Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fall Fever

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Feeling Extra-alive

Bike rides for the first time in a decade ... treadmilling with Pat this morning ... learning of -- and seeing -- this striking couple of pioneers earlier this week ... reading a magnetic novel ... seeing a post by a Facebook friend, expressing gratitude for her "cute nurses" as she convalesced from donating a kidney ... considering swimming outdoors tomorrow when I'm in Phoenix for work ... the unseasonably warm weather in New Jersey during this mid-November ... all of these experiences and possibilities are giving me Fall Fever.

Typically, Spring Fever is when I notice the same sex more than usual and remember that although Pat[ricia] & I are loyal and monogamous to each other, going on nearly 24 years so far, and with no plans to change our supremely faithful status, there are times -- usually in springtime -- when I feel surrounded by a museum show of women who remind me why I identify first of all as lesbian.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Davke on Yom Kippur

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Why Are You Leaving So Soon? Because We Want To

We are motherless, and fatherless, children -- both of us -- now, as of March, 2015. From Kol Nidre last night through Yizkor today, I've been moved, and now, am moved to write about what moved me, rather than remaining in synagogue, where I'd be feeling perhaps further moved, but also antsy.

Last year, we left right after Yizkor and I thought it was because it was my first one without my mom (z"l) and this year, we did the same; it's Pat's first without her mom (z"l) ... or is it a trend? Pat says she can't stand for such long stretches anymore. How will I feel when I'm 65, like she is now? Please God, let me live long enough to find out. Meanwhile, I had enough poignant experiences to last me through this High Holiday even though we left by noon on Yom Kippur.

Here's what moved me:

Pat and I ushered. We were among the very first people anyone saw as he or she entered the building. Probably a dozen people walked in alone saying that they didn't have a ticket. And many others walked in alone who did have tickets. A number of them walked in apparently riveted by their phone-screen, making no eye-contact even after we greeted them. What was each one's story? Why were they alone on Yom Kippur?

And then a pretty, ginger-haired woman hobbled in with a cane and was looking everywhere but at other people when I said, "Shanah tovah. Welcome. Would you like to use the elevator?"

Her eyes zoomed in on me and she nodded. As we walked together, she said she was meeting her two sons here and that they had been coming to our synagogue for years, though this was her first visit.

"Oh, you'll like it, I think. My mom [z"l] used to say that she thought our services, at any time of the year, were the nicest she'd ever been to."


"Yeah. She loved them."

"That's nice."

As we got to the sanctuary, I pointed to a box of kippot and tallitot and asked, "Would you like a kippah and a tallit?"

"Oh, no, I'm Orthodox and I'm very nervous."

"Don't be nervous ... I didn't mean to say that. Be nervous if you need to be, but you don't have to be."

"That's a big Machzor," she said.

"I think you'll recognize at least half of the tunes and you'll enjoy the service. I wish I could find you afterwards to see what you thought."

She thanked me for carrying her Machzor and showing her to her seat and we parted. At the end of services, she was gone by the time I reached where she had been sitting. As I passed her empty seat, I hoped she had stayed and hadn't left early due to there being, for example, musical instruments; Orthodox Judaism forbids making music with anything but our voices during Shabbat and holidays, as it's considered labor, and we're not supposed to work at those times.

Trying, unsuccessfully, to distract myself from missing my mom (z"l)

My mom (z"l) got too old to sit or stand for so long and stopped coming to our services several years ago, but on the Yom Kippur prior to her death, she decided she wanted to come for Yizkor, so we made it happen. I blogged about it here, how she met Edie Windsor and thanked her for her leadership and what a great experience it was.

Pat and I saw Edie today and Pat said later, "We won't have Edie around forever."

My mom's (z"l) name also was Edie. And that's for sure.

Including Edie Windsor, I was moved by a number of other gorgeous women. There's a young woman in the choir with eyes that make me miss my cats and long, black, wavy hair, and I am always interested in the stories of women who can pass as heterosexual and how they end up being true to themselves. Whenever I see someone in her 20s at our shul, I time-travel back to that age and how I was finding my way back to Judaism then, and living in Chicago, and so was going to the Chicago LGBT congregation, Or Chadash. It's where I met Pat.

Something else that moved me: Dr. Nathan Goldstein, our president, mentioned that this year, the shul was celebrating four b'nai mitzvah and that all of the parents of the b'nai mitzvah had met at our synagogue.

Rabbi Kleinbaum's and a Cooperberg-Rittmaster Rabbinical Intern's drashot (sermons) touched me, too because Rabbi Kleinbaum read the whole Emma Goldman poem from the Statue of Liberty in the context of the refugee crisis -- Pat had posted the poem on her Facebook wall days ago, asking whether we can be, once again, a country that stands behind that poem. And I was moved by the intern's drash because she asked, Do we avoid coming to shul because we feel we cannot be authentically whoever we are, however we feel?

She spoke of her sister's mental illness episode in 2007 and how we don't typically speak of such things because we cannot dare to be vulnerable. It made me want to come to shul more often, even when I'm not in a great mood. And it made me feel some relief, hearing a future rabbi speak of the need to talk about things we don't typically talk about, to remove the stigma and historical shame of them. I have relatives with mental health problems and I practically never talk about that.

There are a few more things that have moved me during this Yom Kippur so far:

During Yizkor, too, the Executive Director of Jerusalem Open House Sarah Kala made remarks in Hebrew about Shira Banki, the 15 year-old Jerusalem LGBT Pride Parade marcher who was stabbed by an Ultra-Orthodox Israeli and who died of her wounds. One of our Israeli congregants simultaneously translated into English and then our cantorial intern Steve Zeidenberg and the chorus sang "Shir L'Shira", a pop song that was re-dedicated to this particular Shira after her death, and which has been sung at demonstrations around Israel ever since.

Last year, when Broadway singer Sally Wilfert sang Broadway composer and congregant William Finn's "Anytime", I wept. This year, I couldn't let go, or maybe the wound is less fresh, but still, I became choked up because the words and her voice do remind me of my mom (z"l), especially when she sings that anytime I wash my hands, she'll be there. Until she died, my mom (z"l) never failed to ask me when I returned from the bathroom, "Did you wash your hands?"

Now that I'm back home and our kitties are slumbering near me as I blog, I'm moved by the little one, Toonces', capacity for snoring. She's so little, but so audible when she sleeps. And it's cute, and I'm hopeful about caring for such beautiful feline daughters.  

Yom Kippur is all about repenting and praying to be sealed into the Book of Life for the coming year. Please, God, if it be Your will, let Pat & Phoebe, the cat, and Toonces, the cat, and my sisters and their families and all of my relatives and friends and me stay alive and healthy for another year. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Israel Autobiography in Photos

A Retrospective

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

1950-'52: Pre-history - My Parents' Experiences of Israel, Before They Met 

  1960s-'70s - Shohar Posters Designed and Manufactured by Moshav Beit Herut:

 1973: Coca-cola with Lemon and Soldiers on Rooftops; 2002; 2012


1976: Mom (z"l) and Dad (z"l) and Me; 2015: Bina and D'vori's Baby Noam

1980: Coming of Age; 2015: Middle Age

1985-'86: Ambivalently Flirting with My Future; 2014 Reunion

2002: Mom (z"l) and Me and Hebrew University

2012: Introducing My Wife to This History-laden Place

2015: Closure and New Beginnings

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mother's Season

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Not Just Mother's Day

The Peonies are in bloom again. Nearly a year later.

One of the only blog-posts I ever read aloud to my mom (z"l), who didn't have her own computer, was one with pictures of peonies from May 18, 2014. It was about loss.

Just over a year later, I'm bursting from loss, or wish I were. Nearly a year ago, while trying to comfort me over my mother's (z"l) death, a rabbinical student asked me, "What do you want to ask God?" I posted this here already:

"When do I get to fall apart?"

"And how would God respond?"

"Never," I said because what would my falling apart serve?

Serving others is the antidote to self-pity, yet I want to wallow a little.

Pat's on her annual golf trip in Tennessee with her friends from her days at NIU and I must do all of the daily chores she'd be doing if she were here, since she's retired: filling and re-filling the pitcher from the rain-barrel, watering the plants, feeding the birds and local wildlife along with the kitties (I do feed the kitties daily already -- that's my job), making dinner, taking out the garbage and the recycling, dealing with the guy who needed to waterproof the front steps and walkway....These chores, it turns out, are a pretty nice way to connect with the world right around me.

And I've been doing more connecting than usual this past week, in part to distract myself from imminent, first yahrzeit of my mom's (z"l) death along with our impending trip to Green Bay to unveil my mother-in-law Bev's (z"l) headstone; she died unexpectedly of complications from a fall last month, exactly 10 months after my mom. I loved Bev (z"l), too, and also miss her. When we come back, we'll have my mom's (z"l) unveiling on the 31st of May.

My mom (z"l) is so present in her absence:

On Wednesday last week, she (z"l) was there among the caravan of Stamford [Connecticut -- my hometown, where my mom (z"l) lived for 50 years --] Tents trucks at Duggal Greenhouse in Brooklyn last Wednesday as I was departing from World of Watson, but she was not there to call when I wanted to debrief on the coolness of the experience of seeing a positive future for the world, augmented and aided by artificial intelligence.

My mom (z"l) was there at the Art of the 1990s show at the Montclair Art Museum on Thursday evening as I was telling a new friend how she and my dad (z"l) practically chose to move from the Village to Montclair because it had an art museum, but then chose Stamford, which had one, too, but was not there when I wanted to talk about the couple of interesting installations I saw as part of the exhibit.

My ever-present and shatteringly-absent mom (z"l) was there at the Agudath Shalom Cemetery when we visited her not-yet engraved joint-plot prior to the mezuzah posting ceremony in her memory, held at the Stamford Jewish Community Center Library, and was there at the Senior Lunch afterwards as Mr. Soifer, our Bi-Cultural Day School music teacher, smiled at me as he saw me moving my lips accurately while he sang the extended Kiddush over the Shabbat wine and gone when I wanted to tell her that one of her friends there had said, "Your mother was so valuable to me."

Rabbi Cohen, reciting blessings

Rabbi Cohen, my sisters Kayla and Deb, and me outside of the Stamford JCC Library, where our mom (z"l) volunteered.
The mezuzah was created by Chaya Magal and the roses remind us of our mom (z"l); her middle name was Rose.

She (z"l) was there at the Brookdale Park Conservancy-sponsored *Heaven is a Garden* book talk and signing at Watchung Booksellers on Friday evening, even though I should have been at Shabbat services instead, but gone after our dinner out with two new friends at a restaurant in Montclair that she liked, too.

Author Jan Johnsen, discussing her marvelous book,*Heaven is a Garden*
My mom (z"l) was there when Noga and Hilla, a gorgeous couple of Israeli friends with four kids, two of whom were with them, visited us in our newly renovated home, and there when I brought my giant case of Lego over to their four-year-old Shaked, and there when Uri, the baby, smiled winningly and there when we talked about *Fun Home* as a masterpiece. But she was gone when I wanted to call her the next day to wish her a Happy Mother's Day.

My still-here mother (z"l) was ultra-present when I picked up the tray she gave us some years ago that read, "Smart women crave good company" and which featured only a '50s-era, stylized illustration of women drinking coffee on it and tried to determine how to display it visibly in our newly renovated kitchen/dining room and living room.
My mom (z"l) said she thought of Pat & me when she saw this platter and got it for us; she had a good sense of humor.
And she was proud of the rest of how we re-assembled our home and of its major freshening. But she (z"l) was gone when it came time to eat dinner and then take a rest in the living room.

Our new kitchen/dining room/library

Our refreshed living room

Saturday, April 18, 2015

What a Beauty...and the Dog's Cute, too!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

A Catcall I Didn't Utter During My 'blade-Ride

It was an adorable dog -- maybe a not-yet-grown, ginger, Portuguese water dog, if they come in ginger, and I was rollerblading past him or her, across the street. The dog, I noticed first, and then the dog's comely parent -- a woman perhaps not younger than I with longish brown hair and a gleaming smile.

As I sailed past, I nearly did yell out, "What a beauty...and the dog's cute, too!" But didn't, and smiled to myself, and wondered, What would have been so bad if I *had* yelled it? It's such a gorgeous day today and both of us were in an apparently good mood, and why not flirt as I rushed past? If she had heard me and registered what I'd said, wouldn't she have been not unpleasantly surprised? But then, it's not like I was rollerblading in some faraway land, where I'd never, ever see the woman again, except perhaps at the airport, if she were a tourist, too. 

What if I ran into her at King's supermarket up the street? I'm sure I'd not be able to look her in the eye. That's the thing about being aggressively shy. And that's also the thing about reality vs. fantasy. It's easy to be socially bold when I feel safe. You can't catch me. I'm on Rollerblades. Hah! But she could let go of the leash on that gorgeous dog and have it chase and bite me if she weren't amused by my declaration and were sick of being objectified and this was the final offense and she wasn't going to remain passive anymore.

And besides, Pat's the most beautiful woman in the world to whom I've been exclusively devoted for all of our nearly 24 years together. Why am I even noticing anyone else? Because I'm also noticing the buds on the trees and every marvel of nature. There's actually a prayer we're supposed to say as Jews (to ourselves) whenever we see a beautiful person. There are also a couple for when we see extra-unusual people, and this site goes into them. This site tells us the prayer for spotting beautiful creatures, including human ones (see below).

How lucky I am to have a sunny Spring day and the able-bodiedness to 'blade around my town with confidence, and with the awareness of beauty around me. And how lucky to have this free platform to reflect on it, and good music -- the latest of which I heard was Louie Vega's faster, remixed version of "Dance"several minutes ago -- and two sweet cats, and a wife who loves me and who is the most beautiful, funniest and most menschlich person I know!

And how lucky that I showed some judgment and did not catcall at the woman and dog, even as it might have been playfully all right. It turns out that it has been more fun, perhaps, to write about it than it would have been to have done it. 

On seeing the small-scale wonders of nature, such as beautiful trees, animals, and people:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, shekacha lo beolamo. 
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, that such as these are in Your world.

Friday, February 13, 2015

When Did I Become a Sage?

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Feeling Self-possessed and of Service Accordingly

At 25, I was just starting what would become a real career, was romantically insecure and much less solvent, as well as a bit lost. I was also searching, earning, dating, and pursuing a career.

Twice this week, younger lesbians wanted to talk with me about my experience -- one along with her non-lesbian classmate, so that I could be the subject of their MBA project on women in business who advance change, and one who wanted tips on how to come out at work.

When did I become qualified to talk about this stuff? Perhaps by 26 if we consider the core definition of a mentor simply as someone who has been there before you. When did I become recognized for being qualified to talk about this stuff? Now, at nearly 50, when I'm so much more self-possessed.

I was touched by both discussions. The first of the lesbian women made it clear that she liked my response during our conversation: "Think bigger." And the non-lesbian classmate posted positively about our discussion on Instagram.

It was gratifying to be quotable/referenceable. The context for the quote was her asking what I'd have done differently in helping start up the LGBT Business Development team at work, which is still going strong nearly a decade and a half since its founding; I moved on to our Learning organization 11 years ago and remain proud to have made a lasting change at work.

The second discussion included the other lesbian, young woman telling me that when we first met and I talked so openly at work about my family-life, she asked herself subconsciously, "Could that be me one day?" 

When I was their age, I wasn't pursuing an MBA, nor was I super-successful at work. Instead, I was hunting for purpose, a partner and prosperity. Back then, I don't think I'd have foreseen that I could be me one day. And yet I have managed to become me. Thank God.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Soundtrack for a 50th Birthday Party

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

When I Have a 50th Birthday in July, God Willing, I Might Host a Celebration

When I turned 35, I hosted a party in our backyard and haven't hosted a birthday party since then, as my wife Pat never wanted one for any of her big birthdays. It seems appropriate to celebrate this upcoming milestone, which I hope, God willing, to be healthy for.

Right now, I'm having some scary health challenges, where I might have nothing wrong, or I might, God forbid, have cancer in my cervix, my endometrium and my breasts, and I won't know more until mid-December, so I keep trying to distract myself with work and Pat and cultural things like plays, the Rockettes and TV. Note added on December 29th and then again later: Am out of the woods, that is, the polyps in my cervix and endometrium are no longer there and they are benign. And had a breast aspirated in mid-January and that turned out fine, too, thank God.

Yesterday morning, I thought, if I'm healthy, I must host a party for my 50th this summer, and if so, I want it to feature music that would keep me dancing practically the entire time. And I hope that most of the people I'd invite would be willing to do a lot of dancing, too.

If I do host a party, I want to blast these tunes from our back deck and have family and friends spill out beyond the deck into the yard for dancing:

A few songs from my earliest years:


The rest are faves from my older sisters' records and then what I loved from the radio:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Buoyant Blues

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Escaping, Through Music, But Not Really 

Starting at 1:40, which is probably where it always began when DJs played it on WBLS-FM, the song almost makes me forget my grief. Almost:

It's a great time when songs like this are playing on the radio -- my dad's employed again and I'm learning Disco and Ballroom dancing from David Jones in my hometown, Stamford, Connecticut, so that I feel like I belong at the 11 Bar Mitzvahs and six Bat Mitzvahs I attend between 1977 and '78.

This song comes a year later, but it's the sort we Hustled to at all of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah receptions, and I miss it today. Who knew then that five years later, my dad (z"l) would be dead of common bile-duct cancer?

This next song...

...also gets good about 30 seconds in and almost makes me pound away the blues of my pastoral session from earlier today. A Rabbinical Intern at our shul, wants to know what God would say to me after I ask, "When can I just fall apart?"

"Never," God says, I tell her. He says, "Keep going. It won't serve you to fall apart."

At ~1:20 in, God might as well say:

Or He could be as Kind as a number of the Psalms and pledge:

The Rabbinical Intern tells me, "Let's look at Psalm Chaf Zayin. Keep reading."

I read aloud, "For my father and my mother [in that order] have left me; but the Lord will take me up."

"Do you believe that you can let God into your life to help you?" The Rabbinical Intern asks me and I'm almost embarrassed at her revival-style inquiry.

"I *can*, yes, but will I?" I say, barely aloud.

Last night on Twitter, a former Modern Orthodox Jewish day schoolmate and I had an exchange of tweets around an article that compared and contrasted coming out as Atheist to coming out as lesbian, gay, bi or trans. He's an Atheist and one of only three friends of mine who identifies as Atheist...that I know of. He's definitely not:

Didn't God give me this great music for dancing, escaping, wanting to live, for hope and joy, even in the midst of my sadness and fury?

Can't I shut my eyes right now, even as I'm typing and be transported through the furniture from *The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe*? Dancing the whole way! God, for a moment, I've become even younger than Bat Mitzvah age.

Now, back to the present, where I feel very alone. Indeed, Pat is not home right now, but even with Phoebe, the kitty, here in her plush bucket-bed next to me on the floor, I'm just by myself, except for my Disco and Funk friends:

What if I could time-travel and heed the eventual call of this video to go to Barbados for a weekend in 2010, for three days and nights of "Pure Rare Grooves"? There's no such thing as a geographic cure, they say, but it doesn't stop me from wanting to escape my mourning. I am parentless. I am childless. Who will mourn for me? Ok, that was melodramatic.

Ever since I went to a '70's dance party at my friends' Stephanie and Laura, I'm craving dancing in public, and there seem to be fewer opportunities for public dancing than when I was younger. "Don't stop me and I won't stop you," as this song commands:

"Are you angry at God?" asks the Rabbinical Intern.

Later, I think of an answer: Not when I'm dancing, or rollerblading:

Or "Funkin' for Jamaica" and getting to see the beautiful, female singer for the first time by watching the video, which I usually don't like to do; what they produce is always less appealing to me than what I see in my head. Not this time, though. And the mens' spirit is uplifting. They love making the music maybe more than any musicians I've ever seen.

The Psalm book I was reading from today had been a gift to my mom (z"l) from me. I inscribed it 15 years ago, in 5760 of the Hebrew calendar:

Dear Mom,
May these Psalms comfort you whenever and wherever you need comforting.

When the Rabbinical Intern and I were talking earlier, why didn't I notice that my mom (z"l) had underlined part of the last sentence of the very Psalm that the Intern asked me to read aloud, " strong, and let thy heart be of good courage...."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Dafke on Yom Kippur

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

The Right Way to Mourn

What's the right way to mourn? Is it OK to be checking out a row of two appealing couples of women sitting behind us during Shacharit services at Yom Kippur? Is it all right to be resenting every older person I see among the congregation for being alive while my mother (z"l) is not?

How about leaving Yom Kippur services right after Yizkor, the service where we honor dead family, and skipping the rest? Can I blame that on my grief? Last year, my mother (z"l) was with us for Yizkor, so there was no question that we'd be leaving right afterwards, since she was older and said she could not sit for that long.

Feeding My Demons vs. Myself

One of our two rabbinical interns, Ruhi Sophia Rubenstein, delivered a drash (sermon) this morning that talked of feeding, rather than trying to starve, our demons. She recounted the story of Plimo and Satan from Ein Yaakov: The Ethical and Inspirational Teachings of the Talmud.

She gave an example of the danger of trying, say, to thwart the urge to gossip. Instead, she suggested, those who love to gossip can look at what it is about themselves that loves information and stories.

I'm not sure I can have an I-Thou relationship with any of my demons, or how I'd prioritize their presence. One of my demons, as I've come to see it, is sugar. I've not eaten any refined sugar, honey, fructose, barley malt, molasses, rice syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, jaggery, brown sugar or sugar substitutes like saccharin or Splenda... for more than 20 years, ever since I realized that I felt allergic to it and it made me feel super-unhealthy. Same with alcohol, which turns right into sugar. And then 10 years ago, an ENT specialist, Dr. Kenneth Brookler, suggested that in my particular case, I could not tolerate most stuff that turns into sugar, including flour, potatoes, rice, corn, and sweeter nuts and fruits, like pecans, macadamias, figs, dates, pineapple, grapefruit, mango, I stopped eating those foods, too.

How ironic would it be if dafke (for precise spite) on Yom Kippur, I went ahead and fed my demon itself? How have I not done that on Yom Kippur, since 1990? I've not eaten sugar on Yom Kippur by not fasting. I've eaten three meals a day with nothing in between, just like I do every day because I don't ever want to be so ravenous that I grab whatever's closest, which could be something sugary.

Grief Is a Gift

Ruhi made another suggestion that moved me earlier today, asking that instead of "beating" our hearts with our fist, as the liturgy suggests we do during the "Al Chet", we simply knock on them gently, each knock, hoping that our heart will open a bit more.

This suggestion, to knock on our hearts, struck me additionally as a way to wake up my heart. During my physical recently, I learned that I have Right Bundle Branch Block (RBBB), which means that sometimes, my heart beats a bit too slowly. Today, I felt like each knock was an attempt to pep up my heart to full wakefulness.

If my heart were not just fully open, but also fully awake, I think I would feel -- all the time -- like I did when the miraculous Sally Wilfert sang one of our congregant, William Finn's, "Anytime (I Am There)" from his "Elegies". You can hear it for yourself from her by going to ~5:30 of this beautiful video. My wife Pat & I were fortunate to run into Sally Wilfert as she headed toward a bathroom after her performance and I didn't detain her long -- just long enough to squeeze her hand and say, "Thank you for making it possible for me to cry." She smiled luminously and with kindness.

While Rabbi Kleinbaum encouraged us just prior to Yizkor that numbness is also a feeling, nothing's as cleansing as a good cry when I feel sad (and nothing like a good laugh when I'm happy, and also, sometimes when I'm sad, too). Of course, such strong feelings are enervating, so I'm beat now and most of me just wants to lie down and fall asleep...but I recall Ruhi's encouragement to wake up my heart, so I need the rest of me to stay awake, too.

"Sarah Must Have Smiled"

I've been writing about feeling sad here, yet the sun has come out while I've been blogging. Whenever the weather turned from gloomy to sunny, my mother (z"l) always used to say, "Sarah must have smiled." Maybe I smiled for a moment a bit ago, recalling one of the lyrics from "Anytime (I Am There)", "Anytime you wash your hands/ I'll be around." I'm 49 and to this day, any time my mom (z"l) saw me emerge from a bathroom, reflexively, she asked, "Did you wash your hands?" I guess now, she won't need to, since she is there "anytime [I] wash [my] hands".

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Skating Autobiography

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Last weekend, while inline-skating along the Beverly Hill Trail in Brookfield, Wisconsin, it struck me to post a companion to My Swimming Autobiography. Here it is:


The outdoor rink affiliated with my nursery school, the New Canaan Country School on Frogtown Road: where I learned to ice skate at four. Skating forward, 'round and 'round till my cheeks were wind-burned was simple. Skating backwards like classmates Jane, Alicia and Laura, never was. Disliked having to stop for the Zamboni. It seemed to take forever. I think instrumental music was pumped out of PA speakers around the rink, but the hit then was "Leaving on a Jet Plane".


Why go to the rink when I could skate on the pond of our neighbors, DiDi and Helene? It was tiny and full of lumps that made me trip -- not smooth like the rink. Still, how fun to be in our own neighborhood with skates on! I recall trying it only once and it was still so special, like a secret garden. This song, I think, was playing in the Charlie Brown Christmas special when the Peanuts characters were skating on the pond.


After transferring to the Modern Orthodox Jewish Bi-Cultural Day School from New Canaan Country School at six, ice skating was something I did a couple of times with former classmates -- an excuse to see them. Could there have been a rink under where the State Theater is now in Springdale, in Stamford? I didn't aspire to be Peggy Fleming like the other girls, and didn't dress like an ice ballerina. One of that year's hits, The Carpenters' "For All We Know" could easily have been among the songs pumped in, if the rink featured music...can't recall. Gave up ice skating.


At seven and 12, my parents dropped off my older, middle sister Kathy and me at the Jewish Community Center in Stamford, when it was still on Strawberry Hill Avenue for a Sunday morning of rollerskating around the giant wood-floored auditorium. I don't remember music, just the sound of the loaned, clip-on, rattle-ridden metal roller skates. The JCC had skates for everyone, but the skates hobbled me, rather than inspired me. Still, it was a foretaste of better times on skates.


At the height of the Disco craze, the toy company my dad worked for asked him to design a bag for kids' roller skates. For "research", he bought me a pair of sneaker-skates at Caldor, which I still have. Anita Ward & Co. inspired my boogieing up and down Hickory Road, across from the house where I grew up, practically daily -- weather permitting -- from 13-17. This, among so many others, was such a magical, moving tune.

Size 13EEE

Our Jewish Community Center took a field trip to a roller rink and my dad (z"l) agreed to go with me. He had always talked of how as a kid, he had rollerskated from his house on 10th and G SW to the Library of Congress and back routinely and I couldn't imagine it. The version of him I knew was like an ad for a Big & Tall shop. And I doubted the rink would have rental skates in his size, 13EEE. Still, I looked forward to his watching me skate at a minimum. Fifteen minutes after we arrived at the rink, the two of us, along with many other JCC families, were out on the floor -- Disco skating stars for the afternoon, if not exactly looking the part. I was scared to see my dad (z"l) on skates at first, expecting him to fall, but lap after lap, he was confidently upright and moving fast, with a big smile on his face. The only pop song the quality of which we agreed on during any of this era was "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder.


Brought my roller skates with me to Israel when I stayed with my cousins in Moshav Beit Herut for the summer at 15. George Benson's 1980 hit blasted from the speakers that my same-age cousin Nitza pointed at the street for me. I skate-danced on the village street between their house and my sabta's (grandmother's) across from them. Nitza humored me and watched. I don't think my sabta and Aunt Tovah were home.


At 16, I told my mom I was going to NYC to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and took a public bus to the train station, wearing my roller skates in my backpack. When I got to the Met, I kept walking behind it, into Central Park. I had heard on WBLS-FM that there was an outdoor area there where everyone roller skated. I saw a policeman on a motorcycle and waived to him. He stopped and I asked for directions to the rink. He said, "Get on," and took me there. It was the best music I could have wished for, including Evelyn Champagne King's "I'm in Love" and I felt like I was the youngest one there, skating along with adults who seemed as though they'd either gotten off the night shift or were unemployed. Everyone, especially me, was joyous. I didn't tell my mom (z"l) about my adventure till several years ago.


None of my high school friends roller skated and few of them liked Disco. As Class Treasurer, it was my choice where to go on our class trip, which was also a fund raiser. When I chose a disco roller rink, everyone I knew said, That's not going to make *any* money. They were wrong. We had to get more buses than we had planned and we made a healthy profit. Skip to My Lou...


At 23, a handsome woman reminiscent of George Michael in the '90s -- without the five-o'clock shadow -- and I dated in Chicago for a short time and she did me a giant favor: We were at the Lakefront on the North Side when she suggested I borrow her Rollerblades to see how easy they were to use, and they were! Maybe it was because I had ice skated on single blades, maybe it was because the boots were rigid plastic, maybe it was because the wheels were so tall and I felt majestic. Bought my own immediately and from then on, skated along the Lakefront for seven years while living in Metro-Chicago to songs ranging from Soul II Soul's "Keep on Movin'" to Nirvana's "Come As You Are" to Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason".

Southern Nights

Before joining IBM, I worked for a joint venture of IBM and Sears and while our CEO worked in the same building as I in Schaumburg, Illinois, my manager Rusty and the rest of the team were based in Tampa, Florida in a corporate park across from the Buccaneers' football stadium. When I visited Rusty & the team in Tampa in the early-mid-'90s, I'd take along my Rollerblades and after hours drive to University of South Florida and dodge cars in its vast parking lots. Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" was always on the rental car radio and I wasn't bold enough to join Tuesday skate-nights in Ybor City, though I'd watch the hordes from a restaurant I loved, where people could bring their dogs.


When my wife Pat & I moved to Montclair, New Jersey in mid-May of 1996, for her job as the VP of Business & Finance at Montclair State University, we lived in an on-campus, high-rise apartment for several weeks until we could get into our house. The parking lot at the base of the building became my private rollerblading rink, since I went out there in the early mornings. Favorite tunes then came from Maxwell, especially "Sumthin' Sumthin'". It was a mysterious, hopeful time; we were in a new place, yet back on the East coast near my family, then in Stamford, Queens and Brooklyn.


It was the first house that Pat & I bought together, and we still live here 18 years later. The day we moved in, I shoved my feet into my Rollerblade boots and took a spin on the deck attached to the back of the house. Before we put deck furniture on it, it was big enough to rollerblade around! If I had been listening to music then, I'd have liked to hear Black Street's "No Diggity".


First, the town re-paved Grove Street and I'd sweep down it from the corner of Alexander all the way past Walnut and back on early Saturday mornings when the traffic was light. Wore my bike helmet and listened to CDs from stars, including Aaliyah of blessed memory. My fave: "Hot Like Fire".


Then Montclair paved Park Street. That was more challenging, as I'd skate up and down Alexander to Park, and we live in the foothills of the Watchung Mountains; it was much steeper than any hill I'd encountered in the Midwest -- other than the times I'd been skiing and mountain biking in the Kettle Morain area of Wisconsin. Most likely, I was bobbing to Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It".


At IBM's world marketing headquarters in Somers, New York, my officemate at the time Jennifer and our colleagues Todd and Bob decided to bring our rollerblades to work one day. We agreed we'd skate around the 730-acre I.M. Pei-architected campus. That early-summer evening, there was no music, just the sound of the wind in our ears as we sped down a part the steepness of which I'd never really noticed while in my car. Back then, we were the jean-clad youth of the Software Group in Building 1.


At seven, our niece Zoe opted to have her birthday party at the ice rink nearest her home in Jamaica Estates, New York. She and her friends were unlike the mini-Peggy Flemings with whom I had skated at their age. With falls galore and still an inexplicable attraction to the ice, Zoe and one of her especially flailing friends were making wall-hugging circuits till I laced up and joined them. I was the giant my dad (z"l) had been to so many at the '70s roller rink, and I held both their hands till they took turns individually, being spotted by me -- holding them up -- and propelled forward in parallel as I skated directly behind them. If music was playing, it wasn't The Carpenters, but rather something along the lines of Janet Jackson's "All For You".

Might the sense of possibility and also in the sense of mightiness! Finding well-fitting Salomon inline skates in a skate store in a London suburb during a business trip made me feel like anything was possible, and then it was. I didn't put on my iPod till I navigated away from the cobblestone-surrounded shop to the Thames; it was treacherous, trying to get through the stone-paved streets and I did it without falling, and then it was a gorgeous ride. I passed a pond filled with sculptures of nymphs and it was a luscious, relatively sunny jaunt back to my colleague and friends' Liz & Kate's home. By then, I had all of my faves uploaded to my iPod, so I could listen to oldies like the British group Imagination's "Illusion".


The best pre-after-hours part of my mid-2000's business trip to Las Vegas was not the rollerblading I did on the Sunset Strip that Sunday afternoon -- it was like trying to skate through Times Square and the cross-walks were super-awkward -- but rather my discovery of another, freer spot; when I learned that the gym at the MGM Grand, where we were staying, cost US$25/day to use, I opted to rollerblade up and down the vast halls on the floor where I was staying. The carpet was thin enough that it didn't really slow me down and fortunately, no one called Security to make me stop. More iPod oldies accompanied me, including Phyllis Hyman's "You Know How to Love Me".


When I was nearly 16, my dad (z"l) taught me to drive at High Ridge Office Park. Nearly a quarter of a century later, long after my dad's death from cancer in 1982, I parked the car in the corporate park and my mom (z"l) agreed to sit in it and watch as I sailed around the pavement of one of the properties on my 'blades. For part of it, I asked her to let me play the radio and I skated nearby, so that she could hear the tunes and see my interpretation of them. Because I didn't want to blast her ears for a solid 30 minutes, I also used my iPod. The treat was the skating, but of course, also my mom (z"l) -- by then in her eighties -- watching me do something I loved. Once I put on my iPod, I skated further away and she lowered the car-seat and took a nap. Songs might have included Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World".


In "Excuse" above, I mentioned that as a seven-year-old, I did not feel at home amongst my female peers, did not feel that I fit in -- both skating-skill-wise and in terms of my on-ice appearance. How delicious then to go 'blading with my colleague and friend, Esther, once on the Lake in Toronto while visiting her and her girlfriend with Pat and once while she and Lynn were visiting us in Montclair. No music either time and instead, just compatible -- and by now cool-looking -- women, making their way with fun authority.


By 40-something, I was fully self-possesed as my friend Stacy and I skated around Felice's & her neighborhood in Maplewood. The two of us, I felt -- whether it was true or just a feeling -- looked powerful and even pretty. What a difference from my seven-year-old insecurities. If a song had been playing from that time, it could have been "Life Is a Highway".


Brought my skates with me on a business trip to Milan. Necessarily, was staying out near the airport and the consolation was that the hotel sat right next to a giant park with a well-paved path. The final night, I was changing into skating clothes and the clouds burst open. The rain stopped half an hour later, but it wasn't safe to skate on the wet surface of the pavement. Instead, I grabbed my cameraphone and took a cab into the city and ate dinner along the river at a restaurant I had read about in "The New York Times", then stopped at a Middle Eastern place for cherries as dessert.


On our way back from an Alaskan cruise for Pat's 60th birthday, we stopped in Vancouver for a few days. My biggest goal while there was to rollerblade by the ocean in Stanley Park. We stayed at the old Fairmont and the concierge gave me a pocket-sized street-map and good directions that involved an elevator down to the pedestrian path along the water. I had to use the bike-lane to get over to the water and it was a weekday. I went at 8 am and there was a decent amount of traffic, but I felt safe and brave at once. The best part, besides the gorgeous views and music, including Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind", was the bottle of water the concierge handed me upon my return.


This past spring, I brought my skates with me to Columbia University Teachers College's Academic Festival. Figured that during lunch I could find a place to go 'blading. Ended up at the war memorial off of 120th under a bright sun with just enough students and tourists to show off in front of. Esther, Toronto, Stacy, Maplewood and the Thames -- it was as lovely as that. Around and around, skating to T.S. Monk's "Bon Bon Vie" and more, and then back to the seminars at TC, feeling like my mind and body were at their peak.


It has been more than the time amassed by a jubilee that I've been roller skating and 'blading, and in the past several years, I've found a new skating place: Jubilee Park in Clifton, New Jersey, a couple of miles from our house. It's quiet, nearly private and offers two, huge, paved rings for my skating pleasure. Recently, I told my mom (z"l) that it's so safe, I don't even need to wear a helmet when I skate there and she was upset. "Don't tell me that. What if you fall?" Since her death on June 4th, I've gone once and worn a helmet, and always will, I guess. "Problem" is a 2014 song I never tire of; it makes me hopeful that not all of the good skating songs are in the past.


The Lakefront with Irishfest music in the background was picturesque, but the real soothing time was a solitary ride I took on the Beverly Hill Trail in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Starting at the end of Nassau Lane and past Brookfield Academy to the area arts center, I listened to "Tears Fall Down", "Breakout", "Relax" and more. During none of the time did I wonder, Why did my mom (z"l) have to die? How can it be that I can never again call her? Never again take her for a birthday meal? Never again tell her about our cute cats or a trip Pat and I are taking? Never again tell her about a happy event at work? Never again read her something I've blogged?