Category Archives: History

Connections

My sisters and I never saw eye to eye; rather we heard heart to heart through our telephone receivers.  We lived a good distance away for most of our lives.  And so our connections, close as they were, were nearly always via long distance calls.

The ear pieces on the phone grew increasingly warm and comforting with each laugh, each tease and each word we spoke.  We spent hours on the phone, twisting the curly, stretched cord around our body parts, spilling out our hearts and our triumphs and our woes.  But there is no record, no evidence, and sadly fewer clear recollections.

So I made up some memories.

*     *     *

I began to question the wisdom of this trip as soon as the line went dead.

The call Thursday night was unexpected.  Sam and Dave – customers from the burger joint I’d worked in back home — had tracked me down in Boston.  I’d left home six months earlier, and was surprised that the guys had found me.  They had said they were in Boston often and promised to look me up – but so had a lot of people.

Six months away from home hadn’t been nearly as fun as I expected my “coming of age” to be.   I hesitated to admit that I was lonely and would love some company.  But I hadn’t even thought about Sam and Dave – forgotten them, in fact.  Well, I barely knew them to begin with.  Sam was tall, blond, nice smile.  A well done hamburger with fries; Dave was shorter with shaggy brown hair that he often pulled back.  He liked his cheeseburger rare with onion rings.  Both drank Coke.  One of them drove my favorite car, a 1974 Datsun 240Z.  Blue.

“Great, we’ll pick you up Saturday at 10,” one of them said.  Was it Dave?  He and Sam were on separate extensions and kept finishing each other’s sentences like an old married couple.

“Yeah, Steve gave us the address along with your number.   See you Saturday!” said the other – Sam, I guessed.  And then they hung up.

They didn’t leave a number so I couldn’t call them back.  For that matter, they didn’t leave their last names.  First names, a car (cool as it was) and burger preferences.  That was all I knew.  Yet I had just agreed to spend the weekend with them at the Cape.

At only 19, I hadn’t done too many stupid things with guys yet.  So I called my older sister, Judy, 24, who had.

“This is ridiculous,” I told Judy, pacing back and forth across my tiny apartment like a bobcat in the zoo. “I can’t possibly go.  I don’t know who they are.  And I can’t possibly call them back – they didn’t leave their number.  They didn’t leave their last names.  They didn’t even tell me where I just agreed to go.   God, this has all the makings of a Hitchcock picture.”

“Are you Tippi Hedren or Janet Leigh?”  Jude roared at her own joke.  “You’ve known these two cute guys for three years and never went out with them?  Either of them?  Or both of them – together?” she teased.  “God you’re boring.  You’d be Doris Day in a Hitchcock movie.”

“I’m just going to have to talk to them when they get here on Saturday.”

“Ok,” said Jude, swallowing her laugh. “You’ll talk to them on Saturday.  Good plan,” she burst out again, “especially because you can’t talk with them before that because you didn’t get their number,” she said, gasping for breath.

I began to relax.  Somehow, when I told my troubles to Judy, they stopped being problems and became situation comedy.

“You’re a huge help.  I’ll call you back next time I need abuse.”

“Anytime,” Judy said, hanging up.

I spent Friday at work bouncing between laughing and worrying.  I didn’t pack.  Of course I wouldn’t go with them – I didn’t even know their last names!

At 10 am Saturday the doorbell rang.  “Shit.”

“We’re here,” Dave or Sam said through the intercom system.  Another reason not to go – I couldn’t keep them straight.  I buzzed them in, and took a deep breath.  I still didn’t know what to do.

Did it take an hour for them to climb the two flights or were they upstairs in a flash?  Suddenly I felt queasy.  “Oh God,” I thought as I shut the bathroom door, “what would Judy do?”  I sat on the toilet for the longest time, trying not to panic.  At last, I smiled, shrugged and said “oh, what the hell.”  I walked back into the main room and said “I’m not quite done packing, but I’ll be just a minute.”

I threw a bathing suit, a change of clothes, and a couple of other things in a backpack.  “There’s just one thing,” I said, smiling at my dates,  “I’d love to drive the Z.”

*     *     *

Me, Judy, and Beth, a while ago

 

*****

This is a reposting.  Today would have been my sister Judy’s Earth Day Birthday.  I wish I could call her up and give her grief.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFy7-XuCN2w

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Birthday, Family, Health and Medicine, History, Taking Care of Each Other

Well, I Was A “Star”

There are days when you just look your best. Most women I know can point to just a few times when the stars are aligned – when we are simply movie star beautiful. Every hair is in place (or perfectly out of place). The dress hangs just so; the pearls, even though fake, hang at just the right length. The dress accentuates the right things and hides the imperfections.

Perfect. Stunning. Memorable.

I had a new dress to wear that spring day in 1984 . I had waited to wear it until I needed the perfect combination of professional and sexy.  This was it.

A meeting with clients in my DC office. Lunch with an old friend. A date.

So on that Friday morning I put my new dress on. After all my health problems and surgeries, I was finally looking pretty damn good again.  But this was my best.  And I knew it instantly.  I would remember this day.  Unusually, I primped in front of the mirror.  Everything looked perfect.

The dress was black, with three-quarter sleeves. It hung straight at the sides with just the hint of a curve at my waist. The six-inch white stripe down the center added a little bit of elegance to the dress, and to me.

My shoes, slightly professional black pumps with two-inch heels, worked. The pearl necklace – yup a perfect accessory.

My curly reddish-blond hair was swept back into a French braid, but wisps of curls invariably straggled out, softening the lines around my face.

I looked like a movie star. At least as good as Marilyn.

Google Image

Google Image

Or Audrey

Google again

Google again

Or Eva

Eva Marie Saint

Heads turned towards me as I walked to the metro. A man offered me his seat and then flirted with me until I got off. More heads turned as I walked the two blocks to work.

My office was at the end of the hall, and I passed my colleagues.

“Wow, Elyse!”

“You look great.”

“Nice dress!”

“Got a date tonight?”

With each compliment, each appreciative look, I preened just a bit more. Smiled a little bit more. Walked a little taller. I couldn’t help it.  I looked gorgeous!

When I arrived at my doorway, I turned to go in.  I looked back down the hall feeling as if I’d gotten off the runway at the Paris fashion show.

Ed, the lawyer who sat in the office across from mine, got up from his desk to see me.

“Elyse!” Ed said. “Wow!  You look like a movie star!  You look just like Pepe Le Pew!

Le Google

Le Google

 

See?  I was a star.  And a star’s a star.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Criminal Activity, Fashion, History, Huh?, Humor

The Sounds of Peace

On the Friday after the World Trade Center fell, I was in Geneva, Switzerland, attending what was billed as a “silent” march.  Citizens of the world came together there in Geneva to show solidarity with we devastated Americans.  We walked la Place des Naçions, through the area of Geneva that is home to a dozen or so international organizations.  Organizations that promote peace, international cooperation, and help for our fellow man.

United Nations, Geneva Switzerland.  (Google Image)

United Nations, Geneva Switzerland.
(Google Image)

That day, people from every country on the planet, it seemed, marched to show their opposition to the hatred that attacked America and destroyed the towers.

Flags of the United Nations, Geneva (Google Image)

Flags of the United Nations, Geneva
(Google Image)

But it was anything but the “silent” march planned.  Instead, I was surrounded by thousands of voices, speaking in sympathy, in harmony, in defiance of evil.  The voices spoke in a thousand languages in righteous anger and solidarity.

It was the sound of peace.

I hadn’t heard that sound of peace again until last night.

Sometimes I forget that some of my ancestors came from other lands with other languages.  Sometimes we all forget that we are a nation of immigrants.  A nation that was built on the blood, sweat, tears and dreams of people from everywhere.

But we should never do that.  There are things we as Americans can never forget.  And the sound of voices singing one of our most cherished American songs, in whatever language they speak, and with whomever they love, is one of the most positive things that we should never forget.

 

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Filed under History, Humor, Neighbors, Taking Care of Each Other

The Honeymooners

Travel in the days before the internet was much more of an adventure than it is today.  Now, you can just click on a website and make an informed decision about whether you want to stay at a hotel.  You see the entire hotel, view pictures of the rooms, the grounds, the sign on the door.  The works.  You know exactly what you’re getting.

But in the olden days, for you youngsters in the audience, we had to use books.

For our honeymoon, John and I decided to do a tour of New England country inns, with one stop at a really fancy hotel in Quebec City, Canada.  So we got a book entitled Country Inns of New England, and poured over it for a month choosing just the right places for a memorable trip.

Our route took us to stops in Connecticut , Vermont and New Hampshire, up to the north and across the border into Canada where we spent several days in Quebec City, before driving down to Maine, and then home and back to real life.

The inns listed in the book were great.  Quaint.  Romantic.  Historic.  We made reservations in town in Connecticut where we had a lovely room in a converted mansion that had an amazing restaurant.  In Vermont , we booked a room at the West Mountain Inn in Arlington, Vermont.  The entry in the book promised a lovely Vermont farmhouse on a mountainside with lovely hiking trails around it.  It didn’t disappoint.

Strangely, there weren’t a whole lot of Inns listed in the book for our next destination, one night in northwestern New Hampshire.

The only listing that looked appealing was one for the Moose Inn,* which billed itself as a traditional country inn in a converted carriage house.  But the entry didn’t expand upon it like the other descriptions did.  So I called to inquire.

“Good evening,” I said, with John sitting next to me.  “I’m considering making a reservation at your Inn.  Can you please tell me a little bit about it.  We’d be coming as part of our honeymoon.”

I held the receiver between John and I so he could hear through the earpiece.  (Historical note:  that’s what we did before speakerphones.)

“Well, sure,” he said.  “First of all, my name is George.  The Moose Inn is a converted carriage house.  The best way to describe it is as sort of Newhart-y.”

Google Image

Google Image

“Newhart-y?”  John and I both said.

“Yeah, you know, the show,”  George said.  “With Bob Newhart.  He owns a country inn in the show.”

“Oh, yeah.”  I said picturing the front desk with the staircase behind it.  I’d only watched the show a few times.  (Tom Poston irritates me beyond belief.)

“Oh, yeah,” said John.

“The interior is mostly pine paneling.  There is a large common area that contains the reception desk, with comfortable chairs, book cases, and antiques galore.  The most outstanding feature though is the ceiling.  It just goes on and on, right up to the roof.  There is a balcony on three sides, and the rooms are located off those balconies.  There are only six rooms, so it’s quite intimate.”

“Do the rooms have private bathrooms?”

“Yes they do.”

“How much are the rooms?”  We were going to be there at the beginning of leaf-peeping season, late September.  The rate in the book seemed like a typo.

“$35.00 a night.”

John and I looked at each other.   The price in the book wasn’t a typo.  And the inn sounded lovely.  Could it be cheap too?

“Well,” said John, “it’s right where we want to go.  It’s only one night.  Let’s book it.”

So we did.

After a lovely stay in our second stop in southern Vermont, we decided to drive up to the Moose Inn through New Hampshire.  Neither of us had spent much time in that state.  It was time to see what it was all about, and how it compared to Vermont, which we both loved.

So we waved good-by to the perfectly manicured villages of Vermont, the white church steeples, the town greens surrounded by perfectly kept white houses with black shutters that reflected the sun.  We crossed the bridge into New Hampshire.

On the map, Vermont and New Hampshire look like complete opposite halves of a rectangle, divided by the Connecticut River.  Vermont is narrow from west to east in the south, and New Hampshire is wide.  As you travel north, Vermont widens out and New Hampshire narrows.  Politically, they are opposites, too.  Vermont is very liberal; New Hampshire, not.  In fact, the two states are opposites in many ways.  You really can tell just by looking at the map:

Google Image

Google Image

Anyway, we left Vermont, drove across the bridge over the Connecticut River and found ourselves in a very different world.  Gone were the white steeples, the town greens and the glistening 200 year old homes that lined them.

Even on a sunny day like the one we had, we found New Hampshire gray.

As a social experiment,  we decided to modify our route.  Instead of just staying in New Hampshire as planned, we crossed back and forth between the two states at every bridge we found (including a couple of covered ones).  We wanted to see if it was just the one town, or if there was a pattern.

Each time we entered it, Vermont glistened.  When going east across a bridge we’d find ourselves back in gray New Hampshire.  Run down.  Unkempt.  The roads, not well supported by state taxes (of which there are practically none) were poor quality, rutted.  Road signs were battered, missing, or hidden behind trees and shrubs.  Houses sagged.  Common space was not apparent, parkland not plentiful, obvious, or in the middle of town.

And so when we arrived at the Moose Inn, we should have been prepared for it.  But we weren’t.

Because it turned out that it wasn’t the Moose Inn, it was the Moose Lodge Inn and Motel.  There was a large part that was obviously the carriage house, but there was also a wing with Holiday Inn-like motel rooms in a wing just stuck onto the carriage house.  Worse, there were six tacky individual cabins lined up along side of it.  In front sat those tacky 50s-style lawn chairs that were 30 years either side of being cool.

Google again

Google again

John and I looked at each other’s gaping mouths.  How quaint.  How lovely.  How romantic.

We waited until we’d stopped laughing, dried our eyes, parked and went inside.

We were relieved to find that inside the carriage house part was actually quite nice.  The main room was lovely, immense.  A grandfather clock stood next to the check in desk, which was, as described on the phone by George, very Newhart-y.

OK, So it's Google Again

OK, So it’s Google Again

The center of the room was gorgeous – the ceiling soared to the roof as described.  The balconies above were well kept and quite pretty with lovely railings, the doors to the rooms visible.  At the back of the room, George noted the restaurant where we could have dinner and breakfast.

So in spite of the lodge and motel part, it was quite pretty.  And did I mention it was cheap?

George took my suitcase, John took his, and we went up a steep staircase to the balcony above.  George opened the door to our room, placed my suitcase inside across the room.  I followed, with John behind me.

Walking across the room, it felt as if someone had somehow invisibly adjusted the incline on a treadmill.  As we crossed the room, we were walking uphill.  Up a steep hill.  Inside.  The slope of the wide pine floor was so significant that John’s suitcase, which was extremely modern for the day and actually had wheels, slid several inches back downhill towards the door.

Being me, I immediately checked out the bathroom and noticed that our “private” bathroom had an open door into the next room.

“Ummm, George,” I said.  “We reserved a room with a private bathroom.”

“Oh, no problem.”  He said.  And he walked through the bathroom to the door, threw a bolt across the door and said “Private!” with a smile.

I looked at him.

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “Nobody’s staying in that room anyway.  If you have any questions, need anything, or want to stop downstairs for a glass of wine, please head on down.  Now you folks enjoy your stay.”  George closed the door behind him.

We looked around.  In spite of the slope of the floor, the room was quite pretty.  There were two antique dressers, with mirrors that had been gazed into for at least a hundred years.  There were delicate spindle night tables on each side of the bed.  The wood pieces were all covered in lace doilies that took me back to my grandparents home.

Then there was the bed.  It had a metal headboard and footboard.  It too was antique.

You know where I got this so quit asking.

You know where I got this so quit asking.

Unfortunately, the bedsprings were antique too.  John sat on the bed, and it let off a sound like a cat being spun around the room by its tail.  The sound echoed around the room, and likely around the inside of the common area in the Inn.  John shifted his weight, and the bed screeched again.  He breathed in, and again the bedsprings screamed.  He exhaled and the bedsprings did too.  Much more loudly.

Did I mention that we were on our honeymoon?

Inside the bathroom were towels that said “Holiday Inn.”  And hanging from the shower curtain bar was a plastic clip with a pad of paper, about 3 feet X 2 feet.  Each paper sheet had a map of New Hampshire, with dots on it indicating points of interest throughout the state — a larger version of a child’s place mat at IHOP.  At the bottom it said:

YOUR PERSONAL BATHMAT

“Look,” I said to John laughing.  “I’m glad nobody else is gonna use mine!”

Back downstairs for dinner in the restaurant found us in a nice dining room.  It, like much of the Inn, had pine paneling, which made me think of the house I grew up in.  The food was very much like my mother’s home cooking too.  (My mom had a limited repertoire, too.)

The menu had a wine list printed at the bottom:

WE PROUDLY SERVE

REUNITE

We were alone in the dining room, except for George, who served as our waiter.  I think he might have been the cook, too.

Back upstairs for bed after dinner, the bed continued to groan, screech, moan.  It made a huge racket when we breathed, when we laughed, when we, well, you know.  Did I mention it was our honeymoon?

I slept on the uphill side of the bed.  In the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom, sending my new husband spiraling downhill.  He had been asleep, and woke abruptly just in time to catch himself before plunging off onto the floor where he would have continued to roll crashing into the dresser.

In the morning, we had breakfast in the dining room, with George as our waiter again.  We saw no sign of anyone else in the Inn.  Nor did there seem to be any patrons in the motel part or in the little huts out back.  Just us.

We wandered around the area a bit.  As the town was not listed on our bathmat, we really didn’t know what there was to do in town.  It turned out that omitting that particular town from the bathmat listing interesting places to visit in the state was not an oversight.

We left after lunch to head on up to Quebec City, where we stayed in The Château Frontenac a wonderful, posh hotel built in the late 1800s as one of a group of railway hotels in Canada.  It is an amazing hotel – beautiful, elegant with a fabulous restaurant.

HA!  I got this one from Wikipedia

HA! I got this one from Wikipedia

We had a room at the top of the turret in the center of this picture.  They upgrade you there if you tell them it’s your honeymoon.  We ate fabulous food prepared by a top Canadian chef.  We didn’t drink Reunite.

But you know what?  When we look back on our honeymoon, it is the Moose Inn that we talk about most.   I think it taught us to roll with whatever life was offering, but to hold on tight to each other and laugh.

It also taught us to choose our mattress and box-springs carefully.

* John and I dubbed it the Moose Inn Lodge and Motel, that is not it’s real name.  I drafted this post using the place’s actual name.  But I Googled it and found that it is still in business, and it has a website.  Interestingly, there are no pictures on the website.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Family, History, Holidays, Huh?, Humor

Freedom Industries! and why I ♥ Regulations

It’s the mantra that makes me want to grab the TV remote, smack the person who held it, and change the channel ASAP away from FOX News.

THERE’S TOO MUCH REGULATION!

Me?  I  Regulations.  I dote on them.  I support them.

I understand them and why they are there.  I even lecture about them (and not just here on Word Press – people actually pay me money to do so).*  Regulations, I always tell folks, are the IKEA instructions that accompany the bookcase.  They are the “how-tos.”

Laws are enacted in response to our understanding that a problem exists, and we need to change what we do as a country to prevent it from happening again.  At the same time, we hopefully have enough vision to see some of the related problems that might occur and try to prevent them from occurring.  A few examples:

Our current Food and Drug laws, the Food and Drug Act of 1936 and the Food and Drug Act Amendments (commonly known as the Kefauver-Harris Amendments).  The FDCA was first enacted after a manufacturer added antifreeze (without testing its effects on people, animals or using their brains very much at all) to a cough remedy to make it more palatable to the kiddies.  The then-current law didn’t actually say that they couldn’t add antifreeze.  Guess what happened!  105 people died.

Another disaster involving a drug that was tested and tried, thalidomide, was found to cause serious birth defects in the babies born to pregnant women.  It wasn’t ever approved in the US thanks to Dr. Frances Kelsey

Dr. Frances Kelsey.   (Photo from Wikipedia article you should have already linked to and read.)

Dr. Frances Kelsey.
(Photo from Wikipedia article you should have already linked to and read.  What are you waiting for?)

Laws designed to safeguard our waters and land came about mostly in the 1970s after two hundred years of treating our country’s land and water like a sewer.  Diseases were springing up in neighborhoods where chemical companies had dumped chemicals.

Love Canal, where Hooker Chemical buried 21,000 tons of toxic waste! (Google Image)

Love Canal, where Hooker Chemical buried 21,000 tons of toxic waste!
(Google Image)

Our rivers were polluted.  If you fell into the Potomac River when I first moved here in 1979, you had to get a typhoid shot.  The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned.

Cuyahoga River Burns (June 22, 1969) (Google Image)

Cuyahoga River Burns (June 22, 1969)
(Google Image)

And so our then-FUNCTIONAL Congress (made up of folks who understood why they were elected and who believed in compromise and who believed in the need for government) passed laws to protect us and our land and our water and our air.  Now, our hazardous materials and hazardous waste are to be carefully monitored under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act.  Under the Clean Water Act.  The Clean Air Act.  And a bunch of others designed to keep you and me safe and keep industry behaving itself.

But laws only say:

 We’re Gonna Fix This Problem

Regulations give us step by step instructions on

How to Fix This Problem

Regulations are very specific.  In order to comply, you must do A,B and C, according to specific instructions.  When regulations are promulgated the agency asks the regulated industry to comment on them, how to make them more manageable, workable, less expensive to follow.  But the regulations cover testing, manufacturing techniques, storage, monitoring, record-keeping, transportation, the works.  Regulations have the force of law.  If a company doesn’t follow them, they are liable for penalties and/or imprisonment.

Regulations

Regulations protect me.  They protect you.  They protect the United States of America from bad manufacturers.  They penalize the bad ones so that they don’t get away with messing up our planet.  They must be strong enough so that manufacturers fear them and therefore follow them.  Slaps on the wrist are ignored when there is money to be made by ignoring regulations. They must be strong.  (Because remember, there are idiots who would add antifreeze to cough syrup for a buck.)

Regulations are the rules that society agrees to adhere to often in spite of the fact that they are a serious pain in the ass.

Regulations, I say to those still awake in my lectures, are like the IKEA instructions.  The furniture is no good without them.  But they need to be followed.

Take this week’s Freedom Industries leak of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or Crude MCHM, a heavy-duty chemical used in processing coal.  Current estimates are that this leak — from a facility brilliantly located upriver from a water purification plant — contaminated the drinking water of more than 100,000 residents of West Virginia.

Thirsty? (Photo from CNN)

Thirsty?
(Photo from CNN)

Freedom Industries has said don’t know when the spill started.  They don’t know how much spilled.  They don’t know whether the stuff that has made the entire area smell like licorice is, in fact, terribly toxic to people or if so, how toxic it is to human health.

They are supposed to know or they didn’t comply with the regulations.

They are supposed to measure the amount in the tanks.  Frequently.

They are supposed to record the amount they add or remove from the tanks.  Every single time they do this.

They are supposed to test.  Frequently.

They are supposed to monitor for leaks.  Frequently.

They are supposed to comply with the regulations.  It seems as if they did not.

They are supposed to make sure that they don’t fucking contaminate the fucking water for a hundred thousand people and possibly, probably more.

And if they didn’t they should go to jail.

I’m betting that they didn’t — that they didn’t follow the regulations.  Time will tell.

Freedom Industries  (Washington Post Image)

Freedom Industries
(Washington Post Image)

Just imagine what the rest of our country, our land, our rivers, our air, would be like if there were no regulations.  And you know, don’t you, that the Republican party is oh-so-determined to cut regulations.  To protect industry.  Not you.  Not me.  Industry.  Like Freedom Industries.

Do me a favor.  Think of Freedom Industries whenever you hear someone bitch about the loss of freedom from regulations.

Think of what we’d lose without regulation.

*   *   *

* From 1980-1989, I analyzed environmental regulations and drafted memos to folks on the steps they needed to comply with the regulations that are designed to keep our land, water and air cleaner.

For the past 10 years, I’ve examined a zillion company documents that show how they comply with their IKEA instructions.

*     *     *

Yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t be around much.  But sometimes I just can’t shut up.

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