Monday, October 19, 2009

‘Number, please’

Ah, how the modern world has morphed into blitzland, with everything so fast that a sentence isn’t even finished before the “listener” focuses on something else. Consider cell phones, those gadgets that deliver and receive often barely audible calls at four times the cost of Alex Bell’s nearly perfected instrument, the one tethered to a solid wall.

Once, we need not suffer the angst of wondering whether anyone wanted to talk to us. We simply waited until we got home, and the person rung us up when we were in. Later, we bought answering machines because (1) they were invented and (2) life had speeded up enough to add anxiousness to curiosity. Then we bought cordless phones that we could carry with us into the bathroom, the garage, even on a very short walk up the street. Couldn’t miss that call, you see, as if we were going to be told we won $65 million in an East Anglia lottery.

Today, cell phones are almost sewn under our skin as are heart pacemakers, and we constantly check to see if they are still there. We flip open the gadgets for messages as regularly as heartbeats, perhaps hoping that though we goofed up on the job and lost the company much money last fall, this autumn all is forgiven and we can expect a call giving us the amount of a bonus payment from the national stimulus.

Or perhaps we just have to know someone wants to speak to us, or sell us something or e-phone us a photo of their dog doing cartwheels or text us a message in e-phone/mail shorthand. We just have to know.

Well, to each his/her own, but as for me, don’t include my ears in the calling circle. I don’t want to overhear a loud conversation in aisle three of a store, nor do I want to be held up on a checkout line as someone talks and fumbles with a credit card while ignoring, quite rudely, the cashier, who is there to communicate as well as to check one out.

I don’t want to know about love gone wrong, weird ailments, lost pets, unruly children, money and job woes and really personal stuff, all of which I have picked up in public phone conversations.

Years ago, when Ma Bell offered wonderful, clean, odor-free mahogany booths inside lobbies from which to make a telephone call for a dime, we all closed the folding door for privacy. Then on the cheap, she took the booths away and gave us shelves and a small wall panel to hide behind. But our calls could be overheard. Maybe it was then that the woman who had raised us on good manners in making and receiving telephone calls became a modern parent and indulged our self-centeredness. She gave us cell phones, and now we can be publicly discourteous to the max, if we should so choose.

Yet it’s too modern, too, to blame mother alone. She cut the umbilical cord. We still have ours plugged in, to the cell phone on our belts, in our hands, on our ears, in our purses.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fall, as you like it

October 12, 2009

Fall, as you like it

It is a crisp fall day in this part of the Northeast, up the Hudson River just miles from the Great Gotham – New York City – but in my mindset I do not see nor feel nor taste nor smell any connection. I am wrong, of course, since this county, Rockland, is now the home mostly of ex-urbanites. My own family, too, came from that direction, although enough decades ago that the cityscape was far different.

I grew up in a pre-Tappan Zee Bridge semi-rural, farming and light manufacturing community, not yet the site of hundreds of cookie-cutter housing developments that were supposed to continue the old neighborhood connection as families sought grass and air and good schools for their post-war families. Such realization occurred, but in early, small developments only. Today’s Heather Lane and Michael Court and Sparrow Run are streets of anonymity, and it is possible to live on them for 30 years and not know a neighbor by sight, let alone name. The lack of front porches, the utter necessity of cars to get anywhere don’t make for social discourse, meeting one another.

If your children are in elementary school, you might see the neighbors at events there, or at sports activities, but soon enough high school graduation comes, and the fellow or woman you talked to once or twice 12 years ago is now in row 3 watching his daughter move on as you see your son get his diploma. You and your neighbor probably will not meet again.

In my own lucky time in Rockland, before suburbia, I was fortunate to know some neighbors, to sit on then-available front porches, to walk to stores in a downtown, to kick my feet in fall leaves, to take in the crisp air without flavoring by exhaust as yet another SUV goes off to yet another strip shopping center. Fall here and then had a particular smell, too, the wonderful musk dampness of overturned wet leaves; the sharp pungency of bursting colors; the woodsy hint of winter straw, soon to be gathered for insulation in children’s winter huts.

I make no apologies for my dreaminess about and nostalgia for the county of my youth; I appreciate the added diversity a bridge and time have brought; I rail at “progress” but applaud opportunity for others, though the net result of poor planning – deteriorated downtowns, crowded roads, stressed resources, high taxes, anonymity – must forever be assailed if right is to make its  point.

But it is fall, and the great joy in that has its interpretation for the individual. I have stressed mine, and now I say may all enjoy it as they wish, as the season reveals its ties to one and another, maybe all.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


October 5, 2009

Making life grow

SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. — Unabashedly, this week’s column is written for the Class of 1961 from the high school in this village, then still a country town and its place of secondary instruction almost the way it was for the students’ parents, too, many of whom had the same teachers. You not of this ilk nevertheless may find symmetry and relevance and association, for all education in all communities in all ages share similar bent, no matter the age, the language, the ethnicity.

I write now of football season, part of our education, which for SVHS, especially the 1950s, was like a warm communal blanket that drew everyone back from the summer and got us going as classes. The spirit was infectious even if you didn’t give a hoot for football. The crisp air; shuffling the fallen leaves on the sidewalk jaunt to the game; getting in with a “G.O.” (General Organization, student governing body) discount pass; Sabrette hot dogs; hoping to see that girl or guy you had a crush on; meeting the girl or guy on the sly (often); the band and halftime; the first run of the bulls (players) onto the field and the great pride you felt being part of a community of like and emerging age.

This was school spirit that was not forced, that was not jingoistic, that was felt in the heart and on the goose-pimpled skin of growing teens who were just forming their lives, together and separately.

Time would come soon enough when the high school seniors would toss their caps, take off the gowns and leave the building door for the last time on many  separate paths, never again to be part of those high school football games, that time of coming closer without a word spoken.

No matter what high school you went to, no matter where or when or with whom, the ties that were forged still bind despite the inability, even in some cases the disinterest, to be part of that cohesion once more.

No, youth is not wasted on the young; it is part of the fertilizer that makes the rest of life grow.

Happy football season!