Two Plays & Some Books

Summer… and I’m trying to read and see some plays.

While on the platform, awaiting my train to New York City, my phone rang. I answered and talked to my father for about 10 minutes. After, I noticed my phone wasn’t even half- charged; I guess I hadn’t plugged it in properly the night before. Knowing I had a full day out and would need the phone later, I succumbed to the fact that I should buy an extra charger. I was meeting my friend Yvonne for lunch and a matinee; then had dinner and theater in the evening with my husband.

Walking to the restaurant, I didn’t see any places to buy a charger. Of course, if I didn’t need one, I would have found plenty of electronic stores. I asked the maitre ‘d at the restaurant if he could charge my phone and he was able to do so. This isn’t an unusual request.

The first play, Octet, by Dave Malloy, takes place in church basement. The entire theater space became that site, complete with free coffee, the daily list of hymns, and other ephemera. Eight chairs were set in the middle of the stage, and the audience watched from three sides. Actors came in slowly, one at a time, taking a seat. The story emulates a recovery step program, and is mostly told through the octet singing a cappella. The participants are trying to overcome addictions to the gamut of social media: excessive phone use, all-night gaming, pornography, chat rooms, debates, dating and more.

The irony that I’d worried about losing power on my phone, and that as soon as the play ended everyone would be turning their phones back on, wasn’t lost on us.

In the evening, we saw Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me. It’s her personal story of how beginning at the age of 15, she won several contests sponsored by the American Legion in her small Washington state hometown, on the subject. The contest money covered her college tuition. She regales the audience with her family history, focusing primarily on the many injustices generations of women endured including domestic violence, rape, lack of health care, and no police protection. She cites passages in the US Constitution describing laws that should have protected her ancestors, her, and others and the gaps that fail to provide legal rights for anyone other than white men.

Sean Strub, the Mayor of Milford, PA where our lake house is, wrote Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, Aids, and Survival.  An activist and HIV survivor, his story reminds readers of the struggle to bring attention to the AIDS epidemic and the many lives lost to the disease. His own journey is fascinating and Milford, PA is lucky to have him.

I half-listened and half –read Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud & the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep. For To Kill A Mockingbird /Harper Lee fans, it’s a compelling true story about a murder in Alabama of an African American minister who had murdered five people to collect insurance money. Life in the South in the 1970’s is rendered in detail- social, political and economic. Lee became fascinated with the trial and had started but never finished a book based on it. Intriguing.

I  haven’t read all of Joyce Carol Oates’ 70 plus novels but pick one up now and then. Two recent reads brought me right in.  I listened to Hazards of Time Travel, a novel that begins in 2039 in a dystopian world where punishment for irregular thoughts could cause one to be sent back in time. Such is the case for 17-year-old Adriane Strohl, who is sent to college in a Wisconsin small town in 1959. She finds life and manners quite backward—manual typewriters, phones in the hallway, girls wearing skirts and hose, and the concept of dating.  She misses her family. Will she ever return? The story moves fast; great for car rides.

I read My Life as a Rat. Violet Rue Kerrigan overhears her brothers discuss a crime— the killing of an African American boy- and how they buried the weapon. One of her brothers pushes her down icy stairs, and she tells on them. She’s sent away to live with a distant relative and has no contact with her family. The story then follows her challenges: molestation by a teacher, drugs, nefarious friendships and her ultimate journey to college. The novel brings  the dilemma between doing what’s right versus protecting loved ones front and center.

What’s on your summer list? Happy for suggestions!

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Home Cooking & Baking: Mostly All From Scratch!

After a week away and a week of eating out too much and eating too much, I’m eager to return to my kitchen and my cooking.

Mostly our eating is quite simple, fresh produce, grilled meats and fish, and balanced meals usually with a small side of a grain or carb. Dinner can usually be prepared in under an hour.

Reading David Tamarkin’s “Don’t Save Me From Cooking” editorial in the 6/2/19 NYT reinforced what I already know: home cooking is healthier and cheaper than going out or ordering in. A food writer, Tamarkin spends one month a year preparing everything he eats from scratch to show the increasing number of meal-in-a-box delivery services that home cooking isn’t as time consuming as these companies want consumers to believe.

Time is our most valuable commodity. Yet throwing together a simply meal can take little effort. Admittedly, I’m not working full-time. Plus I’m from the school that likes to select my food at the market—whether it’s smelling cheese, pinching a melon, or examining meat. I like scouring recipes – in cookbooks, on- line, magazines and newspapers. While I have more recipes than I have a lifetime to cook, I still enjoy collecting and experimenting.

We’re not purists. We do succumb to the occasional pizza or other take- out options now and then.

Then there’s baking. The world lost Maida Heatter, known as the “Queen of Cake” this week. My sister Madeline gave me one of her books, Maida Heatter’s New Book of Great Desserts years ago. She’d received her first cookbook, a Maida cookbook, as a Hanukkah present from our mother when she was ten. Others have chimed in, noting their favorite recipes, sending images of batter splattered pages from well-used cookbooks. Heatter was a self-taught baker who espoused the health benefits of baking. “Baking cookies is a great escape. It’s fun. It’s happiness. It’s creative. It’s good for your health. It reduces stress.”

There’s nothing like homemade cakes and cookies. A friend from Australia and one of my nieces are coming this week for dinner. Maida Heatter, here I come.

 

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Noise Pollution: Finding Quiet Restaurants

You’d think finding a restaurant in New York City would be easy. There are about 24,000 places happy to have you plop down, eat, and produce a credit card. And that doesn’t count the plentiful fast food joints, pizza parlors, and innumerable food trucks.

But when we want to find somewhere to meet friends, the search can be challenging.

It’s not that we’re such picky eaters or our friends want only a specific cuisine. Nor is it about location, but that does come into play if we’re meeting before theater. Price, though important, isn’t the deciding factor.

It’s about Noise. Finding somewhere quiet enough to hold and hear a conversation presents the hardest part about eating out. The noise isn’t only from music played but from the sounds of many conversations all at once, in rooms not designed for quiet. One couple we see about once a year select a restaurant where they can book a specific table, because it’s far away from the bar and main dining level. Years ago, I had a romantic date at a since closed restaurant, “A Quiet Little Table in the Corner.” It was just that—every table was a corner. A bit gimmicky, but you could talk without yelling and listen without straining.

Ashtray from A Quiet Little Table in the Corner

When I book these days, I ask about quiet tables. There’s never a guarantee. What’s reasonably quiet to some could be excruciating to others.

So reading David Owen’s “Volumetrics” in the 5/13/09 New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/05/13/is-noise-pollution-the-next-big-public-health-crisis set off an alarm. He describes someone diagnosed with hyperacusis—an intolerance to sound that causes patients to flinch at the slightest noise, making normal social interactions impossible. There’s no cure.

It’s long been said that we’re losing our hearing due to loud rock concerts, sporting events, power tools, and traffic.

I’d love to see architects consider soundproofing in their designs for public spaces like restaurants. After all, much about dining out is about talking and listening.

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Graduation Gratitude

 

Having just returned from our daughter’s graduation (she received a JD & MBA from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA), I’m ready to don a summer dress and go to more.

While watching the families and friends from across the nation and many foreign countries, beaming with pride, showering their loved ones with flowers, balloons, hugs and kisses, I casually mentioned to my husband and some of our daughter’s friends that I could become a professional graduation-goer. Send me there, and I’ll sit through all the names being read, clap, cheer, and cry for your loved one.

Ok, kidding aside, I do love the traditions of academia. I love seeing the faculty wearing their colorful robes, hats, and hoods representing the many disciplines. I love the parade of banners. I love the music (in New Orleans, it was jazz. Even Pomp & Circumstance was played by a jazz band), I love standing for the national anthem, and singing along, despite being way off key, and even pretending to know a school’s alma mater song.

The graduates represent such hope and promise for the future that’s now in their well-educated heads, hands, and hearts. At Tulane, each school has its own smaller ceremony- -we attended business on Friday and law on Saturday. At the unified graduation, for all schools, undergraduate and graduate, we sat sky high in the Superdome. Apple’s Tim Cook gave the commencement address and charged the graduates with solving climate change. Congressman John Lewis was among those receiving honorary degrees. The school president introduced him as “the essence of an American hero.” After the hood was draped on his shoulders, the crowd stood in ovation.

Then there’s Robert F. Smith. While delivering the commencement address at Morehouse College, the billionaire technology investor announced he would be paying off all the graduates’ student debt, amounting to about $40 million. The nearly 400 graduates of the historically black college in Atlanta couldn’t believe what they heard, then erupted in cheers.

Smith, who’d already pledged $1.5 million to the school, asked the recipients to “pay it forward.”

Giving these students opportunities to pursue their passions without debt can only help our nation solve so many problems. Let’s continue to seek equity in education. Imagine what the future can look like.

 

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Book Festivals, Titles, & Politics

 

Harriet the Spy. A Moveable Feast. Agatha Christie.

What’s the connection?

They’re book titles and authors listed below name tags at an afternoon garden party to launch the Milford (PA) Readers & Writers Festival. https://milfordreadersandwriters.com/

I didn’t read the instructions correctly when I registered, so I didn’t list a favorite book or author. Never mind, books and writers make great conversation starters. I heard about people’s book clubs, met a high school math teacher who hardly misses any NYC play or ballet, a local newspaper editor, and a woman with an advertising agency.

A disparate group, united by a love of reading.

I shared that I’d just finished Kate Quinn’s The Huntress and  had mostly listened to it.  I had both the print book and the audio from my library, and preferred the audio—the actor who read delivered a myriad of accents, making the story authenic and move quickly. If you have any long car rides ahead,  get it.

We recently visited our son and his family in Israel. My grandchildren have embraced Hebrew. The little ones aren’t reading yet so enjoy stories, in any language. I’d brought Katy Hudson’s Too Many Carrots, and read it several times. The children then “read” it to themselves, reciting what they knew of the story in Hebrew. A love of a good story transcends language.

On NPR this morning, I heard about how book clubs in Iowa are reading autobiographies of the many candidates seeking the presidential nomination. But this isn’t your every day, wine-infused discussion. The groups meet in college classrooms and the candidate-authors answer questions via Internet. There are at least 20 titles, if you’re short on books.

https://www.npr.org/2019/05/12/722550954/iowa-book-club-reads-democrats-autobiographies

 

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Recent Reads: Non-fiction

I admit I’m a picky reader. I borrow lots of titles from my library, read a short bit, and if I’m not pulled in, back it goes. Sometimes that can lead to some lulls in my reading stash, and I’ll supplement with magazines or short story collections.

With fiction, I like a good story: strong characters, plot, and surprises. I want believable settings and solid writing. My non-fiction tastes are similar: no textbook sagas for me, but stories that happen to be true that read like great fiction. And I want to come away having learned something I didn’t know.

Two recent titles pulled me in and kept me rapt.

On a bookshelf at my parents’ house, I found a tattered copy of Simon Winchester’s The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Fascinating story. How this reference tome came to be in the era before electronic typewriters, let alone Internet is mind-boggling. The characters are just that—hard to believe they’re real.

I listened to Dave Egger’s The Monk of Mokha on cd in my car. There were times I had to finish a chapter before exiting the parked vehicle. It’s an immigrant story, a business story; it’s about Yemen and coffee. Filled with humor and suspense.

 

Both these books could become amazing movies.

Recently I used Just the Right Book, justtherightbook.com, to give gifts. The recipient completes a questionnaire about what they like to read and JTRB sends books based on the person’s interests. With the demise of bookstores, this is actually linked to a real bookstore, RJ Julia’s in Madison, CT. If you’re looking for gifts, I recommend trying this service. If a title isn’t what a person wants, they can exchange it with free shipping.

Happy Spring Reading! Please give me some suggestions.

 

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Beware the Hackers! It happened to me.

Friday afternoon, about 4 pm, I was wasting some time on my computer. Email, Facebook, browsing for unneeded things. Suddenly, the computer stopped; and a warning, in a deep, monotone voice said: “Your computer has a virus. Call Apple right now.” The number appeared on the screen.

The computer, a fairly old MacBook Pro that has been my loyal companion through several writing projects, was frozen.

Frankly, for a few weeks, a lot of advertisements had been popping up; downloading had become slow, and the little spinning beach ball had appeared and lingered; making posting difficult. I figured, well maybe it had a virus, or at least, needed software upgraded. But I ignored it, thinking I’d get to it in time, or hoping it would go away.

Until this weird, scary robot warning.

So I called. Immediately the phone was answered, and someone named Aaron began answering my questions, and that yes, I was experiencing viruses, and that he could fix everything.

Yay! Whether it’s the car, the dishwasher, the smart phone, or the computer, most of us want things repaired as soon as possible. And with everything being so technical, gone are the days we can attempt to fix things ourselves.

So I answered more question, divulged lots of personal information, and granted him access to my computer. I also paid for AppleCare, and figuring that I ‘d recently replaced my IPhone, a $400 package for 5 years sounded like a good deal.

He said the process would take about an hour and I wasn’t to touch anything during that time. Well, I was having a dinner party, so had plenty to do.

Meanwhile, my husband returned from playing tennis. I told him what was going on, and he asked if it was a scam. Perhaps I’d been hacked.

No, I couldn’t have. This Aaron guy had given me his phone number, and an employee ID. He even said he was based in Cupertino, CA, home of Apple.

But I started to get nervous. By around 8 pm, in the midst of dinner, I decided to call my brother in-law, Pierre, who fixes computers. A former IBMer, he started his own business consulting, repairing and educating people about their computers, and services MACS and PC’s. He said Apple would never tell you to call them, and told me to shut down the computer immediately. We agreed to connect on Saturday morning and he would be able to access the problems.

So, I’d been hacked. I was vulnerable and gullible. And paid $400 via PayPal, that is now in dispute. I hardly slept that night, both from being annoyed at my susceptibility and worrying that our personal identities had been stolen and finances wiped out.

In the morning, Pierre used a reputable app to gain access to my computer. He was able to run various virus-detecting programs, and in short, cleaned it up. I hadn’t lost any data and the bank hadn’t contacted us saying we’d been hacked. However, Pierre said it was time to replace this dinosaur, as its operating system was so old it wouldn’t accept upgrades.

We ordered a MacBook Air on line and picked it up later that day at our local Apple store. Pierre managed the transfer of data from my old computer to my new one, (it’s called migration in computer-speak), and I’m back up and running. New passwords and hopefully wiser when it comes to hackers.

So beware weird emails, phone calls, or interruptions in service delivered by robotic voices. Hang up, shut down. Then take your device to someone you trust to solve the problem.

My brother in-law wouldn’t take any payment from me. Instead, I made a donation to his non-profit that refurbishes computers and donates them to kids in need.

Here’s the link: https://www.gofundme.com/etf2c-a-cause-i-care-about-needs-help

And Pierre works remotely, internationally. Contact me if you’d like his number.

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