Brasstown 1996Radio Talks
I was at a week long dance camp and one of the campers who was new to such an experience, came up to me and asked me to please recommend other dance camps, especially camps that had such a wonderful mix of people -- people of all ages and from all walks of life. I said almost every dance camp I've ever attended had a wonderful, bizarre, unusual mix of people. People who attend such a strange thing as week long dance camp have unusual biographies, unusual histories.
About 100 people were at the dance camp. I cannot begin to sum up 100 lives in a three minute talk -- and I did not get the life histories of all 100 campers. I only talked to a few, but those few who told me their stories told unusual stories.
Two women told similar, yet dissimilar stories. Both quit well paying, secure jobs. One was a Far East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal stationed in Burma. A lucrative job, a well paying job, a prestigious position. Yet she quit, five years ago, lives in Ann Arbor, is writing a novel. The other quit her teaching job at Hunter College in New York City many, many years ago. Currently she lives with 20 other people in a three house commune in the middle of a huge forest preserve.
A retired General was there too. He and his second wife, a doctor, are partners in a burgeoning business: Neurobiological feedback. They met at a conference on Neurobiological feedback. At the end of the conference he went back & divorced his wife, she went back & divorced her husband. She is a woman with a tremendous sense of humor. Before I knew who they were, she introduced her husband as "My psychopathic killer." She waited a few minutes before explaining that he was a retired war general.
There were a whole bunch of teachers -- teachers of all kinds, from all levels -- and their stories were as unusual as their disciplines were varied. One woman was in charge of a retreat for teachers -- a week long experience meant to recharge the batteries of burnt out teachers. She held many teaching jobs in her short lifetime. This was her most recent, and occurred when she moved from New Orleans to North Carolina.
Almost everyone who was there had traveled to exotic countries -- communist countries, far eastern countries. You probably can't attend a dance camp without meeting several former peace corp volunteers.
I won't continue to bore you with examples. Dance camps are exotic places, unusual places. In our short, or long, lives, we seldom spend 24 hours a day in the company of other people. Although you really are not with people for 24 hours a day -- at a dance camp you do see them many days in a row, and in this unusual setting fascinating intimacies are exchanged, odd stories are told. I am about to tell you some of the stories of some of the people at one dance camp told me. So long, for now, from Henry.
I met this extremely witty woman at a dance camp I attended recently, and many of the stories I am about to tell you, she told me. The stories center on Russia, a place she and her husband went to recently, but first, a little background on the two of them.
When I first met them she introduced her husband as her psychopathic killer. She let that phrase hang in the air for a few seconds before she explained that he was a retired General. He did not object to her joke -- nor did he object when she explained that both fought the Vietnam war: he in the jungles of Vietnam, she protesting on the streets of America. As he explained, he was defending her right to protest and bring him back home.
They met at a conference on Neurobiofeedback. He was there because he was being interviewed for the position of CEO of the company. She was there because she is a doctor. She said the first talk at this conference "blew her socks off," and in fact her entire practice is, now, Neurobiofeedback, but it was much more than the first talk at the conference that blew her socks off.
She was married when she came to the conference. He was married when he came to the conference. When they were about to leave the conference he asked her what she was going to do. She said "go home and get a divorce." She did, so did he. They subsequently married and jointly operate a business that is growing by leaps and bounds -- Neurobiofeedback.
They went to Russia recently because they were considering buying up a wonderful company, the only company in the world that had a process that could analyze a sample without destroying the sample it analyzed. A unique process. A wonderful process. Who would not want to own such a company, such a process?
The company consisted of 6,000 workers plus support staff. "How much would such a company cost?" "For you, special, a bargain. We sell to you for only $25,000." So what's the catch? Big catch. It's a lot like a puppy. Once you buy it, it's yours: you feed it, you house it, you vaccinate it. All 6,000 people -- plus support staff, are yours: you house them, feed them, pay medical bills -- and full salaries. Thank you, but no thank you. They chose not to buy the company, but much more was offered to them.
They were wined and dined by the man who was in charge of training the Russian Cosmonauts -- and this wining and dining occurred at a time when no one in Russia could get their hands on food -- but they were given a feast of food, food piled high, clearly an attempt to bribe them, get something from them. They were not loath to listen, after all something good might be offered. They waited patiently -- and I hope you will wait patiently for this story in my next column. So long..
Last time I was telling you how everything in Russia is for sale. They are trying to make a quick buck, they are trying to become capitalists -- quickly. My friend was offered a company of 6,000 people plus support staff -- all yours for the bargain price of $25,000. The catch. Once its yours, you support it -- salaries, benefits, medical care, housing, etc.
The man who trained the Russian Cosmonauts was wining and dining my friends. He had a deal for them -- a deal he was sure they couldn't refuse. But first, "here, have wonderful food, have wonderful vodka, have down coats." "Down Coats?" "Yes, gift, free, from me to you. Have down coats." My friends were suspicious, but kind, receptive, willing to listen.
"Here's the deal," the man who trained the Russian cosmonauts said. "I have video of training of Russian Cosmonauts. Ve sell a million videos to a million Americans. Or ve sell a million videos to American government. American people love video; Ve make much money."
The American couple looked at each other. Clearly this man did not understand. We will call him Boris. "Boris," they said, "The American people, the American government, will not buy a million videos. If anything, they will buy one video and make a million copies of the video". Boris said "No. Vy dey do dat? They copy video? No."
Boris had another scheme. "Ve bring Americans to Russia for unusual vacation. Many Americans like dangerous, rugged adventures. Ve put Americans through same training Russian Cosmonauts go through. Ve take dem nort, to cold part of Russia -- Siberia. Veek one they learn to build igloo. Veek two dey enjoy scenery." Again the American couple looked at each other.
"Boris," they said, "this could be very risky. Have you any idea what the insurance would be for such an adventure?" "Insurance? Vat insurance?" They tried to explain. They talked about risks, the possibility of death, something that didn't seem to bother Boris: "Poof, so Americans die," Boris said, "so vat?"
This man's eagerness was incredible. He proposed one scheme after another and even after they rejected all his schemes they could not get him to take back the down coats. "Down coats are yours. Present from me," he kept insisting. So they took the down coats home. The first time they wore the lovely coats it rained a little. Within seconds the coats stunk so strongly they couldn't distance themselves enough. The feathers had never been cleaned. They were just glued together to make a coat. I will never forget their gestures, their expressions: coats held out at arms length, fingers on nose to keep from smelling anything. They dumped the coats into the garbage. So much for Russian presents. So much for Russian business plans -- and so long, for now, from Henry.
I have been writing a series of columns on the strange & fascinating stories one hears when one goes to a dance camp -- a place away from home for everyone who is there -- so, like travelers on a train, people exchange confidences they would otherwise not exchange.
One woman in her early forties was describing a massive change in her life. For many years she lived in New Orleans and loved the life she led. She was involved in many communities, in many causes -- environmental causes, neighborhood groups, the Quaker church she belonged to. From these groups she extracted a set of very close friends. They were, as she said, constantly in each others faces. They shared intimacies, lives. She now realizes she was a part of a wonderful community of caring people.
For various reasons she had to move and she ended up in rural North Carolina. What a change for a relatively young, unmarried woman. From teeming, multicultural New Orleans, to rural North Carolina where, as in many small towns in the U.S.A., you are a newcomer if you & your parents weren't born in these parts.
They treated her with some suspicion, some reserve. After all, she was a single woman in her early forties, spirited, somewhat radical in her views & lifestyle. What did she expect from rural North Carolina -- or from rural anywhere? She expected warmth, some friendliness, a willingness to suspend judgment. She expected people to think-- my goodness, an eligible young female. Let's invite her over and try to pair her up.
Above all, she expected to find, somewhere, a community she could join -- a group of people who would be in her face as she would be in theirs -- for their good, for her good, for the good of the community as a whole.
She found no community she could easily join. People were standoffish, reserved, wary -- and that is understandable. But she did not understand. She asked us, at the dinner table, at camp, if that was usual. She wondered if we were part of the kind of community she was a part of in New Orleans.
We two people listening to her agreed on one thing: the community she found herself in in New Orleans was somewhat unusual: large, close knit, caring, constantly with each other. New Orleans is an unusual city; New Orleans attracts outsiders who are willing to bond with other outsiders. She happened to live in a particularly hospitable, lively, vibrant city.
It is hard to form a large close group of friends in a big city & small towns and rural areas do not easily and freely accept outsiders. Her situation in New Orleans was particularly good; her situation in North Carolina is particularly bad -- single, over 40, in a conservative rural area.
It is not that she has no friends at all, but she bemoans the lack of the kind of group she was a part of in New Orleans. In part she speculates that America's emphasis on youth makes her less desirable than she once was: she is right. In part she speculates that the area is conservative & she is single. She is right. In part she speculates that what she had was somewhat rare & precious, and again, she is right. So long...
I vowed not to write about the class clown who was at the dance camp I attended. How do you describe what a class clown does? He is spontaneous, unusual, inventive. What can you do but catalogue his tricks? You can praise him & damn him -- and I will.
Personally, I love him, some part of me has always wanted to be him. He -- or she -- is so inventive, often so funny. Many people -- especially women -- love the class clown. He is uninhibited.
Let me get specific -- and my examples of a class clown come from my experiences with one man at a week long dance camp. We are in the midst of a dance, and suddenly he changes places with his partner: he takes the woman's part, his partner takes the male part. In one dance he is wearing a strange & lovely hat. As I & my partner weave in & out of a hey, the hat is shifted from head to head. In still another dance he and I are part of a line of three men that is supposed to gallup behind the ladies and back to place. He decides our line of three men will gallup and choose to face a totally new line of three ladies. Pretty soon the hall is full of galloping threesomes lining up in front of new threesomes
All week long at dance camp he made me laugh. Suddenly I feel a light kick in the buttocks -- he has passed by, left his calling card. I am standing still, waiting for the next move, suddenly he & I are swinging wildly & he lets go just in time for the next move. He does the unexpected & the very essence of the dances we do is that every move is in exact sequence -- nothing is unexpected.
But his antics disturb some people. When we three men galloped away from our three appointed ladies, one of the ladies was distressed. She came to do the dance as it was supposed to be done, and these antics disrupted her dance. She didn't know what she was supposed to do next, and she was not pleased at the appearance of the unexpected. Claudio Buchwald -- a clown of epic proportions -- was calling the dance when all this was happening. He so loved what he saw that he stopped, told everyone to gallup anywhere they wanted to, and the whole hall was chaos -- to the delight of many -- and to the despair of others.
I've lived a long life. I never used to love the class clown. I was insecure. They upset my orderly universe. They made me jealous & insecure. I'm almost 60. This class clown I love -- and perhaps that is because he clowns around in a universe I am secure in. I know how to dance; I love to dance -- and I am not disturbed -- but immensely pleased, when an inventive genius upsets my applecart. Long live the dancing fool, the daredevil who is so secure within the rules that he can bend the rules with pleasure, and create pleasure for others. So long..
We are sitting at a dinner table at a dance camp and one man is explaining what is the test he conducts to determine whether an ancient pot was made of pure clay or other substances & clay. The test, it seems, is to place the substance in question between your teeth & move your teeth back & forth. If it feels grainy to your teeth it is not pure clay -- silt or sand was part of the makeup of the pot. The lady next to me laughs & says -- "Science has come a long way. How do we test a substance? By sticking it between our teeth." I laughed.
The man then proceeded to give a second example of the progress in the sciences. The best scientific test we have to determine whether H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide) is present, can detect one part hydrogen sulfide per million. The human nose can smell hydrogen sulfide when there is one part hydrogen sulfide per billion -- a much more sophisticated test. So that is how one tests for the presence of hydrogen sulfide: stick it up to your nose.
There is, however. a small catch, as he explained. If there are five parts per million of hydrogen sulfide, the nose stops smelling hydrogen sulfide. Your nose tells you -- no hydrogen sulfide present Sir. Unfortunately soon thereafter you are dead. I said, "What?" He explained that 5 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide in the air will kill you -- and your nose is unable to smell it at that high a concentration -- yet at one part per billion, you do smell it.
He explained that periodically people went into caves that did have concentrations of hydrogen sulfide that were higher than 5 parts per million. The person could not smell the hydrogen sulfide & soon thereafter keeled over dead. Unfortunately those sent to seek for him would also not smell the hydrogen sulfide & they too might die.
Strange stories of the progress of science, a science that always seems to create machines inferior to our native, inborn abilities. However, given the consequences when our senses fail -- possible death -- I'll opt for machine failure: have them go in and conk out. Not me, thank you. So long...
I was once a religious Jew who kept Kosher, so when one man at dance camp wore a T shirt with the words "Keep Kosher" I immediately stepped up to him and said, "You don't, do you?" He said "What?" I said "Keep Kosher." He said, "Actually, I do. I keep Kosher at home, but when I eat out I don't, because if I did, I couldn't eat at my parents house."
It took me a few seconds to absorb what he said. If he tried to obey the Jewish commandment -- one of the most strict of all Jewish commandments -- You must keep Kosher, you must eat only certain animals, and you must eat only animals slaughtered in a certain, prescribed way -- if he tried to keep Kosher, he couldn't eat at his parents house. Obviously his parents didn't keep Kosher.
What a dilemma. What a huge dilemma. One of the most important of all commandment is Keep Kosher. Another huge, very important Jewish commandment is, "Honor thy father & mother." How did this man resolve his dilemma?
I immediately turned to him & asked him if I understood him correctly, and he said I did. I said -- "but how did you resolve this huge dilemma? I mean, did you ask Rabbis? Did you...?" He smiled, stopped me, pointed to his chest: "I resolved it from the heart." The answer was a lovely answer -- or an answer I loved. No sophistries. No parsing -- interpreting & reinterpreting -- of the law. My heart knew what I should do: Honor thy father and mother. If they offer you food, eat it.
He went on to say much more. He explained that what he saw in the Rabbis behavior -- what he saw in Jewish history -- is that you do what you have to do -- and then you find a rule to cover it.
His analysis seemed correct to me. Jewish wisdom is immense -- Rabbis of all centuries present their vision, their version of what one should do. What is wonderful about Judaism is that you can delve deep into Jewish wisdom throughout the ages and emerge with some rule from somewhere that covers this particular situation -- and presents a seemingly rational explanation for what you are about to do. Or, You do what you have to do -- and find a rule to cover it.
I do not mean to sound cynical. Jewish law is not eternally malleable. In fact, Jewish laws are clear, strict, straitforward -- but perhaps another principal will make clear why bending the law slightly may not be so terrible. Long ago Rabbis were told: "Asse syag Latorah," which simply means make a fence around Biblical laws. If the Bible forbids X, make a fence around X --that is make laws stricter than X, and then make laws even stricter than that.
If, God forbid, you break the law, you are not really breaking the law, you are breaking the law around the law. You will have to knock down many fences, break many laws, before you really break the Biblical law -- God's commandment.
In the final analysis I really loved his slow smile, his pointed finger. How does one resolve unresolvable problems: from the heart. So long...
I met two women at the dance camp whose stories were similar -- and yet not at all similar.
One used to hold a very prestigious position: Far East Correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. For six of the seven years she was there she lived in Burma. She was the sole Wall Street Journal correspondent covering Burma & Thailand. Why did she quit? That's a long story. Here's a small part of the story.
She was flourishing, doing well, earning big bucks, and she had just flown home for a well earned rest. She was among friends, at a wonderful New Year's Eve party. They tracked her down. "We need you," they said. "Big Political Coup in Far East. You are the only one who can write this story."
She was astonished that they could track her down. This was a party among personal friends. How did they know? And she was astonished when she left the party, did the research, wrote the story. She was good; they did need her; but what was the cost to her of all this? Her life was theirs to command.
Much more happened before she made the decision to leave this lucrative job. Back in the U.S. she met a man who subsequently came to visit her in Burma. He had been a teacher, quit his job. He didn't want his life to be his job. He was now free to come visit her (or anyone else) and stay a few months. When he came, he brought along some of his favorite recordings by John Gorka, Mary Chapin Carpenter, others. He played the music. She cried.
She became aware of the life she was not leading. She was not in America. She did not know what issues were being raised there, what questions were being faced by people of her generation in America. She was far, far away, in an exotic country, not her country. The music made her aware of the life she was not leading, the country she was not growing up in. After many months, much souls searching, she made the decision: she quit her job, returned to America, began writing her novel.
That was half a dozen years ago. She does not regret leaving her job. As we discussed, those who are very good at their job deserve the high pay they get -- their job consumes their life. One woman once said to a great violinist -- "I would give my life to play the way you do." He said, "I did, Madam, I did."
This young woman regained her life. She made a decision few of us would have the guts to make. Well established in a prestigious position, she rejected what was offered because it was the devil's deal: I will take your life, and in return I will give you much money & fame. She took some of the money & soon retired to a quieter life, her life, led at her discretion. So long...
The second woman I met who quit her job had a much less prestigious job -- she was a teacher at a University -- but she too quit a certain income, a secure job, and sought something else.
In her case the break from the job occurred 20 years ago. Twenty years ago she decided to take a one or two year break from a regular job and see what she really wanted to do. Perhaps what she really wanted to do was not have a "regular job" since she hasn't had one since she quit 20 years ago.
Oh, she's had jobs, she's worked, is working, but none of her jobs pays her the kind of salary one needs to live in mainstream America. She's been supplementing her income by drawing on her savings, and by choosing to live an alternative lifestyle -- a lifestyle not considered by consumption hungry Americans.
She works for "The Sacred Earth Network" which is into Deep Ecology Education and Environmental Telecommunications. The backside of her business card is in Russian Cyrillic writing. Many of the people she trains in Environmental Telecommunications live in Russia. I first noticed her at dance camp when she was at her lap top computer -- probably responding to Russian e-mail. For the past three years she's lived in Petersham Massachusetts in the Quabbin Bioregion, a group of three houses, 20 people, on 50 to 100 acres in the midst of a huge forest.
Three houses, 20 people? The houses are privately owned, but the 20 people live communally in the three houses. Six days a week they eat at their respective houses. One day a week they eat communally at one of the three houses. They rotate being hosts for the communal whole.
Of course there are wonderful benefits to such communal living: low rent, built in baby-sitters, communal cooking. Of course there are drawbacks -- a lack of privacy for one, and that is particularly hard on families. But this is an alternative lifestyle, and one I believe to be far preferable to the isolated nuclear family, the single person dwelling -- both of which are the norm in normal America.
But I am not here to praise communes; I am here to set forth a small part of the lifestyle one can adopt if one drops out of the well paying rat race. As someone once pointed out, whether one wins or loses, the race ends up making everyone a rat in a race -- and she chose not to race around like a rat.
Before she lived in the commune, she lived, for over a dozen years, in New York City. How did she make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world? In part, she was lucky: she found a relatively inexpensive "rent controlled" apartment. I won't try to explain "rent control. The words should make the concept clear -- the rent goes up every year, but by a small percentage -- rent increases are controlled.
But even rent controlled apartments cost money. The apartment had two bedrooms. She could only sleep in one bed at a time. She decided give up privacy -- something few Americans want to give up -- and she chose to live with a roommate. Having a roommate allowed her to live almost rent free.
We can leave rat-race America, but it is not easy & requires either large savings or imaginative solutions. So..
Will my series of columns on the strange lives of individuals at dance camp ever end? I could go on and on, but your patience, dear listeners, may be wearing thin. Still, my point is not "look at these strange lives." My point is -- "look at all there is to learn from the lives of others, and look at what adventures are out there waiting for you."
One of the campers had been a peace corp volunteer long ago -- in fact, a significant percentage of contra dancers turn out to have been peace corp volunteers. She told of the very long, lovely, yet rigorous training peace corp volunteers underwent years ago. Her training took three months and taught her a great deal.
One seminal scene in her mind was the day in the frozen tundra of Canada when her group of volunteers had the makings of a tent dropped at their feet. "It's going to be cold tonight; if you don't want to die, put up this tent.". The peace corp volunteers stared at each other. "Any of you know how to put up this thing?" Despite the many high degrees from prestigious institutions -- Yale, Harvard, Vassar, Swarthmore -- this was one heck of a bunch of stupid idiots. They knew zilch about survival in the frozen tundra of Canada.
On the spot my friend, the peace corp volunteer, reshaped her definition of intelligence. The "dumb" Canadian Indians who put up their tent up in a flash, who sat across the way eying them & chuckling, were suddenly brilliant nuclear scientists. She and her well educated friends were idiots doomed to pay for their stupidity with their lives. Of course that's not what happened -- the Indians taught them how to put up the tent -- but she learned a lesson for life.
We need such vivid life-lessons to bring matters into perspective. My well fed, well dressed, upper middle class group of students were boasting about Western intelligence, Western expertise -- skyscrapers, bombers, computers. The lone African in my class listened and said: "My people make their own clothes." Not everyone in the class understood what he meant -- or even agreed after I tried to explain his point.
In some sense, we westerners are very stupid. Take away our technology and we are likely to die: we can't sew our own clothes, we can't build a shelter. We pay others to make clothes, grow food, build shelters for us. African people can make their own clothes, often grow their own food, erect shelters.
This peace corp volunteer told many more stories of what she learned, but one funny scene sticks in my mind. She was going to be posted to Senegal -- an African country where French is the second language. In an attempt to simulate conditions in Senegal, the peace corp volunteers were sent to an Indian reservation in Canada because French was the second language of these Canadian Indians.
What's so funny about all this? One member of the group sent to this Indian Reservation was a Black Senegalese. The Black Senegalese came to this Indian reservation with a firmly entrenched stereotype of Indians: Indians were savages who raised a right hand, mumbled "How" and wanted to scalp you. Meanwhile the Canadian Indians could only see the Black Senegalese through their stereotype of blacks: slow, dumb southern niggras. As she said, you can imagine what misunderstanding arose until that mistaken series of stereotypes got straightened out -- and it never did get fully straightened out.
We forget how deeply ingrained stereotypes are in all of us. She learned that, and much more, in the peace corp . So long...
I've just finished a couple of columns on how women seem to have more guts than men: two women I met at dance camp dropped out of the rat race -- quit secure, lucrative, prestigious jobs -- and learned to live an alternative lifestyle. Why women? Why not men?
First of all, at dance camps, men tend to talk to women, women tend to talk to men. I didn't get to hear the life stories of many men -- I didn't talk to them much. Surprise, surprise. But perhaps there is more to it than that.
In part both women could do what they did because they had no family -- no husband, no children -- but you need to understand what I mean by "do what they did." I suddenly see women as the new class of people that can be exploited, that can be made to work like slaves.
Women want to prove they are as good as men. Women work hard -- as foreign correspondents, as university professors, as administrators. They give their life to what they do -- and they end up being very good at what they do. So employers -- newspapers, universities -- want women, exploit women. More and more women are achieving eminence in every field -- science, politics, business. But they, like everyone else before them who has achieved eminence, are beginning to realize the cost of excellence.
But why are women more likely to rebel, why are women more likely to drop out -- and it is women who are more likely to do so than men. I read a British study that detailed the dramatic dropout among top women executives. Far more women than men leave, open their own businesses rather than stay in businesses managed by others.
You won't like my answer. My answer is totally unscientific,. I don't expect you to believe me. In short, as I tell anyone who is willing to listen: "When women seek to be equal to me, they aim too low." Or, women, in a great many ways, are superior to men.
Let me list some ways -- and you can, you will, argue with much of what I say. Women are more deft with their hands. Mexican assembly plants are 95% female because, as one plant manager said, they are simply better at putting the product together. In almost every English Composition class I've ever taught, on average, women are better writers than men: They use language more precisely, more felicitously. Women are better at human relations.
I won't go on. I've already antagonized those of you who disagree. Those who agree have their own examples.
My point, which got lost among unproveable examples, is that women, in general, are superior to men -- but believe me, I know many stupid, clumsy, unlovable women, and I love many articulate, considerate, charming men. Your life has particular examples. Don't judge individuals on the basis of stereotypes. So long..
There's one other thing I learn at dance camps -- and it is probably the most wonderful thing of all. You learn a great deal about how others see you.
In your town, people no longer see you -- they see the accumulation of you and them -- the many interactions that have shaped the relationship. In dance camp, people meet you for the first time.
"You're so open, Henry." She almost exploded the words -- they burst out of her with great sincerity. She clearly admired something in me, and yet, around her I felt shy & timid. She is the star. She is one of the most well known members of a well known band. Ten years ago I saw her from afar, now we happened to be sitting next to each other at lunch at a dance camp.
"How did you get that way? You are so confident, so open, so direct." I was overwhelmed by her praise -- and I always get people's words wrong -- but it was enormous praise, praise for a person I did not know I was. I'm the shy kid on the block. I hold back -- but of course that's not true anymore. I'm sixty years old now. I am not the person I used to be -- but it is hard for me to see the person I've become. Dance camp classmates let me know.
Over & over they comment on my openness, my directness, my frankness: what you see is what you get. But the way they say it to me -- and when it pops out -- is always surprising, always new -- and always at dance camps -- at places you meet new people whom you then get to stay with for awhile so they can form an impression.
I must explain a bit more. I began going to dance camps a dozen years ago -- a dance beginner in an unknown universe. Back then no one came up to me & said -- you are so open, so frank, so.... First of all, no one came up to me period, and if they told the truth, they'd say, "you are so reserved, so tentative, so seemingly a fish out of water."
A dozen years have passed, and I've danced up a storm in those years. I am a caller now. I've been to many dance camps. This is my universe. In these surroundings I am indeed frank, open, confident. But what happens when this confident creature is placed in a new & frightening environment? He reverts back to the little scared kid on the block. I am not very large physically -- I am five foot three -- and though somewhat clever, I am not particularly resourceful.
Did I know I would say all this when I began to tell you how one learns about one's self at dance camps? No. I thought I would tell you all the wonderful things I found out about my frank & noble self. Instead I learned another truth I already half-knew. In comfortable circumstances -- in a place where I perform better than most of the people there -- I am kingly. In unknown circumstances I turn coward. Not a pretty picture; not a totally true picture -- but by & large a correct one. The art of writing is the art of discovering what you think. So long..
The band at the dance camp came from Bloomington, Indiana, and one of the members of the band was telling me about an unusual building in downtown Bloomington. I remembered it as the bicycle building. Actually they are called bicycle apartments.
Whenever a builder wants to build apartments anywhere, he must provide parking for all the people he intends to house. After all, imagine building a thirty story apartment building on Washington Street and providing no parking at all. Hundreds of cars would be parking in front of my house and your house, and every other house they could find parking spots in front of.
But think about it -- that would discourage many builders from building apartments downtown. Downtown real-estate is very costly -- and not only must you provide housing for people -- you must also provide housing for their rather large pet dog. In Traverse City, something like 1 1/2 parking spots must be provided per apartment.
Bicycle apartments. The builder was allowed to build many apartments -- and he had to provide parking for bicycles for every single apartment. Rental preference is given to people who do not own cars. Currently every apartment contains people who do not own cars -- and there is a long waiting list of people waiting to get in.
When you apply, you not only must tell them whether you own a car or not -- you must also list your income. Preference is given to low income people -- this was built as low income housing. The exact amount of your rent is dependent on your income.
What a great idea. What a win-win-win-win, situation. A downtown wins because a downtown need people who live there 24 hours a day. Scary downtowns, crime ridden downtowns, are places where every store closes at 5 or 6 p.m., and everybody goes home somewhere else. Then only theatre-goers & muggers will roam downtown streets.
The developer wins -- he's got a long line of renters waiting to rent his apartments & his apartments are in a prime real estate area -- the downtown of a vibrant city. Best of all he did not need to purchase expensive downtown real estate to house large cars.
People win when they get cheap apartments at a wonderful location that allows them to carry on daily living without relying on the big beast that costs so much to house, insure, shelter, feed. In America, car costs consume 20% of of our income.
Bicycle apartments. Apartments exclusively for bicyclists. Let's go ahead and discriminate. You people who own cars can't live here. Bicycle apartments; bicycle apartments. Part of me just wants to say those words 600 times so some listener somewhere will get the point and build such apartments which will benefit him or her and everyone else. Bicycle apartments. Bicycle apartments. So long..
We've all heard of the generation gap. Well about five years ago I decided that, in my case, the definition of generation gap was going to be computers: I will never-ever learn how to use a computer. I now use computers, sort of, and I now send & receive e-mail. So I'm part of the computer age, aren't I? Not really. It's a lot like learning a few phrases in a foreign language, blurting out those phrases -- and then receiving a reply -- a veritable flood of absolutely unintelligible words in Greek, or French, or Spanish.
For me, a computer is really an elegant word processor -- a typewriter with lots of erase capabilities. That is all I do with my computers -- type stuff. To me, E-mail is a series of weird key strokes -- passwords & numbers -- and then I'm back to what I know how to do, type. All this is a preface to a stupid mistake I made -- a mistake that simply reveals how little I know about computers.
I suddenly needed to do something new. I needed to create an e-mail group -- something I'd avoided doing for a full year. I did once try to create a group mailing by typing in several e-mail addresses. My e-mail message was rejected. I stopped trying to create an e-mail group. But suddenly I needed to. So I did something I never do -- I read the instructions, and lo & behold, its easy to create an e-mail group. I did -- and I mailed out a fifteen page message.
It came zinging back to me -- undeliverable -- address unknown. Something called a Demon Mailer immediately sends you an e-mail message saying No way -- this didn't get through. I love the name -- Demon mailer -- it is a demon. I hate it -- and now it thwarted me yet again -- here take that -- here is your fifteen page message shot right back to you.
I sent it to something like eleven people. Ten of the addresses were right, and one was wrong. Did that mean that ten got it but one did not? In the Daemon mailer message was the word received next to all of the addresses -- including the address that was wrong. So they didn't receive it, or did they? I'll wait for awhile and someone will acknowledge receipt of the message. Twenty four hours passed, no acknowledgments.
What the heck. I haven't heard from anyone, I'll mail it again -- and again Demon mailer shot it back -- one of the addresses was wrong again. Since I don't know how to correct a single address in a group mailing, I sat down and carefully retyped all of the addresses, and sent the message again. Good. Nothing came back -- no Demon mailer. That should do it.
It sure did. Before some of my addressees knew it, they had downloaded forty five pages from Henry -- or everything I wrote three times over. They must have thought I was nuts, or over eager. At the very least they all realized I was stupid -- I didn't even know that in a group mailing -- everyone gets the message -- except for the wrong address.
Oh well, I proved a point I was trying to prove in the fifteen pages I sent them. We are all smart on different subjects; we are all stupid on different subjects. I may be a genius -- I wrote fifteen pages describing people at a dance camp -- but I am also an idiot -- I can't figure out how group e-mail works. I'm not sure about the genius part; I am very sure about the idiot part. I am one of the biggest of all computer idiots. If you tell me what buttons to punch, I'll punch them, but I really don't know what the hell I am doing. So..
I am sitting across from a camper at lunch. He looks vaguely familiar -- but that may be because he sounds New York Jewish, looks New York Jewish -- dark, not very tall, a professor. He talks with a half smile almost always on his lips -- sardonically. Nothing is that serious. I may be describing me; I may be describing him. There are superficial similarities -- which does not mean I instantly love him, or he me.
We begin to exchange biographies and eerie similarities emerge. We both grew up in New York City. My first question is what high school did you attend. In New York City, you don't necessarily attend your local high school -- not if you're a smart Jew. Smart Jews attended one of three high schools -- Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant or Music & Art. I applied to Music & Art & Bx Science; I went to Bronx Science, he went to Music & Art. We both attended Columbia College, class of '60 & class of '62, and we both went on to graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana. We probably never ran into each other because of the difference in years and because in both our cases our studies were interrupted by side trips, sojourns into other things. We both ended up teaching, he at a University in Winnipeg, Canada, I at a Junior College in Traverse City Michigan
Is it so strange that we led such parallel lives -- almost the same high school in a city of eight million people -- the same college -- the same graduate school? No, it is not that odd. Certain large forces are at work here -- and we are merely examples of these forces at work. You grow up in New York and you try to go to the good high schools, the good colleges close to home. When I decided to go to graduate school I asked around about good graduate schools in what we New Yorkers called the midwest -- way out yonder far away from New York. I was told there are three good schools out there, The University of Wisconsin in Madison Wisconsin, Michigan University in Ann Arbor Michigan, and Indian University in Bloomington, Indiana.
Here's a further fact I found out once I got to the state of Indiana, birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1950s Indiana had absolutely no Jewish graduate students. Jews were unwanted, unsought. But sometime in the late '50s one Jewish student found his way into the graduate chemistry department. He helped put Indiana University on the map when he & his professor published a breakthrough paper in Chemistry. Soon thereafter every other department actively sought Jewish graduate students. I was part of the opened floodgates -- and so was my friend who sat at the table with me.
Copyright © 2001Henry Morgenstein