Thursday, July 12, 2018

Colorama and the Stork Photo Studios--A Fragment of Days Long Gone By

When I was a kid, the only time I ventured into Brooklyn, was when my father took me to his office, a photography plant at 115 Myrtle Avenue, known as "Colorama", a part of Stork Photo Studios.

I have vague memories of the interior; none of the exterior.  I was given something like 25 cents to stamp envelopes with postage, or names or something, I don't remember which, and sometimes I helped with the stock room. I used to love to watch the ladies--they were always ladies--in the color room. This was the days before color photography and color meant quite literally, people with cotton balls and q-tips giving a patina of the rainbow to baby faces in a windowless room. Thinking of that time from today's perspective, it is pretty pre-Flood stuff. 

By the time I was going there, Dad had been there since just after World War II, so I am guessing close to 20 years. He sure looks like someone important in the Mad Men suit. I didn't know what he did there. But he seemed pretty important, and it was all right for me to be there, helping or sitting in the dingy conference room with a coke machine that brought out the kinds of bottles that are kitsch today.  

On the other hand, there is something disconcerting that he was categorized with "Some of the People You Never See". I understand though. He wasn't a salesman, so he wouldn't be seen by the parents of the children seeking (or being pressured into)  wallet size shots and plates covered with their children's faces (yes, they put you on a plate; I still have one of mine).  

The "President" was Charlie Shapiro, here calling himself Charlie Sharp, for reasons no doubt related to the reality of prejudice that hamper human nature.  I am assuming this publicity handout was done sometime in the 1950s, as it refers to a car from 1954, that might be a used car--I can't tell.  But one thing is true; this is all I have that is tangible of the place. I know it went out of business around 1965, because my father, then getting close to fifty years of age, had to start looking for a new career. I also know that the original building is gone--at least according to my Google Search, replaced by something shinier in 2002.  

As places, and people, seem to flicker into the past, I find myself ever more nostalgic. 

The modern gnostics will tell you that those days were not good; that now, with all the nasty bickering and posturing, is better, more enlightened. There was, I keep hearing, nothing good about the good old days. 

It was imperfect, because people were imperfect; evils were done.  Evils have been done since the day Adam and Eve got kicked out of Paradise. And though--as many of us believe, but clearly fewer and fewer than in those days gone by--we have had our relationship to God restored--now mankind has to decide to accept that relationship instead of deeming itself a godhead.  It's not looking good.

Personally, I am not that crazy about the times in which we are living. I sound like my father. I suppose it comes to all of us. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Three Identical Strangers: Food for (Moral) Thought

Eddy Galland, David Kellman and Bobby Shafran, identical triplets who were separated at birth and reunited at age 19. Photo: NEON

I don't know why I don't remember the early incarnation of the story of these three young men from New York in about 1980. I mean, I was still living in the State, but perhaps, just out of law school and newly licensed, looking for a job, I was so pre-occupied, and I just missed it. Three boys, identical triplets, had each been adopted by different families. Though they each knew they were adopted, they had no idea, nor did their parents, that they had siblings.


Nor, as it turns out, were they or their adoptive parents told they were part of a troubling, and still largely secret, experiment about nature versus nurture.

It all started out looking like it would have a happy ending. Robert goes to his first day of class at a community college in Sullivan County, New York. Everyone seems to know him. Everyone calls him "Eddy". This Eddy would be a sophomore, except one of Eddy's friends knows that Eddy isn't coming back to school and that this newbie isn't Eddy. But physically, he is his doppelganger.  He figures right away, he must be Eddy's twin. Robert and Eddy are introduced, and, unbelievably, the story of the twins runs in the New York papers and reveals, a third boy, David.

Identical? Yes. And no. One, seems to me was shorter than the others. And although features were much the same, as you begin to see them in photos and home video and in old television shows (they were on all of them), you see they have different expressions. They definitely had different upbringings, one in an upper class home, one in a middle class home and one in a lower middle class home. They shared certain traits, body movements, tastes in food and drink, and style, as well as some interests, which the public craved seeing as something of a circus magic. It was all very harmless.

Except it wasn't. As the families sought more information, specifically on why the boys were separated at birth by the Louise Wise Adoption Agency (now defunct, it specialized in the adoption of Jewish children)--they were told that it was because they believed no one would adopt all three--it became clear that there was a buried truth. A sinister truth? Certainly the consequences seem sinister, whatever were the motives of the agency, and the Jewish Board of Children's and Family Services and The Neubauer Child Development Center who were conducting some kind of longitudinal study on the development of the three boys and approximately thirteen other pairs (not clear if there were other triplets). There were mysterious home visits from time to time by agents related to the adoptions. The families were told generally that it was being done in all adoptions to follow up on the adoptees. Nobody in those days, the early 1960s, asked questions. These were the people who looked after you right? They wouldn't lie to you, right?

When the boys were presented to the world, things about them looked relatively normal. Well, normal, except that one of them had gotten into legal trouble in an incident where someone was murdered--but his tangential involvement had not resulted in imprisonment. But now the boys were inseparable. They were inseparable until they started a business together, a restaurant, and then the differences in their personalities began to manifest themselves. They didn't know one another, not really. They hadn't grown up together. Robert left the partnership.

And then Eddy, who was ultimately diagnosed as manic depressive, was even hospitalized at one point, shot himself in 1995 leaving behind a wife and child.

Whatever this study was, it was never published, but over the years things leaked out--for example, it seems that some if not many of the birth parents had mental illness of one kind or another. And, each of the boys had in their teen years psychological struggles. Not all of the parents could handle it. Eddys adopted father speculates that there must have been something he failed to teach his son.

Whatever it all was about, none of the people consented to being subjects of the experiment, of the study. The leader of the study, Dr. Peter Neubauer, was a student of Anna Freud, born in Austria, well renowned child psychiatrist, never spoke of the study. He died in 2008 in his 90s. A couple very tangential individuals, one a psychologist and the other a woman who had been an assistant of the doctor, had little to offer, other than notes and a slight discomfort at the ethics of the whole procedure, and perhaps a sense of irony that the experiment was largely performed under the aegis of Jewish institutions. And there is the added stipulation by Neubauer, upon his death and the bequest of his papers, including the raw material of the study, that nothing be released until the year 2066, which has to raise hackles and all kinds of theories, none of them cheerful.

Since the release of the movie, and the naturally intense questioning of the conduct of scientists and caregivers, documents have been made available. They provide some information. But since none of it was put together in a cohesive form, conclusions as to purpose and outcome remain ambiguous. And then much was redacted.

Really, there aren't any answers, I suppose. Only questions. Were they harmed by the uncompleted study?  You can answer yes, easily. Or no. The two remaining siblings note, in articles about the film, that they have had relatively normal lives. But what if they had been raised together by one set of adoptive parents? Would Eddy still be alive today? Or was his genetic disposition too much to overcome? Or was his having a perfection driven adoptive father one of the triggers for his inability to cope with his manic depression?  Would Robert be so sad?

What bothers us? What bothers me? Powerful people took and held secret control over aspects, if not large dimensions, of many lives.  More than that. These were people who thought of themselves as good. They probably were "good" in all other aspects of their lives.

But that's what we fail to understand. Human beings, all human beings, regardless of race, color, or creed are capable of victimizing others. There is never a good reason. But there are always justifications.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Back to Monticello

There's a lot not to like about Facebook. However, it sometimes provides something precious. One is the chance to reconnect with people who truly made a difference in your young life, but from whom paths diverge. And then, something flashing back to the days of childhood, when our minds considered nothing of the future except the next day of summer play is gifted to us on those pages.

My Aunt Rita, and Uncle Ben, had a little summer cottage in Monticello, New York, just off Sackett Lake Road. Every summer, as long as I could remember, they would take about two months of summer and go there. It was only 90 minutes from the City, but its dominant bucolic environment, trees, dirt roads, the lake, farmland was a stark contrast to the dominant concrete and tar of the Bronx, punctuated by anemic trees planted into some sidewalks.

On many of those summers--I actually can no longer remember which ones, my mother would allow me to spend several weeks with them. Though I tended toward homesickness, the freedom granted to me by my Aunt, who didn't expect me to behave more as an adult than the child that I was-- as did my mother--more than compensated for it.  It's not that I couldn't run and play in the apartment courtyard and sidewalk but that my mother preferred me to be neat and intellectual. My hair, tortured into perfect curls (actually not unlike Nellie in Little House on The Prairie, it occurs to me as I write), each bobby pinned precariously such that too much movement would dislodge them didn't allow for unbridled running. And I had perfect white sneakers that would get scuffed, requiring a paint job with some white polish. Being careful was always the guidepost. I wasn't always, even in the Bronx, but in Monticello, I could run to my heart's delight, jump, be messy, without even the hint of a recrimination. My Aunt once found me polishing my scuffed sneakers, and grabbed them and said, "You don't have to do that. We'll put them in the washer!"  Liberation! And my hair? It was either pulled  back into a pony tail or in pig tails. My mother would never have considered pig tails. 

There were several houses in the line off Sackett Lake road, that led to a complete dirt road, that itself led up to the imposing house on the hill.  There was the green house of Dottie and Jack, mid sixty-ish retirees, and then the Bernsteins, and then the Oppenheims. The Oppenheims just happened to have three kids the right age for me, my cousin Barbara, and my cousin Carol. James, Anthony and Stephanie. They had the best "stuff" I guess we'd call it today. There was a fort, yes, it was a fort, big enough for several of us to be inside of and to jump off of. There was the brake-less Surrey, that fit four of us, which each of us would drive in turn down the hill, filled with holes. Dangerous? Sure was. But boy was it living. It was in Monticello that I finally learned to ride a bike. It was low enough for me to keep my feet on either side, but it had no chain, and somehow, going down Hemlock Lane and back up Sunset Drive, I found myself balancing perfectly. I was a little older than the others. I had to keep up.

I was never a morning person, even at the tender age of say 10, but my cousin Barbara would insist that I get up at the crack of dawn and go to the porch--always chilly at that time of morning--and watch the sun come up while she did her puzzles or did her coloring. She was very meticulous at both, while I was impatient and ready to go back to bed.

All these memories flow again because the gift was of photos posted by James recently. Oh, yes, I remember that day in 1964!

It was Anthony's birthday. There's the triangular monkey bars. I can see the hill that we took the Surrey down. It doesn't look quite as imposing. The monkey bars were an orange brick wood color, and wood. I loved climbing on them. Once when I was alone, I got my leg caught at the top and was hanging down for a while, spraining my leg. I somehow managed to right myself, but I never told anyone about the pain in my leg. I was afraid that if my mother heard, she'd be angry at me for being so foolish. And I didn't want to be any trouble because of my own mistake. Oh, and that day, Anthony's birthday, there were ponies. I had ridden ponies before, in the zoo, or some commercial location, but never at someone's house. There we are, Barbara, Anthony and me. I must have been vain, even then, because I was horribly nearsighted, and I didn't have on my glasses for the shot, which may account for the vacant look. I couldn't see anything.

That sweater. I hadn't thought of that sweater in over 50 years. Red and white stripes. It was a favorite. Anthony is wearing one of a couple of outfits I particularly remember. The other was that of a ringmaster, you know, as in the circus. He would often come down with his sweet black lab Buffy, wearing that outfit, to our little place. Buffy would happily sit on any available foot.

I was impressed by James, perhaps a year or a few months younger than me, who had his own photographic dark room and was learning to play the guitar as we all got older. But I was a little intimidated by him. As we wended into the late sixties, and the days of Woodstock (which was very near our summer haven), James was cool, and I was, well, what I suppose I still am, a little square. And clueless when it came to boys. (I went to an all girls Catholic School, and the only kid close to my age on our block was a juvenile delinquent; whom truth be told I fancied). James made an uncharacteristic visit down to my Aunt's place and asked me if I wanted to see "MASH".  Not realizing he was actually asking me out (my dating radar never did improve) I declined. I was swimming in the Oppenheim pool when his mother said something like, "James likes older women." 

Oh, there are stories galore I could write. Spending a day, alone, at the Concord Hotel, with Barbara, Carol and a friend named, Alyse, I think, whose mother owned a store at the hotel and whose grandmother had an imposing edifice across a field from us. Being allowed to steer Mr. Oppenheim's motor boat on White Lake. Spending many a day at the 125 acre land of Richard Jansen, the land on which he was born, with several man made lakes and log cabins, and fresh vegetables. Picking blueberries. And blackberries. Playing GHOST with Dottie and my Uncle as the sun went down and the mosquitoes attacked, Dottie chain smoking with her leg swung over the arm of the Adirondack chair. She was a lot like Katherine Hepburn in her manner. A New England Yankee.

What did Dean Martin sing? Probably no one of this generation remembers. Memories are Made of This. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Wow, I Wouldn't Mind Living There. Oh, Wait.

I am often pretty impressed with those video real estate promotional pieces designed to make the potential buyer salivate for that 2 bedroom, 2 bath, condo with a big terrace and a good view. The building that is right near mine was used in a few movies, including LA Story, with Steve Martin. It got historical landmark status because it was the work of a fifties architect Edward Fickett. From the outside it has a bit of a Frank Lloyd Wright Vibe with angular roofing, and a bright orange color. I have been inside one of the larger apartments, probably somewhere in the 1300 square feet area, and I found myself wishing I had a place with the bedrooms upstairs, and more particularly, high equally angular ceilings.

1411 North Hayworth Ave #14, West Hollywood, CA 90046

Here is a picture of the inside of a different building. Look at that pool! It glistens. The water invites splashing and floating! Has a resort-y feeling apropos to sunny California. It too is a fifties built edifice, though it wasn't built by anyone famous and doesn't have high ceilings in any of its apartments and it will probably never see historical landmark status probably having been built by some guy name Bruno. But they did one of those cool videos for apartments here, you can still see one or two on the net, and wow, they make it look like heaven on earth.

It's the condo building my dad bought into in 2002. Funny. I wasn't crazy about it when he found this place, literally over a weekend. He was getting regular increases at his rental and he decided suddenly that it made more sense to build an equity, for himself, for me. He wanted me to see the place, as I would be part owner while he lived, and full owner when he passed on, but he also told me, "Don't rock the boat!" We are similar in that way. For years we'll take no chances, stay put so much so that it would look like it would take a cannon to blow us out of our routines, and then kapoof! we do something big, really fast. Like buying a condo. And nothing can talk us out of it. The neighborhood was, and is, great for the urban dweller. There is a garage if you drive. But there are a million things around you, if you don't. But I was never a fan of these 50s style building, that to me looked like "No-tell motels". And though the apartment had a terrace, a long one and decently wide, there is only a small view, and from the extreme right corner. Most of the apartment, which the terrace spans, faces a wall, and the bathroom window of a neighbor. I was pleased, for dad, with the cheeriness of the space, lots of sun, a cross breeze, and the bedroom facing a spreading, leafy tree in a yard of the building next door that obscures the window so that it's like being in a tree house. Small, but, in the best sense of the word, I guess it really was kind of cozy.

When Dad died, I initially tried to sell it, just as the real estate market took a dive. I put in wood floors, and then kept it empty, not a stick of furniture, for two years. Then a friend rented for about two years. Then I decided to do some renovation of the bathroom and kitchen as the market got better and I thought I might sell. Then I decided to move in.

I am still not crazy about the architecture, but the building has grown on me, and the wall has made it so I don't feel that I am living in an apartment building. Right now, my little fountain is gurgling and a chime is gently singing on a warm-ish sunny late spring day, and I feel a quiet peace as I complete this entry so I can get my laundry.

Just before I started the entry, I was sitting in that first chair on the left. That very one. And you know what? The pool really looks like that! And I happen to live in a very sought after space for those who like urban living; you can't imagine what the place above the pool sold for just last month.

I wouldn't mind living here. Oh, wait. I do.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A Sign of Our Times

I have been meaning to write about this handwritten sign over one of the old buildings in the Fairfax District, just before Beverly Boulevard, in Los Angeles.

This neighborhood used to be largely the haven of Orthodox Jews. It was family oriented for the most part, and when I used to live in the area, I was one of the intermixed single adults. But overall, it had the feel of the old days, a sense of tradition and moral sanity.

As the years passed, the bulk of the Jewish families moved toward the other enclave southwest of Fairfax, Pico-Robertson, and Fairfax began to be littered with youth oriented stores, some of them pop ups, some more permanent. You see lots of ill mannered youth lining up out side of stores that sell things like sneakers and skate boards and ugly clothing. This is the new craze, lining up for merchandise for everybody to wear that proves a kid is a cool outlier.  No doubt most of these kids buying 200 dollar shoes believe in socialism rather than capitalism unaware that their very act in lining up for items they don't need is capitalism personified. They drive their upscale cars recklessly on the drag. The pedestrians cross against the light daring a harried man or woman on their way home from their jobs to hit them.

Image result for The sign on Fairfax, Nothing is forbidden unless you ask for permission.

Oh, yeah, the sign. The idea sounds great if you don't examine it too closely.  It says, "Nothing is forbidden until you ask for permission."  Really? Nothing? And are there not things forbidden whether or NOT one asks for permission? Apparently not, if one takes the sign on its face.

The sign reminds me of an old line from the Brothers Karamazov, "Without God, everything is permissible."  Ok, if you don't believe in God, let's try this, "Without objective standards, everything is permissible."  Or everything is permissible except that which the person or persons in power says is not. That's the rub you see. That's where we are now, in my view. For without those objective standards, the only standard is the powerful purveyor of the subjective idea du jour. Some person or group decides that something is the law of the land because they have the power to say and enforce based not on the canons of age-old philosophy, theology or plain old common sense, but on the principle of "That's what those of us in power feel." 

Do we or do we not live in a politically correct world where there are things you cannot say, that are forbidden? And is permission not irrelevant?

"No," you say.

Pick a subject, any subject, currently in vogue, abortion, immigration, gender, the American Constitution, American history, religion, the First Amendment and consider the predominating opinion in the news media, social media, your university, your friends. Say the opposite at a cocktail party. Or at your job.

People say that God was harsh. Try your fellow man. The new god of enforced relativism. Is it all right that I say "man" as in mankind?  Or is that forbidden, with or without the permission of whoever is now in charge? 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Reveries on a Sunday Afternoon on a Terrace in West Hollywood

Actually, I am about to write about last Sunday as I sit on my little terrace THIS Sunday. It happens to be the same sort of afternoon, the sun is out, the hummingbirds are feeding, my two cats are on my right and left respectively. It might be a little cooler.

I have no doubt been in prettier places overall, and nicer terraces, but this little spot in West Hollywood is just enough for me on days like this. And days like last Sunday.

So, last Sunday, instead of just sitting out here and reading, I retreated to my little divan that has a nice new additional cushion courtesy of a friend and lay down. I never really fell asleep, but I spent about an hour, maybe more in that delightful in between spot between sleep and wakefulness.

Just as they are now, the wind chimes were being brushed by the wind and making that ethereal sound to complement my sense of well being. I found myself remembering other occa`sions of this sort, through my life and how they felt exactly the same--safe and peaceful, a taste of what paradise must be, what I hope it is.

I can think of two occasions that happened in Monticello, New York. My aunt, cousins and I used to take a trip to Sackett Lake from time to time. I don't know where everybody was, but I was laying on a small patch of grass or sand (there wasn't much beach), on my side, hearing the breeze, and the voices of the kids in or around the water. The sun was strong and, though my eyes were closed, there was a tinge of visible orange I still could see. It was, as last Sunday was, some more than fifty years ago, a joyful suspension of time and space.

Also, in Monticello, outside the little summer house my aunt and uncle owed, there was a large tree. I want to say Maple, but I never know one tree from another. It was big, wide trunked, and leafy, casting a large shady circumference. The grass by the tree always seemed longer than on other parts of the front lawn grass. Once, maybe more than once, I lay on the green cushion and watched the leaves cross in front of and out of the sun. A deep breath was my entire activity. Or maybe watching a cloud pass in the space the leaves left.

Later, in Freehold, New Jersey, outside of the rented house of my Aunt Peggy and Uncle Mike Mulligan's, a rather rambling old house, so different from my family's one bedroom in the Bronx, during a rare visit to this kind couple--in fact, I am not sure that Aunt Peggy was still alive--I sat by another tree, remembering one or two other times I had been there, and wishing that our families had been closer. Still, there was a sense of all's well with the world.

As I lay on my divan last weekend, facing the ficus, the hummingbirds, St. Francis' statue, a couple of pinwheels that spun from time to time in the breeze, I was in each place, more of them coming to me in memory, in the now, experiencing the exact feeling--all of those moments somehow coalescing into this one.

The phrase that comes to me as I conclude, as Tuxedo changes position on the arm of the divan next to me, is the "Everlasting Now". I must have heard it somewhere.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Le Jeu De L'Amour Et Du Hasard--A Constantine Story

I get involved. I forget to add Dad's stories to this blog, and then I find one and I think, "Let's get back to that!" So, here is a short one.

I don't really have a story to tell, today.  In fact, I have a kind of reluctance about the whole project.  Anyway, it is the day before writing class, and I feel somewhat obligated.  So forget literary considerations and let's get on with it.

In the third year of my marriage, I began graduate courses at NYU, in Washington Square, NY.  Actually I enrolled in the program since if I stopped my GI Bill Entitlement, the monthly checks would stop, and I still needed the bread.

She came into the class in the middle of the semester.  She was tall, slim and long haired and spoke a fluent French.  I soon noticed that despite random possibility, it seemed she was always sitting on one side of me or the other.  I looked, peripherally at first, then appraisingly.  We spoke, and soon lunch was a daily affair.

She made it plain that she was attracted to me.  I avoided any commerce outside the university area.  She began asking probing questions.  The theme was obvious.  She was asking if I were gay.

Ok, you may rightfully say, "Why didn't you tell her you were married?"

That's a woman's question.  How often does a man encounter a sucubus, a rare charmer?

The fever reached its height when she did several scenes as Roxanne, in a reading of Cyrano de Bergerac.  I was entranced.  

I scribbled several lines of poetry on the inside cover of a text book.  I insist this was simply a scholarly exercise, inspired by the beauty of Rostand, the author of the work.

To make a long story short, my wife stumbled on the opus.  She said she had been dusting the book shelves.

"Are you seeing another woman?" she said.

No man can deliver an articulate answer to this question.

"Of course not," is a standard answer.

Moreover, no man has the intuitive perception of the female.  About  the charmer:

We were walking down the stairs on our way to lunch when she stopped suddenly.

"Ah, oui," she said in revelation, "vous etes marie, you are married."