Running the Brooklyn Bridge (concluded)

Perhaps my starry-night runs over the Brooklyn Bridge were so vivid because my senses were heightened as I went over the bridge. New York back then was seen, and no doubt was, a much more dangerous place than now. The bridge after dark was reputed to be an unsafe place, and the only patrol I ever saw on it in those days was a sometimes glimpse of a lone cop on a motor scooter. He seemed unlikely to prevent a mugging or assault except perhaps if it was going to be attempted within a hundred yards of him. The walkway always had some people on it during the day, but after dark the walkway was mainly deserted, and this largely unpeopled space led to me being extra alert. Over the course of my running days, the city generally became safer, and more and more people were on the bridge at all times. After years of feeling a certain daring in running over it at night, the fear, never entirely gone, waned. I still found the winter runs on clear nights thrilling, but, perhaps because I now had seen the above-and-below stars many times, but perhaps also because my senses were not as alert as they had once been, the sight, still spectacular, was less so.

Even during New York’s bad days, I did not feel afraid running over the bridge during the day when it had a steady stream of bike riders and pedestrians. But there was one exception. A hundred yards on to the bridge, I could feel someone on a bike following me. I slowed up; he slowed up. I sped up; he sped up. I went one way around a pillar; he went the other. I stopped out of his sight at one pillar and hoped that he would get in front of me. He did not emerge. I resumed my running; he fell in behind me. My heart was racing from more than the running. At the end of the path, he finally came up alongside me and said that he appreciated my running. He had decided that I was a good runner and wanted to see if he could keep up with me, especially on the uphill part. I thought it a bit bizarre, but I was relieved and bid him a good rest of the day.

The walkway physically changed in the years that I regularly ran the Brooklyn Bridge. In the beginning, the gradient was less steep than now because it was punctuated by a dozen or so steps three or four times in the mile. This didn’t make much of a difference to runners and walkers, but it meant that bikers had to get off and carry the bicycle up or down the steps. It meant that bikers seldom got a head of steam, and I thought that kept everything safer. The walkway, however, was renovated to remove the stairs. That concerned me because I thought that bikes would go too fast once they had an uninterrupted half-mile downhill.

The danger now, however, does not come from the bikers as much as from the pedestrians. Back when I ran over the bridge, few tourists were on it. The walkway was primarily used by a certain type of a dedicated New Yorker. Times have changed as the walkway has become a tourist destination. This has brought a group of vendors who mostly congregate on the Manhattan edge of the bridge. The number of the tourist pedestrians has increased so that walking across the bridge is like walking on a crowded sidewalk. The walkway has a line painted down its middle, and those on foot are supposed to be on one side and bike riders on the other. The number of pedestrians, however, has become so large that they almost always spill over onto the bike lane, and, of course, the tourists are gawking, mostly looking for pictures to take. As they move to get the right background for their selfie (would the world really be worse off if the selfie stick had never been invented?), they often do not pay close attention to where they stand and move into the path of a bike. I have yet to see a collision, but I have seen many close calls. When I ran the bridge, I could run freely without having my strides impeded by others. Today that is impossible.

After I gave up running, I often rode a bike over the Brooklyn Bridge, and that could be done safely. That is no longer true, and savvy bike riders now head to the Manhattan Bridge. That bridge’s two walkways are now open. I don’t like them much. They are narrow and next to the road and subway tracks that go over the bridge, and I find that jarring, but one of the walkways is designated just for bikes, and it is a much safer way for the riders to cross the East River than the Brooklyn Bridge.

The renovation of the walkway that eliminated the steps got me some brief, and quite limited, fame. There was a controversy about how the work was to be undertaken. The city planned to close the walkway during the renovations. I then worked in lower Manhattan, and regularly commuted by running over the bridge. One day, I was stopped on the walkway near Manhattan and asked to sign a petition to keep the walkway open during the work. Unbeknownst to me, a Post or Daily News photographer snapped my picture, and that photograph later appeared accompanying the newspaper story. I did not regularly read that newspaper and had not seen the picture, but the next day, I went into Perry’s, the grocery store a couple of blocks from my home where I often shopped in my running clothes. Stewart, the nice guy who ran the store, said that he had seen my picture in the paper. I said that I did not know what he was talking about, and he pulled out the paper from behind the counter. He was right. I was in the picture. As far as I know, Stewart was the only person who saw that picture and recognized me.


Running the Brooklyn Bridge

I started running by doing it after work, but soon I was also running at lunch a few times a week. At first, I ran around a small park near my downtown Brooklyn office, but then I wanted to go further. I started to run over the nearby Brooklyn Bridge, turn around, and run back. I had walked over the bridge a few times before, but this began what would be many, many more trips over the bridge. As time went on, I frequently ran between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and in those days, the Manhattan Bridge walkway was not open, and the Brooklyn Bridge was often the most convenient route for me. I am not sure what the total number of trips were, but I am confident I ran over it more than a thousand times.

I fell in love with the Brooklyn Bridge. Its distance was satisfying. It is almost exactly a mile from the Brooklyn steps to the walkway to the Manhattan terminus of the bridge. The upward sweep was a bit of a running challenge, but not too much so, and going downwards was not too steep to be excessively hard on my knees. It was also pleasing because the walkway is on a higher level than the roadway. I would be aware of the cars and when there was bad traffic on the bridge, try to race them across the span, but the elevated walkway kept me separate from the traffic. Mostly, however, it was satisfying to run the Brooklyn Bridge because of its beauty and the sights I could see.

The bridge’s Gothic arches are iconic for good reason and have captured the imaginations and talents of artists, including, of course, those of Georgia O’Keefe’s. Those stone arches, however, did more than just define the bridge. Because of the bridge’s incline, the arches were not only in front of me, but also above me. They seemed to represent a symbolic goal. From the Brooklyn side, they framed the Manhattan skyline through their openings. They made me want to reach Manhattan, be a part of Manhattan. That skyline, however, cannot be contained in the frame of the arches. It extends above and around those pillars. New York can be reached; it can be entered, but it can never be encompassed. There is always more.

I especially loved running the bridge towards Manhattan after a light rain. The walkway consisted of wooden beams, and when wet, those planks would reflect the arches. The arches were underfoot and in front of and above me all at the same time.

Running to Manhattan in the early morning on a clear day brought a different kind of light. I would be running west and the rising sun would be behind me. The windows of the Manhattan skyline would catch the sun and be aglow. The reflected oranges and yellows and reds made it seem as if a light show were being performed.

It seldom seemed as exciting running over the bridge towards Brooklyn. Brooklyn was home, but Manhattan had the better skyline. Even so, sometimes the run to Brooklyn, too, brought spectacular sights. There is a period in the spring and fall when the sun, as viewed from the bridge, sets directly behind the Statue of Liberty. When I would see that, I would always stop and soak up the sight. With the sun low on the horizon, the sun appeared unnaturally large and almost looked as if it were attached to the Statue. I never found a spot off the bridge where I could observe this phenomenon, and when I saw it, I was always grateful that I had taken up running.

The bookend to this was seeing a full moon rising over Brooklyn as I ran home with an early night run. A rising full moon has always been spectacular to me, but it was even more so from the elevation of the bridge walkway.

Another night scene was more memorable to me. Sometimes I ran over the bridge on a cold, clear winter’s night–the kind of night when everything in the sky is extra crisp, and although stars are not really a New York City feature, where even the stars stood out. The bridge’s wooden-slatted walkway had gaps between the boards. Through them I could see down to the East River. On these nights, the stars above stood out as if they could be touched, but looking down in the cold air, crisp images of lights could be seen reflected by the water. Those lights may only have been from buildings or vehicles, but they seemed to be the reflected stars. It felt as if the stars were above and below me, and I was running in their midst.

My running days are long gone, but my attraction for the Brooklyn Bridge has not ended. On occasion, I walk over it. This is now a bit of a struggle, and I am often amazed that it once was a nearly effortless run. Still, almost every time I go over the Brooklyn Bridge, I still find a sight that amazes or inspires me. As a result, my living room is filled with images of the bridge. I have an oil painting; a numbered print; photographs; a reproduced image I saw oat a New York Public Library exhibit; Christmas cards; and more, all depicting the Brooklyn Bridge.  (To be continued.)

His Honor’s House (continued)

Pamphlets on how to research the history of a Brooklyn home mostly gave advice on tracing the chain of title. Searching for deeds and mortgages brought back unpleasant memories of my worst grade in law school in the first- year Property course, and so I had little inclination to do that research even if I had the time. But as the years went by, more newspapers put back issues online, and these could be easily searched by computer. Occasionally, I would put the address of the house into the query box and find some bygone social news, such as this in 1896: “A cake and candy sale under the auspices of the Brooklyn Women’s Dumb Animal Aid association for the benefit of the Foundation fund was held from 4 to 10 P.M.” at the house.

Sometimes a story indicated the changing nature of urban life and services. An 1877 story reported on city hearings about garbage collection. No name was given, but a resident of the house testified, “Our ashes have been taken regularly for some time, but we have lost all faith in the swill man and burn our garbage.” The Landmark’s report had indicated that Samuel Booth owned the house until 1883, so presumably that person dissatisfied with the swill collector was a Booth or connected to one.

That report said Booth sold the house to Charles and Kate Glatz in 1883, and the Glatz family lived there for more than a decade. A report on March 16, 1893, said that their daughter, Henriette Caroline Glatz, was married, but it seems that something happened to the Glatz family soon afterward. A newspaper auction notice appeared April 28,1896. It did not mention Charles Glatz but did say that the house for sale was the “former residence of ex-Mayor Booth” and full particulars could be had from one Wilson Powell of Wall Street, attorney for the plaintiff, or with Benjamin Wright of Park Row, “attorney for some defendants.” Plaintiffs and defendants indicated some sort of dispute, but I could not find anything that indicated the nature of the legal matter that caused the auction or even whether the bidding happened. The painful memories of my law school property course continued to torment me, so I never traced the deeds to find the next owner. However, it is clear that others expected the auction to happen. In the “Positions Wanted” portion of the newspaper at the time of the sale notice, cooks and maids working and living at the house were advertising for new employment.

From the Landmark’s report, I know the first two owners of the house—Booth and Glatz—and the last two—us and the couple we bought it from, but I don’t know who any of the other owners were in the intervening seventy-five years. Perhaps, however, it was John Griffin who bought the house at the auction or shortly afterwards. A New York Times listing of deaths on April 30, 1904, said: “John Griffin, a sailmaker who was well known in yachting circles, died on Thursday at his home (our address). Mr. Griffin was seventy-two years old. He was one of the oldest sailmakers in this city. Wilson & Griffin, the firm of which he was a member, having been in business in South Street since 1862. The firm has made sails for a number of the defenders of the America’s Cup. Mr. Griffin has been retired from active business for several years. Two daughters and two sons survive him.” This brought some thoughts. The notice said that he had been retired, but being a typical New Yorker, I wondered how he had commuted from our house to South Street on lower Manhattan’s east waterfront in the days before subways. (One of the present advantages of our location is that many subway lines stop near the house.) Were there nearby horse-drawn omnibuses or trolleys that took him to the waterfront to catch a ferry over the East River? Did he regularly walk the three miles going over the Brooklyn Bridge, which had been open for twenty years? And, if Griffin was the owner, what happened to the house after his death? I don’t know.

A few short newspaper entries from the 1920s also had me wondering. A position wanted ad on September 7, 1921, stated, “Chauffeur, mechanic, Japanese, 35, married, 14 years constant experience. . . . Write Sadao” at our house’s address. Not many Japanese people lived in Brooklyn at that time. How did Sadao get here? To whom was he married? Why was he looking for a job? Where did he live in the house? Did he continue to live in Brooklyn decades later during World War II?

A brief report stated that on September 22, 1925, a marriage license was issued to Frank Caccaro, 25, and Mildred Bottomley, 21. What caught my eye is that both gave an address of our house. Hmmm. Did they meet and fall in love in the house? Did they openly live together before marriage? Did they continue to live in the house after the nuptials?

Perhaps Sadao, Frank, and Mildred were connected to the owner of the house, and, of course, they may have been servants. However, they also might have been roomers. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were broken up into rooming houses during World War II. We are not far from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During WWII the Yard was booming and workers poured into it, many of whom wanted a nearby place to lodge. Investors and speculators bought once-stately homes and chopped them up to make rooming houses with the result that many nineteenth-century details—marble fireplace mantels, ceiling moldings, massive doors—were lost or damaged.

Well before homes were bastardized to accommodate war industry workers, however, it was common for owners of Brooklyn homes to let rooms. Newspapers had regular listings of such offerings. Our address along with many others appeared frequently from the 1890s to the 1940s. For example, on May 18, 1902: “Large, cool rooms, handsomely furnished; two large closets; house has all improvements, first class board; terms moderate; reference.” The house was not a rooming house, but it had roomers. And I wonder what happened to those closets because I could never find them.

(continued January 7)

Running to Work (concluded)

When I left my job in White Plains and began to work in lower Manhattan, my running-commute continued, but now I regularly ran both to and from work. The route over the Brooklyn Bridge was a bit over three miles, which at this point was a bagatelle. When pressed for time, however, I used the Brooklyn Bridge. If I was not in a rush, I went over the Williamsburg Bridge, which is north of my home and north of where I worked. This U-shaped route was five or six miles long, and if I took the Brooklyn Bridge in the morning and the Williamsburg going home, I had put in a respectable daily mileage.

I had run the Brooklyn Bridge route so many times that most of it was boring, but the longer way brought me to neighborhoods I enjoyed going through. The route from my office to the Williamsburg Bridge had me wend through Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Sometimes I would stop in shops that looked interesting. One favorite was an old bagel shop. They mostly made bagels for delivery to other outlets, but they did have a retail counter where I would make a few purchases. My choices were limited. The shop was old school, or maybe it was alt shul.  No fifteen kinds of bagels. No pumpernickel or pesto or even cinnamon raisin. They made only a plain bagel, which was smaller and denser than what was even then becoming accepted as a bagel (the Wonder-Bread-inspired “bagels” are often correctly referred to as a BSO, a bagel-shaped object.) The bake shop rounded out their offerings only with bialys, a treat that has inexplicably almost disappeared, and a torpedo-shaped onion loaf. The products selection was limited, but all were delicious.

I also stopped in a Lower East Side store whose stock was hard to characterize. The dominant items were small appliances, but it also had a little of this and little of that. I learned not to assume that they did not have something simply because I did not see it. Ask, was the motto for this place. “Do you have a squeeze bottle with a star-shaped tip?” Or, “Do you have lefthanded pinking shears?” Often the answer was, “Let me see.” The owner would disappear somewhere for a few moments—maybe in the back or upstairs or the basement—and often came back with the requested item. I primarily stopped there to buy carbon dioxide cartridges, which were then hard to find, that I used in a seltzer bottle.

The owner and I sometimes chatted a bit. I learned that he lived on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge and often walked to work and that his father had started the business. I learned a little about his kids, but almost never heard about his wife. He asked about my work, and when he learned where I grew up, he asked about Wisconsin. He was fascinated by it, perhaps because it seemed so foreign to him, a person who seemed to have spent his life in a couple of square miles on either side of the East River. I, however, showed my unsophistication with him. It was the season of the Jewish High Holy Days, and I knew Yom Kippur was approaching. I thought that that was the start of a new year on the Jewish calendar, and I wished him a happy new year. By the look on his face, I discerned that this was not an appropriate comment. Only then did I remember that Yom Kippur was a day of reflection, fasting, and atonement, not a time of celebration. The store owner said nothing about my faux pas.

In those days, Manhattan’s Lower East Side had a strong Jewish presence. When I got over the bridge I was in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, which was the home of many Hasidic Jews. Their distinctive dress makes them stand out in most places, but they were so common in Williamsburg after a while I did not notice the adults much. From having seen them elsewhere in New York I, without consciously thinking about it, assumed that none was good-looking, and all were frumpily dressed. (Does this make me prejudiced?)  I had to reassess my views. The young orthodox boys fit my preconceptions, but many of the young girls were attractive and stylishly dressed. I found that there were discounted dress shops for girls in Williamsburg, and I bought the last dress that the daughter regularly wore at one of them. But the good looks and the stylishness of those young girls seemed to decline each year as they got older. Or maybe I just got older.

I did not stop in as many stores in Williamsburg as I did in the Lower East Side. While the Lower East Side shops were Jewish owned, they seemed to cater to all those who ventured in. The Hasid shops of Williamsburg primarily seemed to exist for other Hasids. I would stop occasionally in a bakery on my way home to get some poppy seed bread, but without the beard and sideburn ringlets and in my running clothes with uncovered arms and legs, I felt unwelcome and stopped going.

My running attire, however, did not prevent me from being stopped one Friday evening by an Orthodox Jew as a ran through his neighborhood.  He politely inquired whether I was a Jewish.  I said that I was not. He pressed on and asked if my purported lack of Jewishness was because I was a lapsed Jew. Again, I said that I was not. (I don’t know if it would have made a difference to him if I then knew what one of those DNA-testing companies much later told me—I am four percent Ashkenazi Jew) After determining this pedigree, he asked if I would do him the favor of coming into the house and turning off his over. He was forbidden to do so on the sabbath. This was the only time, and it was only because of running, that I got the experience of being a shabbat goy.



Collecting Bridges (concluded)

When I worked in White Plains, a city in Westchester County north of the Bronx, I would take the subway from my Brooklyn home to the northern reaches of Manhattan and run the eight or ten or twelve miles to White Plains. That meant crossing the Harlem River. There are a number of bridges with walkways that do that, and I ran over quite a few of them, but I don’t remember their names. I did not especially enjoy these bridges. I almost always ran them going to the Bronx. The views of the Bronx were uninspiring, and often I was thinking about how it was going to be running through the South Bronx, a very tough neighborhood in those days. These bridges were utilitarian, only part of my route to get me from point A to point B.

Just as I ran over the George Washington Bridge only once, I ran over the Manhattan Bridge but once. In my running days, the Manhattan Bridge walkways were not open. The plural is correct because that bridge has walkways on both north and south sides. I call them walkways even though one is now supposedly reserved for bicyclists and the other for pedestrians. I have gone over both walkways since they opened, but by walking or biking, not running. Neither is pleasant.  Both are narrow and on the same level as the road and the subway tracks.  With trains rattling twelve yards away and cars constantly on the move even closer, the bridge is hardly a respite from the city. On the plus side, however, I like peering down into Chinatown, a place that still retains some mystery for me.

The only time that I ran over the Manhattan Bridge was in a race, put on by a newspaper that printed legal news. It was billed as a courthouse-to-courthouse run.  It started at the federal courthouse in Manhattan, went over the Manhattan Bridge on the roadway to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, turned around, back over the bridge again, and ended at the federal courthouse in Manhattan’s Foley Square. We ran on the bridge’s road, not either of its walkways, and the entire race may have been four miles. I remember nothing of what I saw.

I do remember, however, many of the runs over the Williamsburg Bridge. Those runs were not nearly as frequent as my passages on the Brooklyn Bridge, but I ran the Williamsburg Bridge frequently going to and from my office when I worked in lower Manhattan. If I wanted a short run, I ran from my home over the Brooklyn Bridge to my law school or vice versa, a three-plus-mile distance. If I wanted something longer, I went over the Williamsburg, about a 10K run.

The Williamsburg Bridge walkway was not in good shape when I ran it. It was supposed to be covered with something like tiles, but many were missing, giving a sense of decay. The path did not seem unsafe, but it was unsightly. It, however, was elevated above the roadway allowing unimpeded views. The bridge is situated at a dramatic bend in the East River. To the north, one can see to the United Nations and beyond; to the south, to Governor’s Island, the Statute of Liberty, and beyond. No bridge I had crossed before or since offered better views. If you get the chance, walk or bike or run across that bridge. But stop in the middle of the span and admire the view.

But running in New York also brought me to many other bridges because, as I said, New York City is a city of bridges. Many of the bridges are not widely known, but I have run over bridges that span the Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal; that are above waters in Mill Basin and Gerritsen Beach; and that separate the Rockaways from the mainland. I have run over bridges to get to Roosevelt Island and City Island. There are bridges in Central Park and Prospect Park.

Running has given me memories of many New York City bridges. They gave me vistas and skies and waters I would not otherwise have seen or noticed. But there was another good thing about those bridge-crossings. They often brought me to a new neighborhood, places to learn about and explore. But that is for another day.


Running the Brooklyn Bridge

Before the Marathon

Who is Othmar?

Collecting Bridges

It may not be apparent when walking the canyons of Manhattan, sitting on the stoop of a Brooklyn brownstone, or gazing longingly at the single-family homes of Forest Hills, but New York City is a city of bridges. When I was younger and a runner, I experienced many of those bridges and in a different way from driving over them. Each time I ran over a bridge for the first time, I was aware it was a new experience. I felt as if I had “collected” another one.

I have both walked and run over the Brooklyn Bridge, but I have run over it many more times than I have walked it. Early in my running days, I would run over it and back at lunch time. Later I would run to and from work over the Brooklyn Bridge several times a week. I have tried to calculate the total number of trips, but those calculations are not precise. I’m guessing it was more than a thousand times. I have run the Brooklyn Bridge in the heat and humidity of summer and the cold and crispness of winter, early morning and at night, in rain and in snow, and almost every time its Gothic arches, its supporting wires’ parabolas, its views gave me some sort of thrill.

While I have been over the Brooklyn Bridge many times, I ran over the the George Washington Bridge that connects New York City and New Jersey but once. It was after seeing a doctor in upper Manhattan. I ran from the office to nearby parks on the Manhattan side of the Hudson River and then north to the bridge. I had driven over the bridge many times, and I always admired the view north up the Hudson. The Hudson is a majestic river, and I envy those who have homes overlooking it. However, I was a bit disappointed as I ran across the GWB. The walkway is on the south side of the bridge, so the view up the Hudson is obstructed. On the other hand, this walkway is higher than any of the other bridge walkways and this allowed me to feel as if I were taking my place among the birds. The sun was strong and sparkled off the water far below. The views of Manhattan were spectacular with the sun mirroring off skyscraper windows. Everything looked like a stage set.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Brooklyn and Staten Island is also high above the water. (New York arcana: While the structure is the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the water it spans is simply The Narrows.) I have run over that bridge only while participating in New York City marathons. That is hardly surprising since that bridge does not have a walkway and the only time it can be traversed on foot is during that event. I understand that it must cost extra to include a pedestrian path, and that it might be seldom used on this particular bridge, but I do think all bridges should allow for foot and bike traffic.

Running that bridge during a marathon was hardly a sightseeing opportunity. The marathon starts on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the runners are tightly clustered. I only could see other runners, and I had to concentrate on running my pace without either being run over or stepping on someone’s heels. If there was a spectacular view of the harbor (there no doubt is), I never saw it.

The marathon goes across the 59th Street Bridge, also known as the Queensboro Bridge connecting Manhattan and Queens, too. (Now that bridge has an additional name because, for reasons not clear to me, the city or state, or whoever is in charge of such naming, adds dead politicians’ names to them.) I hated it. During the race, we were allowed to run on the roadway or the walkway. The first time I ran on the road because it was more open with fewer runners than the walkway, but the road has little metal projections, presumably to give cars more traction, but they felt like spikes and hurt my feet. In subsequent years I tried to run on the walkway, which was covered with matting.

Even if my feet were not hurt by the bridge, it was hard running. The 59th Street Bridge comes at the sixteen-mile mark of the marathon. Sixteen miles is a long way to run, but there are still ten more miles to go! It was hard not to be psychologically drained at this point, and, of course, the half the bridge uphill. That incline seemed a mile long, and that was tough to do after sixteen miles. That bridge itself was the loneliest part of the marathon. The runners by now had thinned, many were struggling, and there were no spectators to cheer us on. Thoughts about dropping out surfaced, but I struggled to make it over the bridge each marathon.

Even though I have no pleasant memories of the 59th Street Bridge from the marathon, I did run over it a few other times. When I was not so exhausted from having run sixteen miles before encountering it, it was not so bad. But still I never enjoyed it. The walkway is next to the highway, and the bridge’s structure impedes views of Manhattan and the East River. I decided to avoid the 59th Street Bridge on my runs as much as possible.

(continued on August 10.)


Running the Brooklyn Bridge

Before the Marathon

Who is Othmar?


How Did He Learn All That Stuff?

He was far more educated than his formal education would suggest. A high school diploma ended the father’s educational credentials, but he knew lots about history and geography and physics and politics and sports. He knew things about words that few knew. He taught me, correctly, that the preferred pronunciation for “err” was ur not air. The noun was air-ur, but the verb was ur. (This made me realize that there was a certain irony whenever someone says, “To air is human.”) He made few grammatical mistakes and got upset whenever a letter from one of his kids mailed from college had one.

I don’t how he learned facts about the moon or the physics of archery or the importance of Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech. It is entirely possible that a high school education in his day was at a much higher level than it is today, but I think what was behind his surprising knowledge was that he simply liked to learn. However, I am somewhat puzzled what he used for sources. He did not read books. (When I was well into adulthood, the father visited me in New York, and we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him that there was a very good book about the Bridge’s construction, and he took my copy of The Great Bridge by David McCullough when he went home. A month later, he sent it back to me. I found a note from him tucked inside: “I read the whole book.” It was the only book that I ever knew he read.) Other than Reader’s Digest, some golf publications, and maybe True, he seldom looked at any of the magazines that were in the house. On the other hand, he was an avid reader of newspapers. Two came to us daily plus another one, heavy on Wisconsin politics, came weekly. It isn’t just nostalgia when I say newspapers were better back then. You could learn more from them than today. The father certainly did.

He knew, however, that his learning was limited. His regret at not having a college education was evident. I asked the brother about memories from our childhood, and one of his replies was how the father stressed the importance of a college education. If you had asked me when I was four or five, I would have told you that I was going to college. Perhaps that may not seem remarkable, but many of my father’s friends did not have even a high school diploma. Some of their children, my contemporaries, did not finish high school. Their parents may have stressed a good job, but that could have meant being a tool and die maker or a bookkeeper, but they did not stress formal education. The father did. There was little doubt that his three children were going to college, and that had to make him something of an outlier in his social circles.

He sacrificed for our educations. He got a second mortgage on our quite modest house to help finance our educations, but he never mentioned that to us. I only learned about it much later. Sending his kids to college was not an easy thing, but he was not a father who reminded his children of all the sacrifices he had made for them.

We were told the importance of a college education time and again, and the sister, the brother, and I all got good college and post-college educations. He never said it, but surely the father must have felt that if he had gone to college, he would have had a better job with more income. We were not told, however, to get a college education to make sure that we were ready for a good job. It was not go to college and get trained as an accountant or a schoolteacher or for a marketing career. He never suggested that we should treat college as a high level vocational school. The chief point to the education was simply to learn as much as we could about . . .everything.

I, too, like to learn. I am proud of that and think that quality helps define me. I want to believe that it one of my best innate qualities. But perhaps it is not something I discovered for myself. Perhaps I got it from him.


The six around the table were all highly educated and literate, but only one—the spouse—knew the correct pronunciation of “pyramidal,” with the accent on the second syllable—“pi-RAM-i-dl.” I was not sure that I had ever heard or read the word before. Then the next day I saw it in each of the first two chapters of George Orwell’s 1984. I have been looking for some special meaning in these events but have failed.


“In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we take.” William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow.


I went to my first Bach at One concert of the season. It was understandable, but I still felt chagrined, that now I had to go through a metal detector to get into St. Paul’s Chapel. I was surprised, but not all that chagrined, that this time no offering plate was passed during the performance.


I wish I had taken a picture of a group of pubescent boys walking across the Brooklyn Bridge as they passed a photo shoot of a six-foot blonde model.  They tried not to stare, but they failed. I, too, tried not to stare.


Why, if the score is tied after nine, do people say the game is going into extra innings? Isn’t it going into an extra inning? Only if the game goes into the eleventh is it extra innings.


“We are all refugees from our childhoods.” Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.


I just watched The Darkest Hour, the movie about Winston Churchill in the early days of WWII, and I noticed what I had not seen before in movie credits. Towards the end of these credits, it said (I did not have the time to write down the exact words), that the use of tobacco in the film (Churchill constantly puffed a cigar and others smoked cigarettes) was for historical accuracy and was not intended to promote smoking. That disappointed me because I was going to justify my cigar smoking by referring to The Darkest Hour.


He said his name is Louis. He is in the Coast Guard. His father is a retired military man—twenty years active duty, thirteen years of reserves–from Minnesota near Fargo. His father commanded a tank corps in the Gulf War. His mother was born in Germany. She met his father when he was stationed there. Louis misses the beer and bratwurst of Germany. He said that he hoped to live in Germany again. He likes Texas barbecue. Louis said that when his four-year Coast Guard stint was up he wants to be a Texas state trooper. Louis said he “idolized” his father. After the drydock was completed, Louis’ ship would be sent again to interdict drugs off the South American coast. Louis asked me if I knew of a nearby strip club. Louis is an American. His is an American family.