Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

The Mission:
With final exams ending Wednesday at 7:00 pm, bring two college freshmen and the entire contents of their dorm rooms home by 10:00 am Thursday when their dorms will be closing.

The Plan:
After work on Wednesday, drive about 45 minutes to the campus, bring one of said freshmen and his possessions home. On Thursday, take the bus to work and let that freshman drive back down and bring back the other freshman and all his possessions, returning in time to make a 2:00 pm summer job interview.

The Reality:
On Wednesday after work, drive down about 40 minutes and, once near the campus, stop at a red light. When the light has turned green, find that the car has suddenly turned off and refuses to turn back on. After waving annoyed drivers past me, some using less than all fingers, make panic phone call to the two freshmen and ask them to take the bus to where I was and help me push the car to a less controversial part of the street. Make panic phone call to AAA. Passing tow truck from AAA comes by as the freshmen arrive. Freshmen get on bus back to their dorms without having had to push car. Make panic phone call to wife to try to arrange for a van rental tomorrow so the two freshmen will not be living in a refrigerator box outside their locked dorm. Tow truck brings car to the garage where, before going off duty, the driver transfers the car to another tow truck for the drive back home. Wife calls to say Rental Place "E" (nice people located up the street from the mechanic; preferred) was closed for the night so made on-line reservation with Rental Place "U" (nasty people located farther away; not preferred). Tip first driver. Make panic phone call to supervisor to say I won't be at work on Thursday. Along with wounded car, arrive back home with neither the freshmen nor any of their possessions. Tip second driver and reimburse turnpike tolls. Go inside, eat Chinese take-out.

Awake on Thursday, can't get mechanic on phone. Make reservation with Place "E" for cargo van; cancel reservation with Place "U." Pay a $50 cancellation fee. Take chance and drive to mechanic without appointment; he says no openings till next week. I leave car anyway. Not sure whether I'm more afraid he'll call and say it's a $2000 repair, or that he'll call and say he found nothing wrong. Thinking too how nice it's been the last couple of years no longer having to make car payments, and hoping I won't have to start up paying them again. Walk up the street, pick up the cargo van, drive down to college, the entire drive a reminder of how different, and therefore more difficult, vans are to drive when you're used to a regular car. Arrive at freshman 1 dorm, having figured out along the way where the turn signals and windshield wipers are on the van. Load up and drive him to the train so he can get back home in time for his interview. Drive to freshman 2 dorm, passing the spot at which I broke down the day before, load the freshman and all his possessions into the van. Get call from mechanic; repair can be done today and will cost about $280. I approve the work, trying to sound like I really know what a drive shaft is and why a damaged position sensor will cause the car to stall out. Arrive home, bring freshmen and their possessions into the house, wondering how their things grew so much from what we'd brought down back in August. Drive van to shopping mall where freshman 1 has interview. Drive back to Rental Place and return van. Walk down street to mechanic and pick up repaired vehicle. Drive back to shopping mall to pick up freshman 1 who, it turned out, never got to be interviewed because the manager hadn't shown up.

Return home, resolve to do nothing constructive tonight.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Editing Shakespeare

My, it's good to be back.

As I've noted previously, these past few weeks I've been reminded that writing new lectures takes a lot longer than putting a few updates into existing ones. I knew that, of course, but hadn't fully appreciated what "a lot longer" really means. It means "aaaaaaa llllllllllllot loooooooonger," so much so there's no time for writing anything else. With the new term now being over - and, I must mention, with my having been reminded why I like teaching so much (and, conversely, of how burnt out I'd become at my old teaching position without realizing it) - I can now ease myself back into what I pretend is a normal life. Your patience, dear readers, is very much appreciated.

Before today's main topic, I wanted to express a particular - and long overdue - thanks to loyal reader Lori for kindly including me as a recipient of her Kreativ Blogger award ( Now that I've been so flattered, I should probably write something.

Way back...and I do mean way back (ok, it was the fall of 1973), I had my bar mitzvah. For those not familiar with it, a bar mitzvah is a ceremony in which a young Jewish boy celebrates his passage into manhood with two traditional parts: a beautiful religious service, and a reception during which his classmates mix Coca Cola into the cole slaw. It's an important time, probably more so than a 13 year old is likely to understand, and it brings many memories. One of them was a gift I received from my oldest brother, a gift that then, as now, has great meaning and importance in the process of accepting the responsibilities that come with maturity.

He gave me a rifle.

More important than the rifle, which I still have, was the box it came in, on which my brother wrote the following (from Shakespeare's King Henry VI, Part III):
"My crown is in my heart, not on my head; Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, Nor to be seen: my crown is called content: A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy."
This past Sunday, it was my privilege to be part of another important growth passage, serving as best man at the wedding of a dear friend I've known since the first grade. (Yes, he was at my bar mitzvah, though there is no evidence to indicate he was involved in the mixing of deli salads with soft drinks.)

The best man has certain responsibilities, and two of the most important are the bachelor party and the wedding toast. I went the middle-aged route on the bachelor party: men gathered together at a good steak restaurant, eating manly things and telling manly stories, with entertainment provided by a magician friend. Not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "bachelor party" I suppose, and some of the men expressed some disappointment at that (my friend not being one of them), but it was self-preservation winning out over debauchery. And let's face it folks; at our age, given the choice between having a woman writhing on the table in front of us, and having a decent steak on the table in front of us, we're better off opting for the steak. (The evening was not without its wild side, of course. Most of us did wear Hawaiian shirts.)

In preparing the wedding toast, I remembered the Shakespeare quote and including it seemed wonderfully appropriate. The first draft said most of what I wanted to say, including the quote, but something seemed to drag in the reading. After a few more run-throughs, I realized it was the cherished quote. Not the quote itself, but my decidedly unexpert reading of it. Proclaiming the words of King Henry VI is one thing if you're Patrick Stewart in the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's quite another if you're Ben of Jersey City.

A second draft omitted the quote. Although the words read much more smoothly, they clearly lacked the soul I wanted them to have.

In the third draft, I gritted my teeth and did the unthinkable: I edited Shakespeare. My valued readers including several folks from Britain, a former actor, and other fine writers from here in the U.S., I am loath to admit committing so obvious an act of literary desecration, but I thought it better to 'fess up. In my defense, I offer that it was not done lightly, nor without good intent: better to edit and be understood than not to edit and not be understood. As Shakespeare would surely have said, "That be my story, a story it is to which I will stick.")

The toast, including my corrections to Mr. Shakespeare's writing, follows:

"They tell me there’s something like six billion people in the world. If one of life’s greatest joys is finding the one you want more than anything to spend the rest of your life with, I can tell you that it is a joy nearly as great to see it happen to a couple of wonderful people you care about a lot.

"In the course of getting to see each other grow up over the last 43 years, Tony and I have been through quite a few things, none of which we’re going to talk about right now. [pause] We don’t want the younger folks here to think we’re suggesting that sort of behavior is acceptable. [pause] It is not.

"I only know Jamie for a year or so. The difference – 43 years or 1 year – doesn’t matter. When two great people find that lightning strike of great compatibility, and then nurture it into a great love, it’s the easiest thing in the world to recognize. And when I met Jamie for the first time, my reaction was probably the same as that of most people here today. It took me about three and a half seconds, if that long, to say, “Man, they are so right together.”

"I think most of us know Tony is a goal-oriented guy, and one of the first goals I remember him setting for himself years ago was to make himself a millionaire. Keep in mind, in those days, two or three million dollars was considered a lot of money. It’s years later now and we’re all still working for a living, but I look around here today and see Maricel, and Marilyn [his daughters], their own beautiful families, and now Jamie, and I have to tell you something you no doubt already know. You made it. You are a wealthy man, my friend.

"Shakespeare once wrote, “My crown is in my heart, not on my head. Not decked with diamonds, not to be seen. My crown is called content and it is a crown that kings seldom enjoy.”

"Jamie, Anthony…in your new life together, every time you look at each other, every time you think of each other, every time your cel phone rings and you see from the caller id it’s the other calling, may you always, always, feel the crown of content, right there on those two beautiful, and now joined, hearts.

"Cento anni di salute e felicita!"

Here, though just barely, are a couple of photos that show both the fun, loving tone of the wedding, and the fact that you should never take wedding pictures with a cheap, disposable, camera. I call the first one, "Leave the gun; take the cannoli." The second is the toast itself.

Unrelated Item: "No, really, I AM running for re-election!"

Here in Jersey City we have an election for mayor coming up. (For my overseas friends, a "mayor" is something like a "queen," except a "mayor" doesn't do as much hard work.) Today at the train station I saw our Mayor Healy reaching out to voters at rush hour. I found it worth noting, and so share herewith in the video below, how the eager voters responded. (Remember, this is not some fringe candidate. This is the current mayor.) You can tell which one's the mayor. He's the one trying to get someone's, anyone's, attention.