Charlotte and the Back Steps
Jeanne Peck, 2011-01-01
ca 1936 The child was in the yard with her dog, spotty, when she saw the man approach the front gate. She knew that was her cue to hurry into the house. "C'mon Spotty - hurry up." As the back door closed behind her, she called out to Charlotte – “Mommie, Mommie - there's a Hungry Man coming." "Thank you sugar - now you be sure to stay inside ' " The little girl assumed her usual position at the side window to witness the familiar routine. The stranger would walk around the house to the back door and knock, hat or cap in hand (in this instance a well-worn' weather-stained dark brown fedora). Charlotte would open the door a crack "Yes?” “Do you have any work-I can do in exchange for a meal?" (The child wondered again why the men always looked at their feet when asking this question – what connection was there between shoes and food, do you suppose?) In response, Charlotte would fully open the door and, pointing to the ever- present broom leaning beside it, “As a matter of fact, I was just about to sweep the steps. If you’ll be good enough to do that for me, I’ll fix a tray for you.” The dialogue was always pretty much the same – a courteous and graceful pas de deux of words. There was always a tray for the food , spread with a white linen tea towel and napkin. Sometimes Charlotte would prepare a sandwich' sometimes scrambled eggs and bacon - whatever simple but adequate food there was enough of to share. And always, always she would wrap up something in a paper napkin "for later" - an apple, some cheese and crackers, always a jam sandwich. For as 'long as the child could remember (which at age five. is not a very long time) these men had come, singly, knocking on the door. They were a fact of life to her. When she first asked “Why do they ask you for food?” Charlotte said simply, “Because they’re hungry ' “Why?” "Because they have no food." "Why don’t they buy some at the grocery? " “Because they have no money." “Why?” "Because they can't find work'" ”Why?” With a sigh, Charlotte replied, “It's complicated"' Charlotte had discovered by chance a while back that the phrase “It’s complicated" was-.enough to, for a while at least, stem the child's constant stream of "whys" which, once started, were as hard to stop as a persistent case of hiccups. After a short silence the child asked “Well, why do you always give them a For Later?" “Because they might have someone at home who is hungry too.'' “Oh.” She thought of asking who might be at home, and where home might be, but decided against it. Her experience had been that a second "It's complicated" was usually promptly followed by "It's time for you to go upstairs and take a nap.” Best not to risk it! As the man left the emptied tray on the porch bench and exited the yard, the little girl pondered why she always felt so sad when the Hungry Men came and why her mother wanted the back steps so clean all the time, and what exactly “It's complicated" meant anyway. But as usual, when faced with deep imponderables, she decided to forget about all of that and go back outside and play with Spotty instead.
A SUNDAY IN DECEMBER
Lois Keating Learned, 2011-01-02
A SUNDAY IN DECEMBER As the curtain descends on Act One. Bright lights illuminate the gloom in the auditorium. My feet reach for the hard floor and I leave the comfy, plush seat. Into the winter’s bleak weak sunlit marble hall I muse over my sister’s performance As the lead in the high school play (She’s only in her first year!) The lace collar on my party dress tickles my neck As I carefully examine my shiny, new Mary-Janes For reprimanding scuffs. The buzz about me becomes accented with Discernable comments: “…It’s in Hawaii…” “…at 8am this morning…” “…on a Sunday, too!...” “BUT I HAVE FOUR BOYS!...” I hear my mother say As she dabs her eyes with a hanky I touch her hand Feeling something has happened that’s Beyond my childhood comprehension She bends down to my size for a face-to-face hug. “War! War!....Pearl Harbor attacked!” Echoing in my ears as I think What about my wonderful, big brothers and …. How can such a beautiful name like ‘pearl’ Mean something so scary as war?
Visit to Dachau
Jean McGavin, 2013-01-01
It was spring, 1973. I was 19. My sister and I were visiting Munich. We wanted to take the day trip to Dachau and inquired at the Munich travel information office for travel instructions to the former camp. The man in the office responded with anger - prompted by shame or resentment - that all Americans want to visit Dachau and harangued us for quite some time about the voyeuristic indecency of our interest in Germany’s horrific past. After suffering his rage, and acquiring the directions, we made our way to a lovely suburban village at the outskirts of which we found ourselves at the gate admonishing all who passed through that “Arbeit macht frei”. We are not Jewish and were we to have lived in Germany during the war, we would not likely have ever had cause to pass under this gate, but reading those words while passing under that gate in 1973, nearly 30 years after the war’s end, I wanted to run away. The pain and death and terror and atrocity was sticky in the air. The bare feet of prisoners and jack-booted SS guards walked and crawled and were dragged and bled and became part of this ground. We visited the museum, with photos and film documenting the death, medical experiments, the teeth, the hair, the human skin lampshades, the uniforms of guard and guarded, the faces – so many faces; innocent, stunned, numb faces of people who would soon be dead but deserved nothing more than to be home in their own warm beds. We went out to the dirt yard. The barracks were gone. Outlines instead marked where they had stood. One reconstructed, sanitized barrack stood in place where the original lice, typhoid, cholera and unthinkable terror infested barrack had once stood as shelter from snow and as a zoo where Nazis caged their prisoners – Jews, Soviets, Gypsies, clergy and homosexuals. The German at the travel information office was right. No one should see this. There should never be a Dachau or Auschwitz or Buchenwald for anyone to see. 19 year old girls should never see this because these places should never have been even the thoughts in any man’s head. But there were many men with heads capable of imagining death camps and exterminations of whole peoples, whole cultures and we need to see these places. I needed to see Dachau, to walk where the depraved and the innocent both defamed and ennobled the dirt they shared underfoot, and breathe the same air that sinner and saint inhaled and exhaled one lung to the next without affecting the quality of sinner or saint in the owner of each lung. When one walked past the barracks, one arrived at the shower room. It is said that these showers were used for showers and not as gas chambers. Nonetheless, it is my recollection that they were equipped for that possibility of the engineering mass death and it is not possible to walk through that shower without feeling death in the air. Next door is the crematorium. I recall a row of ovens - 3 or 4, perhaps more, lined up in a brick wall. Big oven doors in a brick wall in a neat little building with big chimneys on top that spewed evil day and night. Tens of thousands of innocents were burned here. When American troops liberated the prisoners in Dachau in 1945, bodies were piled up in front of the crematorium which even burning 24 hours a day could not keep up with the executed, the dead and dying from exhaustion, disease and starvation. At the back of the camp, behind the neat rows of barracks were chapels. I recall 3 – a Protestant, a Catholic and a Jewish chapel. In the Protestant chapel, a Lutheran Minister was receiving visitors. He stayed there to minister to anyone trying to make sense of the senseless and to offer God’s grace, solace and peace in the face of the greatest evidence for the lack of existence of God. This minister was about my father’s age, probably mid-50’s and he bore a tattooed number on his forearm. He had been a prisoner in Dachau and somehow had the fortitude to return to the camp to minister to the visitors. Perhaps he felt that in this way he could undo some of what the Nazis had done. Perhaps he felt that with his innocent breath he could continue to try to win the battle of good over evil – to breathe innocent breath into evil lungs, to unsticky the air of death and hatred and terror. These memories have been in my mind for 40 years and I have never written about them. I tell my children to be careful what they see because it will be in their minds forever. Memories never leave us, they just get filed away in dark little cranial cubby holes. But it is Passover week. My children are half Jewish from their father and my son is talking about taking his Spring semester of his junior year of college in Tel Aviv. He wants to learn about his heritage. And this memory of visiting Dachau is squeezing out of a little cranial cavity and making its way to this page in honor of Passover and my children and my friends and strangers whose families lost so much to unchecked madness and cruelty.
David T. Daniel, 2012-01-02
In 1928, when I was 4 years old, we moved from one farmhouse to another only 3 miles away. This new home was in a Town Limit, thusly, we had electricity. In every room there was a bare light bulb with a pull cord hanging from the ceiling. Also, on the wall was a box called a “telephone”. It was on a party line, and my Mother would not let us children get near it. In 2 to 3 years a central telephone office was established. A central operator was moved into town. She was a 4 ft. tall midget with the name of Eunice. Now Eunice connected one to whom one wishes to speak. You certainly remember either the original or rerun of “The Andy Griffith Show”. Andy would pick up the phone from the desk and say, “Sarah, get me Goober down at the Filling Station.” The setting of this show was the mid-sixties. Eunice was already in my town for 30 years. I believe she retired around 1970. In all the years Eunice was the great connector, she was also a great communicator. She knew everything about everybody. She knew when we went to church, and where all town’s children went off to new endeavors. Living in Chicago in 1951, I decided to check on the condition of my Dad, who had been ill. In midweek after dinner the long distance call was placed through the operator. I gave name and address. In 1951 this had to go through circuits. First I heard a voice say “Cincinnati”. Then a voice said “Louisville”, then “Charlotte” then “Spartanburg”. Each time the Chicago operator would give the address. Finally, I heard Eunice’s mousey voice say, “Landrum Central”. Chicago operator said “Chicago calling Mr. W. C. Daniel.” Eunice said “Is that you, David? You know your Daddy is at prayer meeting!!” There was complete silence. We were dumbfounded.
Landing On Jones Beach In A Snow Storm
Barbara Bowen, 2012-01-02
As flight weather forecaster for American Airlines at LaGuardia Field, I was working the midnight-to-8 shift of a January night in 1946. I had to reckon with a storm center in North Carolina which had been moving steadily eastwards and showed no sign of changing course, with its associated precipitation spreading only as far north as Richmond. The chap who took over at 8 a.m. found everything behaving as I had forecast. At 4 in the afternoon, Johnny Booth took off, piloting a DC-3, for Washington. When he arrived there, everything was as foreseen, with a cloud cover at 8000 feet and unlimited visibility. As he was making his final approach, the control tower told him to “hold” at 7000 feet because a Navy plane had just declared an emergency and had priority. As Johnny was “holding” the airport suddenly went to zero-zero in heavy snow. He decided to head for Baltimore, his established alternate landing. When he reached Baltimore, it too suddenly went to zero-zero, so he headed for Philadelphia, (which was already zero-zero). We could hear him but he couldn’t hear us because snow sliding off his antennae made so much static. He said he would head generally northeast, adding that his fuel was getting low but he figured he could make it to Hartford. Then came the dread word that one of the two tanks registered empty and that he was letting down and dropping flares. At 300 feet, he cried out “Oh, my God, we are over the ocean!” And that was the last we heard from him – for 45 minutes. He told us afterwards that he had spotted a line of white, figured it must be surf on a beach, headed for it, made a belly landing, tipping one wing on a dune, cutting a lip as he leaned out the side window to get a better view as he neared the sand. Leaving his co-pilot, he set off on foot, coming upon a Coast Guard station on Jones Beach. From it, he telephoned us. No one was injured, but for his lip. I had been sleeping, arose about 10 p.m. to go to work at midnight, was flabbergasted to see an inch of snow on the ground, but an absolutely clear sky. Weather signals for upper winds came in only every six hours in those days, so it was not possible to find out what weird change there had been to send that sudden spike up the coast and then cause it to retreat. When I got to work, the storm center was just where we had forecast it to be. I listened to the tape of Johnny speaking. He flew the next afternoon. His passengers were so impressed that once back at LaGuardia, by a bus we sent to Jones Beach to “assure” them, that they all took the plane to Washington next morning.
Edwin B. Kolsby, 2015-01-02
On Commuting Living in Pleasantville, New York, meant commuting to work via The New York Central Railroad to Grand Central Station six days a week. It was not unusual in the late ‘40s to work on Saturdays. American Artist Magazine, where I was then Graphics Editor, was located on Forty-First Street, with Bryant Park and The New York Public Library as neighbors. It was a convenient short walk from the station. One Friday, having closed the next issue, I had nothing of significance on my desk, so decided to skip the Saturday routine and head for Bear Mountain for the week-end. It had snowed that week and the ski slopes were reported to be in top shape. My wife and I headed out early on Saturday, checked into the lodge, and a message was handed to me. “Call the office.” I did. It was Mr. Watson, the publisher. He was a kindly, gentle, talented artist, formerly a teacher at Pratt Institute and, as it turned out, my mentor for many years. But this was early in my career, and, in his usual, quiet, very polite manner, he informed me that, were I to repeat this unauthorized absence, I would have to leave the company. I heard no more of the incident, but a month later the company dropped the Saturday work day. At that time the railroad was still using steam locomotives to haul the commuter cars. The soot-spewing, chugging, antique behemoths, after pulling their complement of cars from the northerly communities into North White Plains, were unhooked and replaced with more refined, cleaner, quieter but characterless diesel-electric engines for the remaining trip into the City. There was romance in the sounds of the high-pitched signal as the steam locomotive approached the Pleasantville station from the north. The clatter of the wheels, the shrill whistle when releasing air in braking, the steam spouting from the intricate piping and the heart-beat, slow thump, thump, thump, thump of the resting engine gave the elephantine black metal hull an aura of a living thing. But the romance ended with the trip itself. It helped to have The New York Times or similar reading matter bought at the station along with the paper cup of hot coffee. Very few contemplated the bucolic passing rural scenery after their first few trips. And I was one of them.
Elsie H. Johnson, 2013-01-02
It was the summer of 1943. Poliomyelitis was rampant across the U.S. Grace Hospital in Hutchinson KS established a whole floor to accommodate patients who were in need of care. I was assigned to that duty. The floor was made to accommodate several washing machines which were electrified to accommodate very hot water and all had wringers attached. These were needed to accommodate the Sister Kenny Method of Treatment for Polio – which was still controversial. Wool Army blankets were cut to size for many patients. Two wool squares were cut together with a piece of rubberized material. This was the days before plastic! Several wool squares and rubberized sheets were cut making a package that could be tied together and dropped in the boiling hot water of the washing machine for a half hour. Enough squares were cut to cover the whole body of the patient. Next we would remove the packages from the hot water and piece by piece run them through the wringer, placing them on the patient’s body and finally cover them with the dry wool pieces. The patient would lie quietly for almost 2 hours to absorb the warmth of the wool which relaxed the nerve ending of the affected area. This procedure was done twice a day for each patient. They always welcomed this treatment although they hated the odor of the wet wool. Some massage was done. Sister Kenny believed in keeping the muscles moving instead of immobilizing them with splints, plaster casts or braces. Iron Lungs were also available for those whose lungs were affected or had breathing problems. We nursed all age groups – children to adults. The epidemic wasn’t kind to anyone. Crying wasn’t just for pain. Families missed each other. Some families would come to a window and wave - the only way they could show their concern. It was a very sad time for all. I never was concerned over contracting the disease but will have to admit I never have worked so hard in all my training time. It was an exhausting job but very satisfying. To this day I think I can handle hotter materials in my hands than most people.
Jay Klinck, 2018-01-02
Life is not measured in the number of breaths we take, but the number of moments that take your breath away. The Amazon was one that did it for me. 15.03.00 Belem Brazil Dark river waters, pissing afternoon rain, boats to the gunwales with too few life rafts chugging up river with an authoritative, rhythmic chunk, chunk, chunk. Every shade of bronzed bodies napping in slung hammocks decorating stranded, tilted boats awaiting freedom from returning tides. Fruits and vegetation rarely seen in most of the world, close quartered booths selling everything one could imagine, roofed with plywood, blue tarps and sheet metal. Black vultures hopping about the fish market floor nibbling on scraps and heads. The meat bazaar with few recognizable cuts and standards less than we'd hope. Decayed structures, people sitting in windowsills visually eavesdropping on each who pass below. Floating gas stations 'TEXACO' fueling water traffic from all directions. Smiling friendly people moving about their day, enjoying life at the equator. Belem returned me to Calcutta. 16.03.01 Breves Kanäl Our majestic hotel weaves her way towards the Amazon with close quartered shores curtained with second growth vegetation concealing the coast forever. Tall palms in multiple shades of green, types we view in a book. Small dugouts too narrow to float captained by scantly clad inhabitants of the jungle. Small local saw mills slicing up their future dot the edge of the narrow band of opened land as we wind our way towards Manaus. Odd creatures swim about the river, the occasional jumping fish leaving widening rings only to imagine its size. Nuts, scraps of wood and floating debris fill the eddies of the shore. Thatched roof homes built on stilts, habitat to the river dwellers, long rickety boardwalks with inadequate supports give river access to boats and life. The occasional church at the river's edge defined by white paint, blue shutters and a cross, a facade from an old western town. A whorehouse 'adverntures de la noche'(Night Adventures) painted in squinting blue with windows trimmed in day glow pink framing hopeful enticing females of questionable age. Small floating islands of vegetation glide by as the river widens from a narrow passage to a mile broad waterway. With a Zodiac cruise came pink dolphins playing at the rivers intersection. Children in unsafe canoes, surely too small to be captained by these tiny tanned bodies dressed in faded boxer shorts. Bugs and birds making noises loader than factories, animals thrashing through the bush 'what was that?' who cares as long as it wasn't coming towards us. A gentle rain cools the sole and refreshes, so what if we're wet. A two meter snake greets us as we return to the ship swimming at the side-gate refusing to leave, scaring passengers and crew. Plants that heat up at night, pick your skin, smell wonderful, stink or sting. A curtain of green passes my porthole, as dense as grain in a barrel, Antarctic thoughts long since vanished. 17.03.0 Somewhere on a river 05.30 the anchor descends with a BLARING Gerrrrrrrrrrrrr, awake a dead horse it would. Checking the clock to see if ones late, shower the sweat, toothpaste and all, up to the bridge for a peek at the day. Dark. We could hear Pink Dolphins come up for a breath but not enough light. A morning cruise from 07.00 till 09.30 revealed more dolphins quite close to the boats, boto and tucuxi they're called, with a snout so long resembling more the prehistoric ichthyosaurs than its own mammalian kin. Latin sucks. Large birds that cackle and call make such a fuss when they're horny or pissed. Cattle released from elevated pens with wooden floors on stilts to the flooded plains below. In tall grasses they made their way in the muck, up to their chins, were they pleased or sad to be out of their dry home? With stretched necks they would turn and nibble the grass as far as their heads would reach as white egrets pecked bugs from their backs while keeping their yellow feet dry. A paddle was bought for 10 reils along with a bag of cheese, surely tomorrow's affairs will be canceled as we'll all be shitting our pants. Small boats with 'trimmer motors' a long shaft and a prop putted families back and forth. Other boats with names like Bon Jesus, Maria Santabago, the African Queen comes to mind. They all glide by with smiles and waves, headed someplace unknown to us. A young woman with large breasts and tight skirt walked out on the end of the stilted causeway with the stately gate of a Queen, a wave and a smile was all I got. Intriguing thoughts flashed through my brain until she was out of site - "I love you, I love you - I think!" Satellite Antennas on the roof of a few, an odd contrast to such a place in the wild. We returned to the ship, a shower and nap. Busy days when three outings take place, no time for much with office and passengers stuff, the bills must be paid. Late afternoon fishing for piranhas, three types were caught, again the dolphins played all about. A boat laden with cattle, smells and sounds of the farm pass close by. Wonderful birds sightings. Fish were abound snapping and frightening all in the boat. The skies were back drops for religious paintings, with streaks of light from heaven to the jungle and river below. Christ, what a picture.
Jack Siler, 2018-01-02
In 1986 I returned to Kenya where I’d lived and traveled before. It had always been a magic place. Nairobi was just a city like many others, struggling to get rich. Many did. They were mostly white and foreign or of the Kikuyu tribe if they were Kenyan. Politicians were Kikuyu. High rise buildings were spotting around the city’s center. It was about money, not magic and on the city’s outskirts some of the largest slums in Africa were being built. But Mombassa was still a marvel, a mix of coastal tribes; Arabic descendants, Indian and Pakistanis and the whites were a minor factor in the population. It buzzed and bubbled as a port, THE port of all of eastern Africa. It held the mysterious contrasts of dhows that plied Arabian seas and tankers, freighters varied from small, rusty tubs to modern tankers offloading oil. The market was rich with magic foods like tall and tubular green pineapples. The first man who tried to sell me one had gotten my best, smiling refusal. “Why you not like my pineapples”, he said. “Bwana, I’ll come back when they get ripe.” He knew. I wasn’t the first mizungu who’d told him pineapples aren’t supposed to be green. He protested. Of course they’re ripe. We bantered a bit and he whipped out his panga, lopped the top off the nearest one and expertly carved out a taste of the sweetest, ripest, most essence-of-pineapple I’d tasted in my whole life. Even the ones in Mexico hadn’t been that good, say nothing of those poor examples I’d had in Hawaii. We parted with three and had consumed them in two days. They became a staple. The Mombassa market was full of tricks like that: the incredible crabs from Lamu, spices piled high for cooks from all over the world, fruits, vegetables, fish, and animals a foreigner had never tried. That was long before that I had first discovered the Mombassan marvels. What interested me was a piece of coast that no one knew where I rented a house every time I came to the country. White sand, a coral reef as exciting as any in the Pacific, palms that hovered over the beach – and no one. A house. ONE house shared almost a kilometer of that beach with no one except a group of men from a mile-distant village who came down every morning to fish. By 10 AM they were gone. That was the magic I knew of the coast of Kenya. The other part of my Kenyan world was nowhere, which is to say, lost out there in the bush. I’d traveled, camped, lived in most of the remote corners of the country. Paris was – and is – home. I consider it to be the most marvelous city in the world. It may be disintegrating and losing its charm as most cities are; its population and politicians have reduced its joys, and yet there’s nowhere that comes close the Parisian urban magic for me. When I’d first discovered the virgin parts of Kenya it was the opposite of Paris. It was mankind unspoiled, the virginity of its nature untouched. If a bunch of media-mad Generals and Washington pols have ruined the word awesome, what I’d found in pre-1980 Kenya can best be described by the pre-political word AWESOME! I’d returned in about 1980 and found some very worrisome developments, but what had been a rivulet of so-called modernization problems had become a torrent. A Danish friend, Nils Jorgenson, had loaned me an SUV. Alan Root, one of the first great photographer/filmmakers of wildlife had come up with camping gear, a tent, cot, lamps and the like. I set off for what I expected to be a month or six weeks in bush country along the Kenya/Tanzania border. I had a friend who was born and raised near Lake Baringo in what was then a remote piece of the north central part of the country, Will. I’d called his mother who said he was unreachable, managing the farm of the Chief of the Masaii down in the southwest. I managed to get a rough set of instructions of how to get there via a maze of roads and tracks and I set off. The truckers of Kenya were in the middle of what had been a long strike. Most affected was the entire nation’s gasoline supply. I’d managed to fill enough jerry cans to last the trip I was expecting to take. It wasn’t the rainy season where I was going, but a couple of days before there had been torrential, tropical rains which had done what “black cotton soil” loves best, turned it into a spongy trap into which unsuspecting wheels would sink to the axle. Those who had preceded me on various tracks had slipped and slid and churned things into unrecognizable tracks that were the devil to negotiate. And it started to get dark without a sign of life for mile after mile. Twilight. I was lost. Setting up camp on soggy ground is not my idea of fun. I came to a patch of black cotton so big that I turned around. My 50,000 scale maps were no help. As I retraced my tracks in the dwindling light I saw a distant pair of what seemed to be headlights. I frantically blinked mine, high, low, high, on, off and got blinks in return. We struggled through enough tracks to confront each other and Lo! I was in the company of a gasoline tanker truck! The driver jumped out. The strike ended yesterday,” he said, “and I’m lost. And this truck’s too big to just turn around and try one track after another. Last thing I want is to get stuck out here up to my axles.” Like many city citizens, spending the night alone in the bush turned his blood cold with fear of what was out there in the wilderness. As we were talking, I noticed a flickering light in the far distance. Another car? I ran for my binoculars. No. A lamp hung outside a hut. The trucker agreed to turn his lights so they could be seen from the hut. “Where are you headed,” I asked. I could barely believe it when his answer was that we were both going to Will’s farm. I headed off in a straight line, praying I wouldn’t hit any black cotton – and I didn’t. The man in the hut had trouble believing someone like me would turn up after dark. Know Will? Of course, everyone knew Will. I’ll take you to him. I turned my Land Cruiser and blinked the lights at the trucker who blinked back. Then my guide took me on one of the wilder trips I’d ever had in the bush. We went through a swamp almost up to the doors, chased off elephants that were blocking a track, and worked our way through a herd of buffalo. Finally, indeed, there was the farm. Will has as much trouble believing I’d shown up at night as I was relieved at finding him. When I added that there was a petrol tanker who got lost and was waiting, Will went wild. I could have brought him a gift of gold, but it would not have matched a tanker full of the gasoline needed to start the farm equipment up again. He was wild with joy as we went back, found the truck and led it to the Masaii farm. When the hubbub died down, Will offered me a drink at the “house” which was an assembled group of buildings and tents. The “living/dining” room was a three-walled affair with a slanted, palm-thatched roof. The fourth side was open to the trees and the Tana River. A tent was the bedroom for Will and his wife, another served for their children and a separate, small building was the kitchen. Rustic Africa in all its glory. “I suppose you’ll want a bath,” he said, sure of the answer. We had another drink as my bath was prepared. I wondered where there was a bathroom. We brought each other up to date since we’d last been together. Then a man came to announce that the bath was prepared. By the light of a torch, he led me through a patch of forest. Lions were coughing in the distance, out hunting for dinner. There were already hyenas making their frightful giggle, because they had already found their meal. We finally came to a clearing lit by torches. A huge bathtub, rescued from the old Norfolk Hotel sat in the middle of the cleared spot and next to it an open barrel with a fire in it that heated water that filled the tub with steaming water. The moon was almost full and I realized the “bathroom” was on a slight bluff above the river. Below, a small herd of elephants were bathing in the river, splashing water, trumpeting quietly. I stripped, slipped into the heated river water in the tub and relaxed, surrounded by the night noises and silences. It was the very essence of African magic as it once was.
A Psychological Incident
Richard Adamski, 2012-01-02
When Warren was fourteen years of age, psychiatric hospitals were commonly called, ”the crazy house”. To Warren, they seemed irrelevant, unimportant, inconsequential and distant. At age fourteen, Warren didn’t have any indication that a psychiatric hospital would be a place that would have any importance in his life. However, at age eighteen, at the end of his adolescent years, a psychiatric hospital would in turn revolve around Warren’s life and through it all, he would gain more knowledge about his life and how he fits into society than if it didn’t. It was the summer of Warren’s eighteenth year and he was lying on a beach in a state park with a friend named Eric. “I believe that I am right here in this place and time with you, but I sense that sometime in the near future my life is going to dramatically change and take a turn,” Warren said to Eric. “Enjoy your life for what goodness it has at the time being. This is your time. Make the most of it,” Eric replied. It may sound strange to many people that being stricken with mental illness and going for mental health care could bring an individual to improve himself more than if never stricken by it. By overcoming many of these obstacles and barriers presented by illness and suffering, many people have learned more about themselves and society, that all is not completely lost, and that coming down with mental illness does not have to become a finality. Through psychiatric treatments new doors open for hope, transformation and achieving objectives that never had been tackled. Some mental health professionals would describe someone like Warren based on his psychiatric diagnosis and that it would impose on him a substandard life of dependency and poverty. More progressive professionals who would enter Warren’s life would look beyond the fact of a client’s label of mental illness and look at all aspects of his life which could be improved while leading him through treatments. For centuries, it has been widely believed by the general population that those stricken with mental illness are categorically different from the rest of society. Many stereotypes and misconceptions remain the same, even though knowledge about and the treatment of mental illness, have changed. Warren’s initial experience with both the illness and the mental health care delivery system started abruptly at age eighteen during an emergency room visit when he felt exasperated and in a heightened emotional state in which he felt paralyzed. The attack was so severe that the mental health triage staff labeled his condition severe, allowing him to be admitted to that community hospital’s Psychiatric Unit. There was a mental health consultant Warren met on the Psychiatric Unit named Mr. Coleman. “You have a severe mental illness. It’s going to be several years before you come out of the psychological state you’re in and you’ll never meet the expectations society has for you,” Mr. Coleman stated to Warren. Warren recalled memories from a well-adjusted childhood and used those strong recollections to help him cope now that he had a diagnosis of severe mental illness. In addition, he had a strong motivations and ambitions which he didn’t want the mental illness to interfere with or obstruct. He was desperate to find a way around this new situation and not accept the death sentence that it brought with it. Another mental health client, Dennis, referred Warren to a book, Surviving Schizophrenia, by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey. “What you have acquired is a legitimate medical condition whose nature is just beginning to be well documented. Reading Surviving Schizophrenia may give you some of the knowledge that you need to understand this medical condition, Dennis informed Warren. Warren did in fact read Surviving Schizophrenia and it provided him with great insight, information and understanding about what he was confronting. A parent, Mr. Preston, whose daughter has a psychiatric diagnosis, referred Warren to NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It is a support and advocacy organization composed of families of those with mental illness as well as those with the diagnosis. “NAMI is an organization consisting of people who share common experiences with mental illness and how they cope with them. You can gain understanding, feel support and become hopeful from these people,” Mr. Preston informed Warren. It was through reading Surviving Schizophrenia, and becoming involved with NAMI that Warren became educated about his illness, gained insight into it and felt like a whole person in spite of it. As far as Warren’s personal ambitions and motivations were concerned, he needed an ally. He wanted to begin attending a local Community College. However, it was required that a doctor provide the Community College with a letter stating that he was fit and ready to begin attending the community college. Warren knew that hardly any doctor would make such a recommendation. Warren went on a person search for a doctor who could provide him with proper psychological treatment. His search paid off, as he met Dr. Clough. It turned out that he would meet with Dr. Clough for close to a decade. Dr. Clough at the onset of their relationship wrote a letter to the Registrar of the Community College stating that Warren was fit and ready to begin studies at the College. “Accept, assimilate and absorb the fact that you were in a psychiatric unit and have been given a diagnosis. Continue going to the college campus, time after time again until you feel comfortable there. As for studying and homework, do some, walk away for fifteen minutes, then go back to the homework,” Dr. Clough instructed Warren. In meeting with Dr. Clough, Warren’s mental health treatment would really lift off. For several years, all aspects of his well-being and quality of life were looked at and discussed. The meetings were a can-do and can-be done atmosphere. His personal relationships with family and friends, living arrangements, financial status, personal health and well-being were looked at and addressed thoroughly. “I feel so fortunate to be able to come here and see you. You have been a tremendous help to me and I am moving forward with my life in a well manner. I owe so much to your assistance,” Warren stated to Dr. Clough. “You’re doing all the work for yourself and not me. I’m just your catalyst,” Dr. Clough responded. Dr. Clough’s treatment with Warren was so effective, that Warren was able to dive into waters rarely seen by those who had been given a psychiatric diagnosis. He was able to interact with the members of the local Social Clubhouse open for mental health clients and when it was his time to go his job in competitive employment, he would go and interact with the people on the job. Warren enjoyed being out and about town in his car. He stopped in and met the owners, operators and workers at local businesses. These included restaurants, coffee shops, CD and DVD rental outlets. These businesses people would say things about others to Warren such as: “Get away from the lunatics.” “Those people need help.” “They’re sick.” “They’re the crazies.” At the same time, Warren was able to maintain stable relationships with his friends at the local Social Clubhouse. Warren was able to observe and notice the social interactions, customs and behaviors between those in the mental health community and those who had never been exposed to the mental health system. The small talk and topics all remained the same. He was learning that the differences aren’t as extreme as one would be led to believe. Some people require psychiatric help for a legitimate reason and are given a diagnosis. Once those requiring psychiatric help are stable, the differences between the diagnosed and the undiagnosed are minute, even miniscule. “I got an A- in a college course I took,” a diagnosed person said. “I had difficulty passing my Driver’s License examination,” an undiagnosed person said. “I saw my primary care physician yesterday. He said I’m in good health,” a diagnosed person said. “My doctor said my blood pressure is too high,” an undiagnosed person said. “My son’s school report cards are excellent,” a diagnosed person said. “My daughter has to work to improve her grades,” an undiagnosed person said. “I am happy with the wages that I make at work. It pays the bills well,” a diagnosed person said. “I believe that I deserve a raise on my job. I work hard, but I have trouble paying all the bills,” an undiagnosed person said. It was through his exposure to the mental health system and subsequently society’s attitudes, that Warren was better able to find himself and his place in society. The experience gave him a good emotional workout. His symptoms and diagnosis presented a series of challenges that once somewhat satisfactorily resolved, led him to a place and station at which he might never had arrived.
The Night the City Went Black
Charles Miceli, 2012-01-02
It was a mild evening for the ninth of November as I started my return trip from East New York to Queens. I had just finished the forty-five minute train ride from Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica. I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of leaving home again to repeat the journey. But that night I had a mission, to save a kitten. I don't remember how or where I found the emaciated cat, but in 1965, as a 17-year-old high school junior, I was in no position to care for it. Besides, the young girl at the donut shop that I was delivering it to was cute, and just maybe the kitten was my ticket to get to know her better. When it came to relationships with girls, I needed all the help I could get. Those years of my life seemed as turbulent for me as they did for the country. Only two years earlier, November 22, 1963, a frantic teacher interrupted our class and told us to go home, President Kennedy had just been shot. At home, I turned on the television to a distraught Ray Heatherton. The shooting took place during his broadcast of The Merry Mailman, and Heatherton stayed on the air, filling in details, until the regular news programming could take over. For the next three days, the nation held its collective breath. The only programming on television was news coverage of the shooting, the president's death, the subsequent murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the transfer of leadership to Lyndon Johnson, and a philosophical segment depicting the nighttime sky and narrated by Burgess Meredith. Regular programming only resumed after the conclusion of the president's funeral. Less than a year later, on July 18, 1964, a white off-duty police officer shot fifteen year-old James Powell and an estimated eight thousand Harlem residents rioted in the streets. The violence spread to Bedford-Stuyvesant and sections of East New York, and continued for six days. Walking from my home on Atlantic Avenue only a couple blocks south to Liberty Avenue, was like crossing from a neutral zone to a war-torn country. Whole city blocks were torched. Windows were broken everywhere, business were looted, and churches were burned to the ground. What was odd was that most of the devastation was limited to the predominately-black neighborhoods in which the rioters themselves lived. We felt somehow saved, yet confused, that the violence had not spilled out into our area as well. Now, more than a year later, the world and our neighborhood seemed calmer, and on this particular November afternoon, my biggest concern was delivering a tiny kitten to its new home. On the way to the train station, I passed St. Malachy where I attended church, grammar school, and youth dances. As I started high school, I also started dating Eleanor, and it was in the gym of that school that Eleanor asked me to join her and her girlfriend for a game of strip poker. I froze and couldn't answer. The sixties may have been era of the sexual revolution, but in that war, I was stationed behind the lines. Fortunately, Eleanor's friend said she had to decline because her boyfriend was not with her. I breathed a sigh of relief but to this day, I still wonder, what if… I climbed the stairs to the elevated train, or the El as we called it, at the Van Siclen Avenue station. There each morning I caught the train to school. It was at that Station that I broke up with Francis. She was a pleasant girl in her early twenties, who thought I was about the same age. I always looked older than I was, and hid the fact that I was more than six years her junior. When my friends learned I was seeing her, they ridiculed me, saying how furious she would be when she found out. Dating someone that much older was even more of a stigma at that time then it is today. I panicked and after seeing Francis one afternoon, I went to the train station with her. She entered the car and I stayed on the platform. As the car doors closed, I said that I was sorry, but I was only 17. The doors closed, the train pulled away, and I never saw Francis again. The cat and I got on the train and took off for Queens. Along the way, we passed the steep curve at Crescent Street where the train turned sharply north. The train wheels screeched loudly as we rounded the steep turn. That was my cue to look down toward the Crescent Street Bakery, which sold the world's most delicious crumb cakes. As the train turned sharply again to merge onto Jamaica Avenue, I looked down at the Cypress Hill Pool. It was at that pool that I met and started dating Martha and ended my relationship with Eleanor. Martha was sweet and special, and Lutheran. In the 60s, coming from a strong Catholic family, seeing her was tantamount to religious desertion. According to the Sisters of Saint Joseph at school, we were forbidden from even seeing a non-catholic wedding under pain of sin. When Martha entered college while I finished my senior year of high school, the relationship ended. The kitten and I exited the train at the last stop, 168th Street, and took the half-mile walk uphill to Hillside Avenue. The donut shop with the pretty waitress was on the corner and I delivered the kitten as promised but I was too timid to pursue the relationship further. It was twilight when I exited the shop. I felt dejected and might have wallowed in my self-pity had it not been for the light show coming from the parking lot across the street. The light from the fluorescent fixtures was dancing up and down inside the tubes. I stood and watched for a while, trying to figure out how they got them to act that way. Then I noticed that the glow from the street lamps was yellow instead than white. As I started toward the train station again, it became apparent that things were not as they should be. It was getting dark but none of the houses had lights on. Business owners stood in open doorways looking confused. At 168th street, I started for the stairs leading up to the station when I met a large crowd coming down. Some people looked confused, others panicked. Several told me the trains were out of service. As dark settled, it became apparent that there were no lights anywhere. I started walking in the direction of home, twelve miles away. I passed a movie house where people were streaming out of the doors and milling around with frightened looks on their faces. They were the lucky ones. Less fortunate people were caught in high-rise buildings or worse yet, in the elevators in those buildings. What light there was came from car headlights, but with no working traffic lights, travel soon became snarled. I stopped at one congested corner and joined with another man. Together we directed traffic to free up the blockage. Our efforts were successful and once the congestion was relieved, we parted company and I continued toward home. Several busses passed me, but with the trains out, they were already overloaded. Several miles later, I passed Jahn's Ice Cream Parlor, a favorite date stop, especially since it was next door to a movie theater. Its main attraction was the "Kitchen Sink" a Sunday that featured 18 scoops of ice cream with a variety of toppings and whipped cream. This night, like all of the other businesses, the lights were out and Jahn's was closed. Two miles from home, I caught a bus with some standing space and got on. I slept well that night and when I awoke the next morning things were pretty much back to normal. That's when I and the rest of the world learned about the Great Northeast Blackout. The tripping of a transmission line near Ontario, Canada caused several other heavily loaded lines to fail. The power surge overwhelmed transmission lines in western New York and tripped additional lines, resulting in the eventual breakdown of the entire Northeastern transmission network. Eventually, 30 million people in eight U.S. states, Ontario and Quebec were in the dark and without power. In a strange way, there was something comforting about that night in 1965. Being in the dark in Brooklyn, New York felt calm and quiet—a brief respite in the unrelenting movement of the city.