Day is done

Day is done

The golden rays of the afternoon sun fell lightly on this flag posted on a rustic fence on Veterans Day 2011.


He ain’t heavy

He ain’t heavy

Benny and Lincoln decided today would be the day they mocked Melvin, who is severely disabled and does not speak, except for some vocalizing. Benny and Lincoln giggled and repeated his utterances in a tone that was disrespectful. Melvin, who is big and strong and roughly as big as two of Lincoln and three of Benny, shifted about in his chair as though he understand he was being picked on. But he withstood the insult gracefully and did not lash out.

I wish Benny and Lincoln could take a brotherly interest in shielding Melvin from the cruelty of the world. Perhaps they feel Melvin’s very presence stigmatizes them. Yet, he could use a friend and they could be friend and thereby weave their own sorry behinds into the social fabric in a more meaningful way. Perhaps that is a lot to expect from teenagers.

Gigi has a radiant spirit

As pilot of the inter-planetary academy shuttle, I sometimes have my passenger list updated, meaning I need to find the safest and most efficient way to reach a different pod at the appointed hour. I was apprehensive about picking up Gigi because I feared she would be another complicated adolescent on a crowded one-way space duct. Those complicated kids know they can’t refuse academy attendance but they can dawdle until the shuttle leaves without them and then attempt to shift the blame for poor attendance on me.

I felt pangs of guilt when I saw Gigi’s mom guiding her out to the shuttle. They walked together like one creature with four legs, the mom using each of her legs to guide the disabled and stiffened legs of her child. Step, by step by step they crossed in front of the shuttle to the entrance in what appeared to be a slow and painful dance. When I opened the portal for Gigi to enter, I was awestruck by the serenity of her smile. If it had taken me that long and that much effort to travel such a brief distance I would have been scowling, not beaming.

Her mom chatted with me and Lieutenant Velma as Gigi made her way ever so slowly up the steps of the shuttle. Her muscles were so uncooperative that her speech was hard to understand, yet she chatted with me the whole way to the academy. I should probably tell you I am wary of my own tendency to daydream and what a threat that is to my continued employment so I talk my way through the run in the hope that doing so will keep me grounded, so to speak.

Benny takes a galactic powder

Benny hopped off the spaceship one stop after he got on, making useless all my effort to manuever the ship around the planets keeping him out of the paths of intersteller traffic. The signs of trouble surfaced at the boy’s pod, when his mom came out and asked the ship to wait — holding up her index finger in the universal sign for “wait one minute.”

She went back inside to holler at Benny to hurry. She returned the garbage-strewn curb of her pod to speak with me. She said Benny is seriously troubled and she apologized for his behavior. I told her I appreciated that. She told me he was looking around for a math book he needed at the academy.

Pale, skinny Benny boarded the ship, his protective suit falling down either in youthful rebellion or lack of body mass. He was especially restless and did not fasten traveling gear. At the next stop when Other Boy got on, Benny scrambled up to the air lock and hopped out. I was glad, because I didn’t like all of his crazy energy on my ship while I’m trying to navigate the universe.

Velma, my lieutenant, said Benny was not running around at the back of his pod looking for equipment to bring to the academy. He was unlocking the alternative exit so he could get re-enter after exiting my ship, she theorized. He needed to board my ship so his mother would think he was attending the academy.

“Velma,” I said, “You know how they think.”

“I certainly do,” she said.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Benny. He left his papers on the ship one day and I saw he was studying algebra: multiplying polynomials. Somebody thinks Benny is smart enough to solve these puzzles. Yet, a smart boy like that hates his place in the academy.

Another thing about Benny stuck in my mind. He often got himself in trouble playing court jester to a bigger boy, like maybe he wanted protection from a bully.

March 8, 2014 Confined-space work environment

I don’t know how the girl with the single-tooth grin got the name Parcheesi but that was indeed the name on my list. “Parcheesi,” I thought, would probably be joining  us along with Monopoly and perhaps Chess-ter. Ha, ha.

Parcheesi had a sense of self. She walked slowly toward the kindergarten as if she need not hurry; she expected everyone to wait. I narrowed my eyes in an attempt to get her to step lively, but she continued to dawdle, fussing with the strap of her pocketbook. She looked lazily toward the other children heading toward other rooms and said her good-byes. Parcheesi was like a little politician who wanted to spread a little love to everyone so as to be remembered at election time.

I knew the confrontation was coming. Parcheesi rankled the nerves of my assistant, Velma Dean, a hard-working woman from the midwest who could not abide naughty children. She was well aware that the kids were the kings and people like us, the staff could easily lose our jobs by disciplining our charges in an unwise manner.

Velma had little education in accredited schools or universities, but a lot of learning at the school of hard knocks.

Yet, Parcheesi liked to stir things up, particularly with Craig, a manipulator and sociopath for sure, and Eldon, a sweet, sincere unguarded soul who often left the kindergarten in tears.

why we moon

Figuring. Shit. Out.

When my sister Lucy and I were little, around 6 and 3 or thereabouts, we used to moon people. I have no idea where the inspiration for this came from, but we got it from somewhere (this was, after all, the late 1960s), and we exercised this vaguely inspired right to moon on our front lawn in New Preston, Conn., for all the world to see. Or maybe not all the world; maybe just passing cars.

At the time I never wondered what the drivers and passengers of these vehicles might have thought, tooling around Lake Waramaug on their leisurely summer drives, approaching this fairly standard-looking white colonial with its fairly standard-looking lawn. Or it might have been standard-looking, had my parents mowed the bottom half of it — they kept the grass high to prevent their darling children from rolling their tricycles into the road, so it looked perpetually…

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How I heard of ‘Twelve years a slave’


CHRIS STURGIS Staff writer

Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Times Union at Albany, NY

Date: Saturday, July 24, 1999

Three generations of a family gathered at Union College Friday to get acquainted with a relative who died long before they were born. They came to spend time with Solomon Northup, who was born a freeman in 1808 in Minerva, New York. In 1841, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery and then rescued in 1853. The date of his death is unknown but believed to be sometime before 1863.

Descendants from as far as Los Angeles came to see Union’s exhibit, “Twelve Years a Slave: The Kidnapping Enslavement & Rescue of Solomon Northup.”

In the Reamer Campus Center, the matriarch of the group, 90-year-old Victoria Northup Dunham, sat in her wheelchair as she viewed photographs that told the story of Northup’s life.

Political science professor Clifford Brown told her that her ancestor had many talents, working as a carpenter, musician, railroad worker and log transporter. Dunham was struck by the opulence of the dining room at the long-since demolished United States Hotel in Saratoga Springs, where Northup played the violin.

“Oh, my goodness, look at all those tables,” she said, looking at the photograph taken in 1841. Brown showed the elderly visitor from Los Angeles a map of the Troy-Saratoga Railroad that employed Northup and boosted Saratoga Springs to resort status as early as the 1830s.

Dunham’s grandson, Richard Lindsay, pored over a genealogical chart. He said his grandmother read a newspaper article about the exhibit and told him about it. Lindsay, from Syracuse, said he felt pride that Northup was multitalented and musical — and anger that someone in a state without slavery could be dragged into it.

“How could it happen?” Lindsay said. “It makes you think of your history. The truth is beginning to show what it was really like in New York.”

Lori Williams said she felt sadness and anger about slavery from learning what her great-great-great-great grandfather had experienced.

“You don’t feel the emotion until it hits you this close,” she said. “The chains brought out a lot of emotion,” she said, referring to a set of iron shackles displayed on a table.

Williams said her 7-year-old daughter, Lauria, reacted to the exhibit in one sentence: “This is a very bad thing.”

“She’s got a lot of questions that I’m sure we’ll get at the hotel,” Williams said.

An elementary school teacher in Syracuse, Williams said she will use the exhibit in her Black History Month lessons.

Another descendant, Melissa Dowdy, said she would like all youngsters to be exposed to exhibits.

“If kids understood where they came from, they would appreciate life more and there would be less gang violence,” she said.

Union’s exhibit on Solomon Northup ended in March, but the material was lent to historical societies and libraries as well as woven into the college’s freshman writing course, said curator Rachel Seligman.

Northup told his own story in a memoir titled, “Twelve Years a Slave.” Northup’s life has also been made into a motion picture, Half Slave Half Free, by Black Vintage Video of Los Angeles.