Sunday, February 28, 2010

adventures in bookselling, part 2

This is my continuing commentary on the sometimes quirky experiences that are part and parcel of spending one’s working life as a bookseller for a large chain.

When the weather is cold and rainy in Florida, as it was yesterday, the store tends to be extremely crowded. When it is a Saturday, the kids department—my department—is a zoo.

In addition to the actual shoppers with kids, kids off from school, non-custodial parents in search of a free time waster, there are those who treat the section as in indoor playground. People who haven’t a clue as to appropriate behavior in a bookstore, or the difference between such a store and a library.

So I was coming to the close of a particularly stressful day, counting the minutes until the end of my shift, when a burly, boisterous young boy and his mom came in. The lad, who turned out to be an extremely large 5-year old, demanded in a booming voice that I show him the “romance books.”

“Is there any particular author you have in mind?” I replied, with a glance at his mom, both of us suppressing a smile.

“NO, I just want the falling in love books.”

I look up at his mom, commenting he is certainly an evolved young man. She laughs.

She explains his sister reads to him and he has heard of the Twilight books, knows teenage girls like those books, and he likes teenage girls.

The youngster loudly rejects my suggestions of books like Cinderella, as “baby books.” I usher him over to the classics section, where we have abridged versions for younger children. I try Little Women, (It has four GOOD LOOKING teenage girls, says his mom.) No go. The same with Anne of Green Gables.

Then he spots his choice: Dracula. Very discerning. The original vampire story which some scholars do consider a love story, certainly a precursor to the Twilight saga.

He leaves happy, as do I.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

white out

Into each life some snow must fall — and fall, and fall. As I write this, the Great Blizzard(s) of 2010 are hopefully winding down.

Sitting here in Sarasota, I can afford to be a bit smug. Yet I resist, as I know in too short a time we will be on the flip side and in the midst of Hurricane Season. But I haven’t lived in the Sunshine State long enough for my snowstorm memories to have faded.

I recall the first great snowfall in a year, the joy, the beauty, the incredible crystalline stillness. And I also remember how it grows old, grey and crusty, the treachery overtaking any beauty, especially for commuters and travelers.

I suspect that’s where most of my northern friends now sit, looking our their windows yearning for something green, a sign of spring.

Whenever storms of these magnitude hit, comparison to previous storms is inevitable. For every generation, however, there is a "storm of the century," the one about which they tell their children.

When the Great Blizzard of ’96 hit, my biggest problem was running out of cat food. Unlike my fellow journalists, I didn’t have to find my way in to the news­room, regardless of weather conditions. Such were the perks of no longer drawing a full-time salary from a daily news organization.

I was also among those fortunate folks who have a solid roof over their heads, a working furnace and ade­quate food, so I spent the my days reflecting on the weather and keeping in touch by phone with friends and family.

While many of those snowbound with small children were pulling out their hair, yearning for peace and quiet, those alone often found them­selves cleaning out closets and polishing sil­ver to stay sane. I thank my lucky stars that I had reinstalled cable. Two solid days of public tele­vision would have surely resulted in a raging case of cabin fever.

For my parents, it was the Blizzard of '47.

Now, 1947 was a particularly good year for me. I was born. Being only six months old when Brooklyn was snowed under, I can't claim to remember the event firsthand. But there are reams of black and white snapshots of me, looking like an overstuffed doll, being pulled through the drifts in front of my grand­parents' house on an old-fashioned wooden sled. I must say, it looked like I was enjoying myself.

Growing up on the north shore of Long Is­land, I recall many a snowstorm bringing things to a halt. Like most kids, I looked for­ward to the days off from school, then got dressed in layers of clothing and plowed through the snow. I can still feel drifts so deep that we sank in up to our waists and had to be rescued by a friend or parent.

For me, however, the storm of the century was the Blizzard of '61.

It was the first time I recall hearing the words "snow emergency." New York City was locked down tight for days, keeping my dad home also. My aunt, uncle and two young cousins were stranded at our Nassau County home. The roads were impassable for so long that my dad and uncle took sleds and hiked several miles to a shopping center, only to find little food left on the shelves.

Us kids had a ball. The Long Is­land Expressway was still under construction and not yet open to traffic. We put it to fine use, sledding down the embankments onto the snow-covered roadway. What a sight. No­body has ever had such a good time on that roadway since, I wager.

We went back to school before the city roads were completely opened, so one of my cousins was allowed to accompany my youn­ger brother to school. Somehow, I can't imagine a public school being that accommo­dating today.

Hey, I don't mean to wax too nostalgic over this. Time and childhood have a way of softening the focus of events. The edges blur into a pleasing shape. As we grow, though, we learn that these spontaneous holidays can be terribly costly. Aside from the loss to business and property, there are always those whose lives are at risk.

For instance, my Aunt Sally will never for­get that 1961 blizzard, either. Regardless of snow emergency rules, she drove into New York City with her 5-year-old son, Neal. She had little choice. My young cousin, in the throes of a losing bout with cancer, needed chemotherapy.

Of course, that's one part of the story my memory tends to leave behind.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

outsourcing docs—quick take

These days, it seems the best chance you have of seeing an American medical doctor is on TV—especially in hospitals. From Grey’s Anatomy to reruns of ER and Chicago Hope, the English spoken by the staff is clear. That’s because it’s American TV and the ability to communicate with the viewer is paramount.

I submit the same is true in “real life.” So I was glad to read in the NYT the other day that two dozen medical schools are set to open right here. I write this with the knowledge I may get pegged as some kind of xenophobe.

These new schools are seeking to correct an imbalance in American medicine that has been growing for a quarter century. Many otherwise qualified students give up or attend offshore medical schools after being squeezed out of domestic schools. Meanwhile, American hospitals have turned to foreign-trained and foreign-born physicians to fill medical residencies.

I confess this is a problem for me, especially as I age. I just can’t understand what they are saying half the time. And when it comes to medical issues, catching every other word just doesn’t cut it, regardless of how qualified these folks are. Sorry.

It’s bad enough trying to decipher the foreign techs trying to patch up my aging laptop. But when it comes to my aging body, I just don’t want to have to work so damn hard. In a medical setting, I am either already sick or anxious about some sort of test and I’d appreciate a less stressful environment.

It’s stressful enough knowing the bill will be in the mail soon enough.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"My Way Killings"? NO WAY!

Say it ain’t so.

Philippine authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed for crooning “My Way” in that country’s karaoke bars over the years. But the news media recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade.

It’s been dubbed the “My Way Killings.” Even those Philippinos who admit to loving the song have stopped singing it, even at private parties. The song has also been removed from many playlists.

That’s what you get in the karaoke-obsessed Philippines for daring to follow Frank Sinatra, I guess.

Some folks blame the “arrogance” of the lyrics. Written for Sinatra by Paul Anka as an unapologetic summing up of Sinatra’s career, the words include those of a tough guy who “when there was doubt,” simply “ate it up and spit it out.” It must be noted here that Elvis included the song in his concerts. Well, it fits, eh?

My good buddy Jim, Sinatra buff extraordinaire, might well agree. It’s the only one of the Chairman’s songs I ever heard him deride.

I, however, disagree. I love the song—and the lyrics. To me, it bespeaks endurance and perseverance, sort of a musical version of the poem Invictus. It tells the story of a person facing the end of full life without regret, despite mistakes. It’s the way I’d like to go out.

Invictus, Latin for "unconquered", gave it’s name to the title of a recent movie about Nelson Mandela, directed by Clint Eastwood. But that’s not why it springs to mind.

It was my father’s favorite poem, which I read during my eulogy at his funeral some 14 years ago. Last week would have been his 89th birthday and this Thursday is the anniversary of his death, so he is on my mind more than usual.

Below is the poem followed by the lyrics—you decide.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

My Way lyrics
And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend I'll say it clear
I'll state my case of which I'm certain

I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Regrets I've had a few
But then again too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Yes there were times I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out, I faced it all
And I stood tall and did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now as tears subside
I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that
And may I say not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way

For what is a man what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

Yes it was my way

As for me, I find the last line of each is not a bad exit line.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Haiti’s children: quick take

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — “God wanted us to come here to help children, we are convinced of that,” Laura Silsby, one of 10 Americans accused of trafficking Haitian children, said Monday through the bars of a jail cell here. “Our hearts were in the right place.” ...New York Times

Uh, maybe their hearts were in the right place, but their bodies were also rightly behind bars.

I cannot imagine the devastation in that wretchedly poor country.

But heaven protect us from those taking it upon themselves to do “God’s Will.” I posit that those on the “God and Country” side often do as much damage as those purveyors of evil who use any excuse to scoop up vulnerable youngsters.

The Americans, most of whom are affiliated with two Baptist churches in Idaho, said they were trying to rescue orphans and take them to an orphanage they were setting up in the Dominican Republic. Questions were raised about whether all of the children were indeed orphans.

This has a sickly familiar feel.

“Poor” countries—and even “poor” people—often have their children taken from them, for “their own good.” OK, so Madonna does come to mind.

To give a orphan a fighting chance can be a noble and rewarding deed. To steal other peoples’ offspring because YOU think you can give the child what the (otherwise fit) parents cannot is rephrehensible—unless, of couse, you can show me the burning bush.

Haiti’s people have lost their past and much of their present—let’s not let their future be stolen