Thursday, February 28, 2013

Who? Me?

This short piece is nuanced, and it treats several issues, but among other things, it shows how thoroughly the masculine advantage in higher education (and especially professional education) has been put to rout (numerically, at least).

Along these lines, this week I’ve been reading Frank Deford’s wonderful memoir, Over Time, and he writes in several places about how things were when he came out of college in the early ’60s, at one point noting, “ 1962 it was hard for someone like me, the Ivy League Wasp, not to move to the head of the line, for certain rather prominent subgroups—notably the female gender and all racial minorities were not taken seriously at that time.” Ah, yes. I’ve often reminded myself that, way back in the pre-history that was my high school years, I won something called the Harvard Book Award. It was given to “The Outstanding Junior Boy,” and I was very pleased indeed. But if that award had been offered, as it is now, simply to the Outstanding Junior, I’d have been out of luck. Custom had conveniently removed half the competition, so the three or four or girls who made up the true pool of outstandingness in my class just sat and politely applauded.

A year or so later, I gained entry to the college of my choice, a place that was full of other outstanding junior boys, many of whom had truly first-class minds and strong work habits. But if the place had opened its doors five years earlier than it did to women like, say, the one who became my wife, I, with my good but second-class mind and unreliable work habits, would have been out of luck. Custom and prejudice, though, once again conveniently removed half the competition.

None of this, of course, was my doing. It never dawned on me in those days that I was a beneficiary of a great cheat (several great cheats, actually). But I know it now, and I think I’d be an utter cretin if I didn’t act (and vote) accordingly.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beauties and the beast

We went to a beach wedding last fall. Sweet B came along—had a fine time rockin’ out—and the bride and groom have kindly sent us this photo...

...which reminded me of this photo, circa 1986, with H, on the way to celebrate her 5th birthday at her favorite restaurant, now sadly defunct, in West Cornwall, Connecticut.

(I think it's the same pocket handkerchief. I’m swank, but cheap swank.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

The hinky

Dad had a fall the other day. Heading out with Paul to walk to the Post Office, he missed a step and went down into a pile of snow. Uninjured, he carried on down Main Street. But when they returned, they were greeted by a first responder, then soon the local ambulance. Flashing lights, bustling uniformed people, considerable confusion. (“What’s the problem?” “Huh? Are you sure you have the right address?” And so on.) These are locals. H used to work on the ambulance as an EMT before she went off to college and when she was home on vacation. We know these folks. And we also have a some medical history on-site. My aunt Helen lived in what is now my dad’s apartment for some years, and ambulance calls were unfortunately frequent. The tenant before Helen had issues, too, and emergency vehicles of various types were often screeching up at odd hours. Not to mention another tenant with health problems that sometimes require quick care. So, no, they didn’t have the wrong address. 

Gradually, we sorted it out. A few months ago, I signed Dad up for this Philips Lifeline service. He wears a gizmo around his neck so that if he falls or otherwise has a problem, he can push the button to get a helpful voice over the speaker. He can ask for help or, if he doesn’t respond, help is dispatched. I got him the fancy model, so that if he falls and loses consciousness, the sensor recognizes the gravitational trip to ground level and automatically dials in. When he fell, even at what I would consider extreme distance, that sensor did its thing. He got up, brushed himself off, and carried on, not being in the house to call off the cavalry.

No harm done, a good test of the system, and our wonderful local volunteers never seem to mind being called out for this sort of thing. They took his blood pressure (still, as always, superbly healthy) entered him into their newish electronic system, chatted briefly, and were off.

Dad, not so much. The whole thing confused and upset him. His response was to assert that was not going to wear that goddam thing around his neck anymore. These people and their strobes might show up again. I tried to explain things rationally, but no go. He no longer lives in that world. But he still likes to laugh. So I said, “Dad. Gotta wear the hinky.” No. But a smile. “Wear the hinky, Dad.” No answer. Still smiling. “The hinky, Dad. The hinky.” Big smile, and a wave as he headed home with Paul. And he’s wearing the hinky.

Picking blueberries in Vermont a few years ago.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Softball memories

That’s me, as I’m sure you can tell, all swaddled up in my dad’s arms. It’s January, 1948, probably on my trip home from the hospital. (The car, I’m pretty sure, is a mid ’30s Auburn.) He would just have turned 24, a few years after the war and the Corps, well-embarked on what was to be a 40-year career with the Southern New England Telephone Company.

He’s carried this photo in his wallet ever since, and for some reason just felt like handing it over to me a few weeks ago. (It’s in remarkably good shape, considering.)

Some of my fondest memories from a few years later involved going to Dad’s ballgames. He played fast-pitch softball for the telephone company and also in the surprisingly competitive Waterbury Church League. (He always said the church guys were much rougher and competitive than the guys in the industrial league.) I used to abscond with his glove when his team was in to bat, and people would have to find me and chase me down when the time came for him to go back to the field. On the way home after the games, we’d stop for a popsicle.

My mom used to tell a story that must have happened in the early ’50s. My dad’s SNET team had qualified for the state tournament, and he had to go off one Saturday morning to play in it. The idea was that the winning teams would keep playing all day to get to the championship game, then play the finals the same day to top things off. The winners and runners-up would have to play four games. The problem was that mom and dad were supposed to attend some sort of big bash that evening. Mom, who in those days was still home taking care of me, was really looking forward to getting all dressed up and heading out to a swank do. My dad told her not to worry, because they weren’t that good, they’d get knocked off early, and he’d be home in plenty of time.

Mom started looking for him in the late afternoon, but he didn’t show. Supper time. Didn’t show. Time to leave for the party. Didn’t show. Mom, very slow to anger, was past steaming. She’s thinking he had a few with the boys, lost track of the time, had a few more, forgot about the whole thing. She wanted to rip his head off. Finally she hears him clomping down the wooden stairway from the street to our basement apartment, then up onto the little porch. She throws the door open, ready to throttle him, and there he is, filthy, sweaty, utterly exhausted, and grinning like a fool. He looks at her, hands her the state championship trophy, and says, “We won.”

She melted.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hanging in there

My dad’s been failing for some time. About a year ago, we brought him down to live in the apartment over our garage. This wasn’t easy in let me count the ways, and it wasn’t until summer that he allowed himself to feel comfortable and moderately content.

His problems have progressed, and shortly after New Year, partly for his safety but primarily to save what’s left of my own sanity, I finally signed him up for daycare at a nearby facility. The place is big, bright, active, well-staffed, and safe. He, of course, hates it, and we’re working on that.

One of the things that bothers him is that it’s far away. Which it isn’t. He insists that it’s in New Haven. Today, I told him for the hundredth time, “Dad, it’s in Middlebury” (our next-door town). His response? An explosive, indignant “No way!” The absurdity of not being able to persuade him of a verifiable truth about an area he once knew like the back of his hand eventually drove me to prolonged hilarity somewhere just on the safe side of hysteria. I finally asked him, mostly in jest, if he thought I was kidding, was lying, or was just plain stupid. He often has trouble with his speech, so he struggled for a moment before he spat out the word he wanted.


Our slender saving grace right now is that we’re still capable of reacting the way we both did. We laughed.