co-owner of Graco, a multi-national company which is one of the leading manufacturers of baby strollers and baby furniture in the world (now owned by Rubbermaid), Naomi decided to get together with her family. She contacted Henriette, located Diana, and asked Joanna to pay for organizing a family re-union. (I am not making any of this up.)

Using Joanna’s money, Naomi paid for every family member who wanted to attend to travel to Vermont, and paid for their lodging in a ski resort (staying there before the snow started to fall). The following year, we did it again, this time at a ski resort in New Hampshire.

My wife does not care much for my family; she did not attend. My daughter is fairly involved with her partner’s family; aside from us (Mom and Dad) she feels little connection to my family. As with her mom, she did not attend.

My three aunts gathered and reminisced to us about Grandpa Harry and Grandma Agnes. With a little embarrassment, they explained about the 60-year split between Diana and her sisters, and how they decided 60 years was long enough to carry on a family feud.

Diana, whom I also did not remember, reminded me a bit of Agnes. She was rather dramatic and domineering and had a tendency to tell everyone else what to do. Agnes had written children’s plays that avoided conflict (because she was a pacifist). Diana had also been into children’s theatre, though I don’t know that she was as militant a pacifist as her mother. During the reunion, there were many children present. Diana organized them into various little skits and activities in a fairly bossy way.

Diana had two daughters and one son. The son and one of the daughters were fraternal twins.

Diana’s family all practiced Reform Judaism. They were the only family members I’ve ever met from my Jewish families who considered themselves Jews in their religious behavior.

The female twin cousin was a counselor who made a living providing marital and relationship counseling. At the first reunion she was rather withdrawn and distant. Her siblings told us she was recovering from the end of a bad relationship. She did not attend the second reunion; apparently she was depressed over not being able to maintain a successful relationship.

Although I had a faint curiosity about my unknown relatives, Julie, the non-twin, reacted quite differently. She was absolutely fascinated by her “new” relatives; staring at us in wonder and asking us many questions. Julie’s behavior did not bother me, but it was quite different from my reaction.

I have many strange reactions to phenomena other people find natural. For example, I never have felt the slightest trace of religious belief; most people believe in a God of some sort.

As a similar eccentricity, I don’t feel a strong emotional connection to someone because there is a genetic link. My granddaughter is my real granddaughter although there is no genetic connection.

It’s interesting that my uncle is a genius composer and that my cousin was a millionaire, but I don’t really think either relationship makes me special. If someone handed me a document describing the lives of my Eastern European Jewish ancestors I would read it with a little interest, but not having such information convenient at hand, I feel no impulse to seek it out.

6A Paternal Ancestor Tales

October 27, 2007

My paternal grandfather Harry was a dentist in Chicago who became enraptured with one of the Kellogg brother’s theories that enemas could cure and prevent most illnesses. I don’t remember Grandpa Harry, but I remember as a child getting a few enemas from my parents, so I don’t not remember Grandpa Harry very fondly.

My paternal grandmother Agnes was an early feminist, pacifist, and social climber. I’m not sure how a Jewish feminist pacifist could socially climb very far in Chicago in the 1930s, but apparently climb she did.

Also, Grandfather Harry apparently did not make much money giving enemas. I can’t imagine why. It seems like an activity that would catch on like a wildfire, or maybe like a flood. However, Grandma Agnes got herself into the society pages fairly often, so people in Chicago thought our family had a lot of money. My father told me a fellow college student at one time asked him once if he could borrow my father’s car. The classmate was astonished and disbelieving when my father told his classmate his family didn’t own an automobile. (Apparently, the reality was that the family moved fairly frequently because they could not pay their rent.)

Also, when I was born (Agnes’ first grandchild), Agnes apparently was in a state of denial because she thought that being a grandmother did not accord well with her social-climbing ambitions, so for a bit she refused to accept being called a “grandma.” After a couple of years, however, she made an abrupt about face, and founded Chicago’s first “Grandmother’s Club” and became a social-climbing Grandma.

RD Considers Her Options

October 21, 2007

For those of my readers who like my “cute, fuzzy bunny” literary persona, I warn you now that I am switching into a tragicomedy phase, which you may not like as much. These somewhat sad events do not involve the Barely Extended Family.

In fact, as far as I know, Random Granddaughter and her mommies are fine at the moment. In fact, my daughter has just begun taking her sabbatical from her job. This is supposed to refresh and reinvigorate her so she can return to her job with renewed enthusiasm and drive, but she is using her sabbatical to study her calculus so she can get back into graduate school, this time to study medical statistics instead of nut horticulture (what she studied before until she became disillusioned with the study of nuts).

As she told us on the BEF’s recent visit, as RG played with her train (though before she began playing with the train, she insisted on pulling out the wholesome wooden blocks and building a train station because no decent train will go out in public without a train station, as any sensible preschooler knows) RD has been considering her options and evaluating alternatives.

Despite all her assiduous calculus study, Random Daughter, being a practical and realistic person, realizes she may not get into the graduate school to which she is applying.

One alternative is to try and go to another graduate school by Distance Learning.

Another alternative is to stay at her current job. I was surprised to here RD say this, as my impression was that she hated her job, or at least disliked it quite a bit. But, as the saying goes, the plot has thickened.

The top management of her employer has figured out or learned that she is thinking of going to graduate school and leaving their employ. As is sometimes the case, and slightly contradictory to expectation, this has slightly increased her value in their estimation.

Although she does not like the middle management of her employer, the top management seems to have become slightly more enlightened, and instead of regarding her as a person who does fairly technical but still rather tedious and menial work and is not good for much else, are starting to regard her as a person of some talent and potential, and as a person they might want to “bring along” into “higher things” (as in work involving more responsibility, creativity, and initiative).

I was in a bit of a state of shock and surprise as she told me this. I said, “Your employer exists for the purpose of making money. I thought you would like to do something a little more idealistic, something that contributes more to society than merely amassing wealth.”

My daughter agreed that this is so. However, she realizes that she has to be realistic. If, in the meantime, her employer decides to treat her a little better than they have in the past, and perhaps give her some more interesting assignments than they have in the past, and I presume perhaps a little more money, and that is the best option available to her, she will probably go with the flow for the meantime.

Power Mad

October 19, 2007

Winter is here. For some people winter comes with a date on a calendar. For some people winter comes with the first snow.

For us, winter comes with the first windstorm and the first power outage and the first head cold.

Last year our power went out nine times. The first outage last year came in November. This year the first outage came in October. This may be a harbinger of things to come.

We have a generator. We never have gotten it to work in a useful way. It apparently has irreconcilable differences with our refrigerator. It also had irreconcilable differences with the stereo, as it murdered the stereo. It may even have irreconcilable differences with the zucchini. If they went to battle, the struggle might be something like the battle between Godzilla vs. Mothra.

However, we doubt the zucchini will survive winter, while the generator just laughs at winter as it laughs at us. It is a multi-tasking generator. It fails at many tasks equally well.

We do have a lot of wood for our wood stove ready in the basement. We do have a lot of water stored in the basement. We have a lot of food stored in the basement. We have flashlights and portable radios. We have lots of batteries. If are forced to resort to eating the batteries, we even have a flashlight and a portable radio which can be wound up.

We have kindly and competent neighbors with a generator that works as it should, though they had to do battle with the hardware store that sold it to them before it was persuaded to work.

We could survive a disaster such as Katrina if the disaster lasted no more than three days. If it lasted more than three days, we would walk or perhaps crawl the quarter mile or so to the Kindly Neighbors and throw ourselves on their doorstep and plead for help.

After the power went off nine times last year the entire community on the island decided to focus on the problem. As with the aftermath to Katrina, the first step in solving a problem is to exercise the fingers by pointing them.

Citizens pointed out that the telephone lines are buried underground while the power lines hang in the air so trees can fall on them.

“How come the telephone company was so much smarter than you?” angry citizens asked. “When they put in phone lines, they put them under the ground. Why didn’t you put the power lines under the ground?”

The power company explained that putting electric lines underground is much more complicated than putting telephone lines underground.

The power company also provides helpful tips about what to do when there is a power outage. They say, “If you see a power line on the ground, don’t touch it.”

After they listened to angry citizens for a while, they said, “Here are some power lines on the ground. Go ahead and touch them. If power is not working, call us. You will be able to tell us exactly where the downed power line is by pointing with your very strong fingers and that will save us a lot of time in finding the downed lines. On the other hand, if the power is working, what’s your problem?”

However, the power company has been sending crews out during the summer trimming tree branches very aggressively. Citizens have been complaining about how the beautiful trees along the roads have been mutilated. I suspect these are some of the same citizens who complained about their power going out last winter when tree limbs fell on power lines.

Obviously, it would make a lot of sense to put the power lines underground, even though it wasn’t done in the first place. This would cost a lot of money.

The power company said, “If you [the citizens] will pay for it [by raising taxes] we will put power lines underground, though you need to understand if something goes wrong with a power line under the ground it will take longer to restore power and you will complain even more in the future.

“Also, you need to understand that power comes from lines and power stations off the island, and when they stop working, it won’t matter if your lines are underground.”

The citizens said, “You are a big private company that makes a lot of money. You spend some of that money to put the power lines underground. And stop making so many excuses.”

I don’t know if the general fitness and health of the people on our island is above the national average, but we may have some of the strongest fingers in our country. Except for the citizens of new Orleans, that is.

I have been working on my stock portfolio. Usually, I buy a stock and hope the price of the stock will increase. For example, I bought stock in a gasoline company. Every time the price of gasoline goes up at the pump, I am comforted by the knowledge that a tiny portion of the huge and obscene profits the gasoline company makes goes to me as a stock dividend. Although the gasoline company profit is obscene, by the time it gets to me, it is much cleaner. I believe this is known as money laundering.

There is an obscure procedure in the stock market known as shorting. Although I don’t really understand the details of how to short a stock, the basic concept is that instead of betting (excuse me, investing) that the price of a stock will go up, the gambler (excuse me, investor) bets that the price of a stock will go down.

I think I will study shorting with great intensity until I understand it. Then I will short the stock of our power company.

As the power goes out this winter, I will sit in the dark and cold next the wood stove and examine my brokerage statement by the light of my windup flashlight and see if it brings me any comfort and consolation. Then I will cuddle my wife for comfort and consolation.

And maybe call my daughter on the telephone that will probably work because of its underground lines and talk to Random Granddaughter.

Bo Has Not Lost Her Sheep

October 13, 2007

We met the Barely Extended Family at a sheep farm. Bo was not little, did not peep, was dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans instead of a frock, and her dog looked intently at the six sheep in front of him with an expression that said, You will not get lost. I will eat you if you try to get lost.

The sheep had an expression that said, We will do whatever you tell us to do; just don’t eat us.

Get in that pen, said the dog. No, not that way, stupid sheep, THIS way, said the dog. Eventually all the sheep got in the pen.

Another dog stood by the side watching with interest. Later, after the demonstration is over, the two dogs will converse. Did you see how stupid those sheep are? one dog will ask.

Yes, the other dog will answer. They are really stupid.

Sheep dogs never tire of this conversation.

Bo told the dog to chase the sheep out of the pen. The sheep left the pen faster than they had gone in.

Later the sheep will say to each other, Did you see that stupid dog? First he chases us into the pen. Then he chases us out of the pen. What do dogs want, anyway? one sheep will ask.

Nobody understands what dogs want, the other sheep will answer.

Sheep never tire of this conversation.

I asked Random Granddaughter, “Do you think Sylvie (the BEF’s little black—with a bit of white—cat) can herd sheep?”

Mommy (my daughter’s Out-if-Law partner) said, “I think sheep would be a bit much for Sylvie. However, she might be able to herd chipmunks. Perhaps we will bring some chipmunks back to the city with us for Sylvie to herd.”

It was windy and raining. RG said, “I want to go to the pumpkin farm.”

Pumpkins seldom get lost, and generally don’t need to be herded by dogs. However, little girls like to get pumpkins around Halloween time, so we got back in our cars and headed for the pumpkin farm to round up some pumpkins.


We live on lot #3 of four lots subdivided from the original 20-acre parcel. The Friendly Neighbors live on lot #1 (southwest corner). Joe and Melinda own lot #2. We built on lot #3 because it had a “standard septic” designation (saving us several thousand dollars when we had our “drain field” put in).

I took Random Granddaughter for a walk down the gravel road to the mail box to pick up the mail. In the past, she has demonstrated a tendency to whine when asked to walk for some distance. I was pleased that she walked the entire distance; not only striding vigorously but also jumping over every mud puddle she encountered.

At lot #2, I noticed that Joe was working on his well house. We live on lot #3. Our house is completed, but our well is naked to the world. The Friendly Neighbors who built their house, live on lot #1. The owners of lot #4 are mysteries so far.

Joe and Melinda were married about a year ago. Melinda has a son of about 20 from a previous marriage; so I guess Joe and Melinda are about 40. Getting married at 40 strikes me as very romantic.

We have no well house. Our well stands naked to the world. Joe and Melinda have not built a house yet, but Joe has built a work of art with his well house.  A family of elves could live very happily in this tiny mansion.

Joe and Melinda own a small dog named Leand. It is small (not tiny) and short-haired; if they told me the breed, I forgot.

Leand is very friendly. When RG and I approached, Leand ran up barking enthusiastically. He focused on RG as another small creature, trying to leap up on her and lick her face.

RG was not terrified, and did not start crying, but she did not like Leand’s taking liberties with her person. She turned around and started running back to the road. I followed and picked her up, so Leand could not leap on her any more.

After we had returned home, I told Mommy about RG’s encounter with Leand.

“Good” said my daughter’s out-of-law partner. “RG has been asking us for a dog.” Mommy, and Mama (my daughter) are not dog fans, and would prefer RG to be satisfied with Sylvie (their little cat) as a pet. RG loves Sylvie (as she tells her several times a day), but she wants a dog also. After all, her best friend Mia has a dog.

“Next time she asks about getting a dog, I will remind her about how Leand tried to jump up on her. Every time she has an unpleasant encounter with a dog, we remind her of it.”

I suppose at some point I will tell RG about boys. They also will try to put their paws all over her and lick her face, I will tell her. She doesn’t have to be terrified of them, either, but at times heading back to the road may not be a bad idea.

The following was passed on to me as a true story:

Library patron: “I am looking for a globe of the earth.”

Librarian: “We have a table-top model over here.”

Patron: “No, that’s not good enough. Don’t you have a life-size?”

Librarian: (pause) “Yes, but it’s in use right now.”

The Butterfly Comes Out of

October 8, 2007

At one point during the Barely Extended Family’s weekend visit, Mommy (Random Granddaughter’s birth mother and my daughter’s partner) and I took RG for a walk in the woods.

We spotted a “woolly bear” caterpillar on the ground, inspiring some examination and discussion.

At one point, Mom (who is a grade school teacher at a private school for high-IQ children) decided to provide a “teachable moment.”

She asked, “Do you know what a caterpillar turns into?”

RG thought for a couple of minutes, digging through her mental reservoir of natural history. At last, she triumphantly announced, “It turns into a butterfly.” She thought some more; the floodgates of information were opening; she explicated further:

“The butterfly comes out of the raccoon.”

She stared in bewilderment as Mommy and Grandpa could not keep themselves from bursting out in intense laughter. However, we decided not to amend her understanding at this point. It’s always good to hold such moments in reserve to embarrass children when they become teenagers.