True stories with a twist!

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RUSSIAN CHILD

BYE BYE, GOODBYE,” my grandson said to me as I was leaving his house. That simple farewell ignited wonderfully fond memories.

It was back in the 70’s, when Russia first allowed their citizens to emigrate to the west and to  freedom. I was offered a job teaching English to a small group of newly arrived Russians to our community.

Although my training was in speech pathology and not in ESL (English as a Second Language), helping people learn to speak our language was not a far stretch, and I accepted the challenge.

I didn’t know any Russian, but was able to speak and to teach English with the help of pictures and using simple sentences. 

The determination of those wonderful people to learn our language and become part of the community was heartening, and their progress went along admirably.

I took them shopping to familiarize them with our stores. They told me afterward that they were terribly uncomfortable with all the selections on display. If someone wanted a pair of curtains for example, they were overwhelmed with dozens of colors, patterns and sizes available in our stores. “In Russia,” they said, “There might have been one or two to choose from. Nobody had ever imagined there were so many kinds of curtains in the whole world. How can anybody ever make a decision?”

One couple had a four year old daughter, Svetlana; an adorable child with long dark hair and a charming demeanor. They brought her to all the classes. She spoke snippets of English, including greetings like “Hello” and “Thank You.” But with a twist of her own style. images-3.jpeg

Each time she prepared to leave the classroom she cheerfully said me, 

“Bye-Bye, Goodbye“.

I was so charmed by her that I started saying “Bye Bye, Goodbye” to my own family members at the end of our get-togethers.

Svetlana’s mother, Julia, also adopted an endearing way of expressing her opinion of living in the United States. She often said, 

“Very do I love this country!”

How could anyone tell a person that her sentence structure was incorrect? That her adverb was in the wrong place? Her sentiment was so sweet: so genuine. I loved the sincerity it expressed. Julia spoke from the heart, whether or not her sentence structure was correct.

And so I say to you: 

Very did I love those people, and very do I hope their adjustment to America was successful.   images-6.jpegimages-6.jpeg

THE CONCERT

They always do it; they do it every time. And I always fall for it.

Advertisements for the concert said, “Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.” I love that piece of music,  and so quickly bought two tickets, and anxiously awaited the date of the performance. 

I remember the first time I heard that concerto. I was a teen-ager, watching the Johnny Carson show on television with my parents. A pianist, not a violinist, was a guest on the show, and played that beautiful piece of music. I was mesmerized! It was one of the most beautiful themes I had ever heard. I hummed it for days afterward.

Dah DAH duh Da DAH duh, Duh DAH-Duh-DAH-Duh DAH. Can you hear it?

Then came the day that I heard the piece actually played on its rightful musical instrument, The Violin. 

The Violin Concerto by Mendelssohn has been a favorite since that moment. So when I heard that the theater in my own town, The Mayo Center for the Arts, was going to perform it I immediately bought tickets. We waited and waited for the night of the performance, and then waited some more. 

Finally, as is usually the case, the date arrived. My husband and I excitedly arrived at the theater door, tickets in hand, excitement and anticipation spilling over.

The musicians trickled out onto the stage and took their seats on stage, accompanied by their instruments. Then came one of my favorite sounds: the tuning of instruments. Each musician plays his instrument to the same note as the others, creating a wonderful blend of tuneless sounds. They then exercise fingers while awaiting the arrival of the First Violinist and finally, The Conductor. 

The conductor was a charming gentleman from Russia. He began the program by addressing the audience and warning them that the first piece they had chosen to play might be difficult to understand. “If you are the kind of person who tries to understand music,” his advice was, “Don’t! Because if you do, you’ll be wrong anyway!”

If I thought the Mendelssohn piece was about to be performed I was wrong. As wrong as those in the audience trying to interpret the conductor’s message and understand the selection we were about to hear. 

First we sat through strange, indecipherable sounds which were quite grim. The introductory remarks were: “This piece takes place on an island off the coast of Finland. Many years ago an insane asylum existed on that spot, which was later turned into a hospital for terminally ill patients.”

What an uplifting scene he created! He warned, “if you would like to visit the island and enjoy some sunshine, plan your trip for the two days a year that the island actually has some sun!” Naturally, after the conductor’s charming introduction, we knew we would not be treated to a cheerful, happy and uplifting piece of music.

The lights dim. The audience quiets. The inevitable warning to shut electronic devices and unwrap noisy cellophane wrappers is delivered. The concert is beginning and we think we are ready for the performance. Then the auditory assault begins.

The music is insane! Cymbals crash, drums roll, horns screech. Is there a theme to this music? It sounds like an atonal, dyspeptic conglomerate of noise. What happened to the beautiful violin concerto we paid to hear?

No wonder the organizers of the evening’s program put that piece on the program first. A captive audience such as the one there that night might be the only audience willing to sit through such a headache-inducing, noisy, unpleasant sound fest.

The moral of the story must be that a little suffering is necessary before receiving the rewards of hearing what you paid to hear. Is that a philosophy of life or the reality of marketing? Is it a way to present unpopular music to unsuspicious music lovers?

As the beautiful strains of music of the Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto filled the theater, I took a deep breath of pleasure. Then I thought, “ This is so beautiful: exactly what I was looking forward to hearing. 

But still, I thought that there was an enforceable law against false advertising. 

                                 FEAR ON FRANKLIN

Dead. It was dead and could not be revived. So there I was, alone in the middle of Franklin Street, stuck and not knowing what do. My cell phone didn’t work either. I felt totally helpless, unable to contact anyone about my dire, disastrous dilemma. 

That’s when a police car pulled up beside me. Flashes of headlines declaring police brutality flashed before my eyes, along with kindergarten teachings, “Policemen are our friends!” Which of those opposing truths were true?

Oh, where is my common sense when I need it? Where are the years of learning and wisdom I’ve collected through trying times? Where’s my mommy?

images-8.jpeg“Are you alright?’’ He asked. 

“I’m all right,” I answered, “but my car isn’t. I can’t make it move.”

The heroic policeman, traveling all by himself without a backup, bravely opened his car door and approached my car. I may have been slightly fearful, after reading news headlines lately, but imagine how scared he might have been: What if I were hiding a dangerous firearm behind the dashboard and drawn it before he had a chance to protect himself from my murderous inclinations? Heaven forbid,I might have gunned him down before he was able to reach for his gun. 

How could he have known what dangers he might have faced when he confidently walked toward my stranded car? I might have just robbed a bank and been desperate to escape before being caught. Or maybe I was hiding a body in the trunk of the car. Maybe there were fabulous stolen diamonds under the floor-mat: you never could tell.

Despite my over- active imagination, the policeman kindly , considerately  and single handedly pushed my ailing car toward the curb. There at the curb I was out of danger of being run down by an oncoming garbage truck making its rounds, or a bright red car- racer being wildly and uncontrollably driven by a drug-induced person intoxicated with his mistaken sense of road-ownership.

The kind policeman offered to call my husband with his own cell phone, since mine was inoperable. A road repair was arranged. The policeman left me to attend a policeman-type meeting, the battery was recharged, and everyone lived happily. ever after.images-7.jpeg

Moving about without restrictions or burnt out car batteries is a thing of beauty and something to be aware of and appreciated. Policemen are our friends!

UNDER HOUSE ARREST

What would it feel like to be under house arrest? To be sentenced to remain confined within your house indefinitely? It has been done before, both in reality and in fiction. A recent true life example is the leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, images-2

and the fictional hero of the  best selling novel by Amor Towles, A Man in Moscow, Alexander Illyich Rostov.

Being confined to home means to never to have the privilege of dashing out for a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, a gallon of Rocky Fudge ice cream. You’d never have the opportunity to see a neighbor at the produce department, learn about sales prices for the week, or have the pleasure of pushing around a rickety old cart with squeaky wheels turned in opposite directions. 

If you are not free to go to the grocery store, who is supposed to do the shopping? Does the confinement mean that someone else will do all the shopping and the meal preparation? images-5And will they clean up too? And take out the garbage?

Think of all you could accomplish without distractions of any kind: you could pay all your bills in time, address birthday cards to rarely seen nieces and nephews, order unusual items from bizarre catalogues. Buy stuff, look at it, try it on and send it back. Or you could become a record-breaking best selling author, granting interviews from the privacy of your enforced ecosystem. 

You’d have time to try all those recipes you’ve been cutting out of newspapers and magazines all these years. You might even write your own cook book, “Rescued Recipes from A Defunct Life.”

You’d have the time to read as many of those newspapers and magazines as you wished, although being so well informed wouldn’t do you too much good if you were forced to stay home, never having the chance to demonstrate your range of knowledge. There’d be nobody with whom you could debate the important issues of the day.images-4

Does being under house arrest mean you can’t have visitors? Not even a sparring partner to argue points about the information you’ve gathered from all your reading? What about telephones and computers: would you be allowed to use them, or is all communication with outside world out of limits to you? Can you open your door and get a breath of fresh air, shoo the troublesome chipmunks eating your garden, or wave to a neighbor?

Who pays the bills? And where does the money come from? Surely not from the secret slush fund you’ve been hiding. Hopefully nobody has found out about that!

As I ponder this question and all the other question it arouses I must conclude that  until my questions are answered I strongly state that I refuse to be under house arrest. Have their people meet with my people and work it all out.

MONOPOLY

If there is one board game that is familiar to most of us, it is the game of Monopoly. Legions of stories are told and retold by elders in families about their experiences with the game. I remember as a small child watching my older cousins play Monopoly for hours at a time. It’s a game that teaches the lesson of changing luck and changing leaders. One person might be winning but then lands on a property with a hotel. The rent the player must pay can bankrupt him. And so, fortunes are made and lost in the course of a game.

While thinking about the game I thought about how it could be used for better and more interesting reasons than playing Monopoly as a pastime. What if there were a way to include world leaders in an international game of Monopoly?

Here’s how it would work:

A world-wide Monopoly game is played between Democratic countries and Dictatorships. 

The audience is assembled. Pulses race. Blood pressure rises just below the stroke level. A great deal rides on the results of this game. 

A dice toss allows the country with the highest score of the dice to begin. Assuring all other nations that there is no collusion, Russia goes first, chooses the dog as his marker, and advances to Park Place. As one of the two most expensive properties on the board, Putin snaps it up. Dreams of glory and victory show on his greedy face as he immediately buys and places a hotel on Park Place. Now he hungers for it’s sister property, Boardwalk. If he owns two properties of the same color, a marker landing on one of the properties must pay double the rent.

Although President Trump thought it would be a difficult concept for Putin to get involved in a capitalist themed game, Vladimir accepts the challenge of wheeling and dealing instead of his usual style of paying and accepting bribes. He continues the game, wanting to make sure that he is not accused of collusion.

Bashir Assad throws the dice next and lands in jail: a harsh joke to most of the world glued to the action. Thousands of fans watching the game hoped to see this happen in reality; not only in a board game.

Now it’s Theresa May’s turn at the dice, and she lands on “Pay Taxes,” a subtle reminder of England’s debt to the United States during World War Two. And Brexit.

Although it is Mexico’s turn, there seems to be some confusion about which warlord has the right to represent their country in the competition, with El Chapo still in jail. Nobody is bold enough to step forward to claim his turn at the Monopoly Board. El Chapo has claimed his right to represent Mexico. Nobody dares to step in and challenge him.

Then Benjamin Netanyahu fixes his jaw into a rigid grimace to show the world who’s the boss. And spins two sixes. He lands on “Pass Go, collect $200.00.” He can use that money to add to his defense budget, as he rolls again. What luck; to have a second chance because he spun two sixes; a double, his first time up. He moves ahead to the first of the Railroads, which he snaps up immediately. He’ll be able to use railroads to connect some of the settlements being built on the west bank.

The Arab countries, in  a rare show of unity, pool their chances by joining together on the same team for a singular turn of the dice. They are so fierce and angry as they throw the dice that the dice hit the table with force, bounce up, and disappear in secret corners of the room. The arabs had been told about how to throw the dice, but they insisted on doing it their way. It was hard to force them to listen to the rules. They broke the rules of the game the way they break treaties.

New to the game is Kim Jong Un. He chose the airplane as his marker. Kim was disappointed that there were no atomic missiles to choose. The other country’s representatives didn’t want to anger Kim, because nobody wanted to take the chance of being poisoned at the airport on their way home.

The dice continue to rule how many squares the players may move ahead. The game continues, and as the tension mounts, the world awaits more news about the progress of the game. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, requests an immediate  cease fire, and the world awaits with baited breath. Putin refuses to leave the board, Kim Jong Un insists on keeping his airplane marker, Assad demands an immediate release from jail, Netanyahu decreases his military budget, Trump says,”I told you so, and the Arabs are still looking for the dice.

MURDERERS OR ANIMAL LOVERS?

I was ten and he was eight. I was the big sister and he the little brother until the day I turned forty. From then on, by mutual consent, more mutual on my part than his, he became my big brother.

Back then we acquired a pet hamster whom we shared and cared for. One of us cared and shared more than the other, but that’s not the point of the story.

We named the hamster Sniffy because of the funny way his nose twitched. When his nose twitched his whiskers twitched, making him appear to be sniffing. Or having a bad case of St.Vitus Dance.  image.png

Sniffy lived in a luxurious cage by hamster standards consisting of a spa quality running wheel and gourmet food and water dishes. The cage had full time security in the form of a lock and key. Hamster ownership was a serious responsibility not to be fooled around with. We chose a hiding spot for the key, and promised never to allow Sniffy to roam free without supervision.

We, of course, were the supervisors, the jailers and the feeding and cleaning staff. We alternated tasks and vowed to do our jobs diligently, regularly and timely.

So sincere were we about our service to Sniffy that we drew up a contract. “We the undersigned to solemnly agree to keep the location of the key to Sniffy’s cage secret from plundering eyes and other destructive forces. If either of us reveal the location of the key we would forfeit our share of Sniffy.

All precautions considered, somehow one day we discovered the horrifying fact that our hamster had escaped from his barred apartment. How did this happen? How did he get out of the cage? Whose carelessness allowed this mysterious event to occur? Where was Sniffy now, and how will we ever find him?

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Our fearless sibling team put together a plan based on the Hansel and Gretel story of our youth. Even though at ages eight and ten, we thought of ourselves as grown up.

We set a trail of bread crumbs leading back to his cage. No matter where in the house he is hiding one sniff of the crumbs will roust Sniffy onto the trail and lead him right back to his cage.

But we didn’t take Tippy into consideration. She was our six year old dog who was usually asleep: was never a threat or particular interest to anybody or thing.

But somehow the presence of breadcrumbs on the floor challenged something in her hunting dog ancestral background and she lapped every one from the floor.

So poor Tippy got tied up in her own home (the indignity of it all!) while we set the breadcrumb trap again. It proved to us that only dogs, not hamsters, greedily eat bread crumbs from the floor. Tippy was freed when no hamsters near of far showed a crumb of interest in crumbs.

The mystery was never solved, but some interesting theories evolved.

  1. Perhaps Sniffy found a home in a mouse hole, developed a love of cheese, and lived happily ever after with mouse friends.
  2. Maybe Sniffy squeezed under the door and made her way outside and to the bright lights of Broadway, where she became star of the Hamster Circus.
  3. She became the pet of a wealthy old codger, who plied her evermore with riches beyond a hamster’s wildest dreams.
  4. Perhaps she died.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE

Who doesn’t love the sound of children’s laughter? Or a hearty belly laugh after a good, well told joke? A self-conscious laugh after an embarrassing experience?

What do you think of laughter when it comes from a person saying something and laughing at the same time? Is he laughing at his own jokes?  

It seems to be the latest way of speaking. Have you noticed? Someone will say, “oh it only cost (ha ha) thirty dollars.”

“No: heh heh it’s too cold!’

Do you think that is funny? A great sense of humor gets us through bad

Situations, but that kind of forced laughter is irritating. Can’t you get through a sentence without that annoying (and phony) chuckle?

It reminds me of the origins of the handshake: to show the other person that you are not hiding any weapons in your hand.

And laughing at everything you say shows the listener that you are a person of good humor: you have no bad news to report to them! 

I really never noticed or thought about it until a European woman one asked me: “Why do Americans laugh at everything?” After she said that I noticed that she was right! People can almost cannot speak unless they add a “laugh noise” to their conversation.

Have you noticed?

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