Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sleepless – book review

I have not been sleeping well lately, so I am reminded of the excellent novel published in 2010 by Charlie Huston entitled Sleepless. The story takes place in the not too distant future in Los Angeles . About ten percent of the world’s population has become afflicted by a strange new disease. They can’t sleep.

Sleepless

 

The victims of this disease want to sleep and they desperately need to sleep, they just can’t.  The human body requires sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep strange things happen.  People who have extreme sleep deprivation can start to have what they think are hallucinations. These are actually dreams that your brain is having while you are awake. The brain needs to dream and if you don’t go to sleep it will do it while you are awake.

In this futuristic world, there is one source of hope for the sleepless. A pharmaceutical giant has perfected a drug called “Dreamer” which counteracts the effects of the disease and allows a person to sleep. The problem is that it is in very short supply. New people are getting infected with the disease faster than the drug can be produced. The shortage of the drug has created chaos in the streets. Riots have occurred, people have attacked the drug maker’s buildings and rumors are spreading.

The hero of the story is a private detective named Park.  He is a tough as nails ex-cop who is hired to find out if  the rumors are true. Is the drug really in short supply, or is the drug company just holding back supply to keep the price up? Is everyone getting a fair chance to get the drug or are some people getting special treatment?

Park has a personal reason to take on the case. His wife has become a victim to the disease and he has seen her slowly falling into the madness that descends on someone who cannot sleep. Despite all his resourcefulness he has not been able to get her even a single dose of the drug and he wants to find out why.

People will do strange things when they can’t sleep. They need to keep themselves occupied. Many of the victims have turned to a very complex on-line game called Chasm Tide.  The best players are the sleepless since they can play 24 hours a day.  But there is a more sinister aspect to the game.

There are rumors that if you can get to certain levels in the game and unlock certain doors the reward will be that the game will tell you where to find the drug Dreamer in the real world. The rumors are fueled by the fact that the game was designed by the son of the head of the pharmaceutical company which makes Dreamer. One hundred percent of the people playing the game believe the rumors, which makes them willing to do anything in the real world to get hints on how to move forward in the game.

This book is wonderfully written and there are many mysteries and plot twists as Parker delves deeper and deeper into the strange and twisted world of the sleepless gamers. His search for the truth is fueled by the fact  that his beloved wife has become one of them.

This is an exciting novel to read and when you are done with it you will never take a good night’s rest for granted again.

sleepy dog

 

 

Quick Sketeches

These are pictures of some quick sketches made by the Gentle Woman’s daughter.

ROBIN PAINTINGS 002Drawn with pencil free-hand.

ROBIN PAINTINGS 001The Gentle Woman’s daughter does not consider herself a good artist. Most of these drawings were rescued from the garbage after the Gentle Woman’s daughter had thrown them out.

ROBIN PAINTINGS 003A sad girl gets comfort from her cat.

ROBIN PAINTINGS 004If you look closely you will see that one of the anime figures has a small tear.

ROBIN PAINTINGS 006

Burning Leaves Cooked the Perfect Potato

This story was written by the Editor of East Coast Stories and first appeared in the book We Made Own Fun.

FALL TREES

When I was a boy in Connecticut, Fall was my favorite time of year. By October, the sun was still bright, but the crisp wind off Long Island Sound hinted that Winter’s cold was just around the corner.

All the yards in my neighborhood had huge old maple and hickory trees. When the wind blew, brightly colored leaves rained down on us. This was long before the days of recycling and mulching, so my father would simply rake the leaves into a gigantic pile at the curb and light it on fire.

I know this wasn’t good for the air quality index (a term which didn’t exist then) but burning leaves was one of the highlights of the Fall. The children would circle around the fires for warmth, watching in amazement as the leaves  quickly caught fire and burned; giving off a wonderful aroma and crackling sounds.

My mother would give each child a large raw potato to throw into the burning leaves. Then we’d search the neighborhood for the largest sticks we could find and periodically pull the potatoes out of the fire to check on their progress.

After what seemed like forever, the pile of leaves was reduced to a fine ash and our potatoes were done. We held them in gloved hands as we brushed off the blackened skin. I can still taste that first delicious bite!

baked potato

Over the years, I’ve eaten in some of the finest restaurants in the country, and I often order a baked potato with my meal. But I’ve never had one that tasted as good as those I ate as a child, while a cold October wind blew a million leaves through the air.

 

 

The Gentle Woman’s Bunny Settles in

So many people have asked how the Gentle Woman’s bunny is doing that we decided to post some new pictures.

Old Mom Photos 013Before we had Sunshine we never realized that some types of rabbits can jump up onto furniture as easily as a cat can.

Old Mom Photos 015Here he is contemplating his next move.

Old Mom Photos 007This picture captures an actual “Binky” with Sunshine jumping and turning mid-air.

Old Mom Photos 004Not at all camera shy.

Old Mom Photos 016Aaah!

Old Mom Photos 008Trying to figure out how to climb an iron table leg.

Old Mom Photos 002The stairs are always fun.

 

Old Mom Photos 017Chewing on a pajama.

Old Mom Photos 005Taking a break.

 

The Real Arthur Ashe

It was so long ago it seems like a different world. Forty-four years to be exact when the American  Arthur Ashe faced off against the Australian John Newcombe in the Quarter Finals of the 1970 U.S. Open Tennis Championships in Forest Hills New York. My friend Michael’s father was in the publishing business and somehow he had not only gotten us tickets to the event, he had managed to secure us Press Passes which included access to the locker rooms and all the club member areas.

Tennis was different then. We wore jackets and ties to the event. The rest of the crowd was equally dressed up. People who now go to tennis tournaments dress like they are pretending to be players, in tennis outfits and  sports gear. The players themselves now dress in multicolored fancy outfits often with their own design labels.

Arthus Ashe

Forty Four years ago the sport was a lot less colorful. Players dressed in all white. Tennis was mostly played at private clubs with all white membership. The professional tennis players themselves were white. Then Arthur Ashe came along.

He did not actually look like a professional athlete. He was tall and skinny and wore glasses. He did not have what would be called a dramatic style, but he was persistent and chased after every ball.

John Newcombe was considered the top player that year. He had been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

John Newcombe

Newcombe was ruggedly handsome, very muscular with a wickedly fast serve that could actually knock the racket out of an opposing player’s hand. Everyone assumed that Newcombe would crush Ashe and move on to the semi-finals.

As we watched the first set it appeared that all the predictions were correct. Ashe was unable to return Newcombe’s serve. Michael and I took full advantage of our press passes and went down to the members-only restaurant which was at court level. It had a plexiglass wall that looked out at the court directly behind Ashe. We sat there as Ashe missed serve after serve by Newcombe. The tennis ball would fly by Ashe and then smash into the plexiglass with a bang hard enough so shake the whole window.

Newcombe did indeed crush Ashe in the first set beating him 6 games to 1.  However Arthur Ashe showed no emotion. As one of the first African-Americans to go pro in the sport, Ashe had been given strong advice from an early coach on how to behave. The coach warned Ashe that there would be some prejudiced officials who would be looking for excuses to throw Ashe out of a match.

The coach told Arthur never to show anger if he was losing and never to gloat if he was winning. Ashe followed that advice and soon found that it actually gave him an advantage, especially over very emotional opponents.  He found that it drove some opponents crazy that they could get no reaction from Arthur no matter what they did.

Instead of getting upset, Ashe must have re-examined the techniques of his game, because somehow in the second set he was like a new man. He was able to return the serves and volleys and began winning games. He still lost the second set, but it had to go to a tie-breaking game and when the second set was done Newcombe had only won 7 games to 6.

By the third set Ashe seemed to have found the weaknesses in Newcombe’s play, and Ashe won the third set 7 games to 5. The score was now Newcombe 2 Sets Ashe 1 Set. It took 3 sets to win a match.

The next set was incredibly exciting. Both players were terrific.  They had long volleys, smashing overhead returns and dropping net balls. The set was tied at 6 games each.

There would be a tie-breaker game. If Newcombe won the game he would win the match. If Ashe won, then play would continue into a fifth set.  The officials blew a bugle and hoisted a red flag to show the seriousness of the tie-breaker. Looking back it seems silly that adults would do that, but it was really exciting and the crowd loved it.

The tie breaker seemed to go on forever, with Ashe returning almost every shot Newcombe could hit.  But in the end, it wasn’t Ashe’s day, and Newcombe won the game, set and match. Arthur Ashe had lost the match, but he had won the crowd, which was on its feet loudly cheering both men.

Michael and I made our way down through the crowd and used our press passes to get into the locker room. It was exactly like what you would expect in a tennis club in those days. It was spacious with oak paneling and thick plush carpet. Sitting on one of the benches was Arthur Ashe himself quietly discussing the finer points of the match with two other men who seemed to be coaches. As so-called “reporters” we had the right to go up and ask him questions, but we did not. Somehow it just seemed wrong to disturb such a sports gentleman and ask him a lot of stupid questions about why he had lost. He may have lost but what was more important was that he had never stopped trying even when he had been crushed 6 games to 1 in the first set. Michael and I slipped out of the locker room and left Arthur Ashe and his coaches to discuss strategies for future matches.

Unfortunately the Arthur Ashe story itself does not have a happy ending. Despite being rail thin and a professional athlete he had congenital heart problems and underwent heart bypass surgery. Even in the 1980’s hospitals were not routinely screening blood for HIV and  Ashe was given blood contaminated with the virus during his operation. He contracted HIV and died from AIDS in 1993. Getting a fatal disease that way would have been enough to make anyone bitter, but that was not his stye. He used it as an opportunity to raise AIDS awareness and raise money for research. He continued to be a philanthropist and  inspiration right up until his death. He faced this final episode in his life the way he faced his opponents on the court, with a quiet dignity and determination.

Ashe with Glasses

 

 

 

The Real Taylor Swift – 13-13

This summer has been very cool, after a long cold winter. In fact, this summer has been so cold that it is easy to forget how unbelievably hot last summer was. It was in the peak of the heatwave in 2013 that Taylor Swift gave an outdoor concert at the Meadowlands in New Jersey as part or her Red tour, and East Coast Stories was there on July 13, 2013.

Taylor Swift July 13th 2013 174

Taylor has not had good luck with outdoor concerts. When she gave one in Boston she was caught on stage in a torrential freezing cold rain storm that left her unable to perform  for several weeks. In New Jersey she had the opposite weather problem. It was 95 degrees and 85 percent humidity at an outdoor concert with no shade.

The crowd started to arrive hours before the event and the first thing they noticed was the large police presence. These were not ordinary crowd control police. These guys were dressed in full battle gear with bullet-proof vests, helmets and M16s . It turned out that the government intelligence services had picked up what was later described as a “credible terrorist threat”. Taylor Swift had been notified of this, but the crowd at the time did not know. We just thought the police were a little over the top with the battle gear. After all, it’s not like it was a hockey game.

If you have never been to a Taylor Swift concert then you may not be prepared for the crowd. They don’t just watch the event. They are an integral part of the show. A lot of the people are in costumes relating to the various videos Taylor has done. People have intricate hand-made signs that light up.  Despite the heat the woman next to us was dressed in a full body cat suit with fur. We were afraid that at any moment she would pass out from the heat and we would have to carry her out.

The concert was in Metlife stadium where this year the Super Bowl was played. We were lucky enough to get seats on the field, near the stage. Before the concert starts, Taylor’s mother comes out and walks through the crowd.  She does this every concert and picks out about 10 or 15 people who get invited to come back stage at the end of the concert to have pizza and soda with Taylor herself. They usually get picked based on how good their costumes are and how enthusiastic behave. A fellow near us got picked. Since it was the Red tour, a lot of people had dressed in red, but this guy had gone the extra step. He had fashioned a costume made entirely out of those giant red plastic beer cups you see at every company picnic. He was wearing hundreds of them including a hat made from them. He looked like an enormous red porcupine with beer cups instead of quills.

There was a stir in the crowd as the concert was about to start. No, you don’t get to see Taylor right away. There are two warmup groups first. There was Florida Georgia Line which is a good but not well known country band. After them came Ed Sheeran who has the hit song The A team.

Ed Sheeran is an incredibly energetic performer. He has no band, so we were expecting him to sit and play the guitar and sing a series of sad songs like The A Team. It turns out that is not his style. He has his guitar fixed up so that it can do repeating and even drum  sounds, which makes him a one man band by himself.   He gets the audience on its feet and singing along with him. He runs around the stage and jumps onto the speakers, at one point coming very close to falling off and into the audience., all without missing a beat.  And he was doing this in 95 degree heat.

The Sun went down we all expected the air to begin to cool. That did not happen. There was no breeze and the stadium was now so packed it was actually hotter than it had been when the show started.

Then came the big moment. Taylor appeared on stage. The noise was unbelievable. Not from the amplifiers, but from the crowd.   A Taylor Swift concert is not just a concert. It is a complete stage show, with multiple scenes, costumes, dancers, acrobats and, of course, music.  Taylor herself not only sings but dances and jumps around the stage. She never hangs back. She works from the very front of the stage getting as close to the audience as possible,  We were hot just sitting in the audience. She must have been roasting.

At one point in the concert she actually walks  through the crowd and sits on a small back stage so that a different part of the audience can see her.

Taylor Swift July 13th 2013 173

The pictures we took at that point are a little different than those you usually see of Taylor Swift, and they are not the clearest. However if you look closely you can see that she is drenched in sweat and her hair is matted down and dripping. Despite that, she never once faltered in her singing and never complained about the heat or the lack of air flow. She was on stage and moving constantly for over three hours giving everything she had for her fans.

When the concert was over and we were leaving we noticed that there were about a thousand people who were in lawn chairs in the parking lot. It turns out that a lot of people who could not get tickets sat in the parking lot just to hear the music.

zz burka

The parking lot was still being patrolled by police with M16 rifles. Now that we know about the terrorist threat it does not seem as far fetched as you might think. It was not just about having a big crowd in one place. Taylor Swift herself is exactly the kind of woman who groups like Al Queda are afraid of. She is beautiful, intelligent, talented and ambitious.  None of her songs are the old time county tunes about “standing by your man” even when he treats you badly or cheats on you. Her songs  all about women who stand up for themselves and don’t allow anyone to mistreat them. Like her song Should’ve Said No.

When some people think of Taylor Swift they visualize one of her pictures from a magazine ad when her hair and makeup are perfect. When we think of the real Taylor Swift we think of someone  who gave 100% for a group of fans in New Jersey despite a death threat and blistering heat. She is beautiful, strong, talented, and never ever Mean.

ZZ TAYLOR

 

 

 

 

More Fun Than A Barrel of Money

I was a child T.V. Star! Well maybe “Star” is exaggerating a little but. OK. maybe a lot; but I was on T.V. in 3 television commercials.

Old Mom Photos 022I had the angelic face and the blonde hair that showed up great on black & white T.V.  Yes, this was in the early days of television. Back when even the big studios in New York City and Hollywood were primitive by today’s standards.

I was not making commercials in New York or Hollywood.  My commercials were written, produced, filmed and aired at Channel 8 in New Haven Connecticut.

My mother was an experienced  actress. She had been on Broadway and had appeared in the original Car 54 Where Are You? Like most actors she supplemented her income with commercials. She was the spokeswoman for a chain of discount stores named W.T. Grant. She did all their commercials on the radio.

As Christmas time was approaching, the executives at W.T. Grant decided to go all out and make some T.V. commercials advertising their toys.  They had a very low budget, and needed them done fast. My mother was asked to do the commercials and they needed some kids to play with the toys while she did the voice-over.

WT GRANT

My mother volunteered my sisters and me to be in the commercials. What could be cheaper and faster than using your own kids? When I say fast I mean it.  I have heard that some modern commercials, like the kind they air at a Super Bowl can take 6 months to make. At Channel 8 we completed 3 commercials in 1 day, and we didn’t even work overtime.

Mom drove us to New  Haven and showed us around the studio. Old Mom Photos 021

We were excited to be there. None of us kids had ever seen a real T.V. studio before. The first thing that struck us was how fake it all was up close. We saw one set that looked like a boat on T.V. We were shocked to see that in real life it was made of cardboard and paper.

The other strange thing was how few people there were.  To film our commercials there was one cameraman, the director and a  sound engineer. That was it.

The cement floor was covered with a cheap rug. Some furniture and a fake Christmas tree were moved onto the set to make it look like a family’s living room. While  the cameraman  set this up the sound guy kept us kids amused by playing any song we asked for. We really liked The Elephant Walk.

The cameraman was a massive muscular guy with U.S. Navy tattoos.  Most people would find him scary looking, but he was nice and great with us kids. All cameramen were big in those days. The cameras themselves were large and heavy. They were on wheels but with no motors. Cameramen had to be strong enough to smoothly slide the cameras around so the film would not look all jerky.

When it cam time to shoot the commercial, my sisters and I just had to play with the toys while my mother spoke. My sisters got dolls, but I got the fun toy. It was a flying saucer with miniature Martians.  If you cranked it up it would spin.

But there was one line in the voice-over that my mother just could not get right. She was supposed to say, “these toys are more fun than a barrel of monkeys” . The camera was rolling, we kids were playing with our toys and my mother loudly proclaimed that “these toys are more fun that a barrel of money!”

The director, cameraman and sound engineer all roared with laughter. The cameraman called out, “honey, there ain’t nothing more fun than a barrel of money!”

My Mom tried it 5 more times and she kept saying “barrel of money.”  Somehow it got funnier each time and everyone was hysterical.  The director suggested changing the script, but my Mom refused. She was a true professional and insisted she get it right. Finally she took a 15 minute break and had some coffee.  Then she came back and delivered the “barrel of monkeys” line perfectly.

Our 3 commercials done we kids said goodby to the nice people at Channel 8, piled into the station wagon and Mom drove us home while we kids dozed off.

It had been a wonderful day, one I will remember fondly forever.  Looking back now I realize that my mother was right all along. There are not too many days like that. Being with your mother and sisters, and getting to spend the day playing with toys while everyone laughs over and over at something funny.

To a child, a day like that really is more fun than a barrel of money.

 

 

Three Little Words

Walter sat in his cubicle obsessing about the three little words. He used to think that the most powerful 3 words in the English language were “I love you.” Some more mean spirited people thought “Go F**k Yourself!” were the most powerful 3 words. However today Walter had found there was a worse phrase.

The phrase had come at the end of his quarterly sales performance review. Walter had known the review was going to be bad. His sales were down almost 5% from the prior quarter. He had a whole list of excuses ready. The general economy was bad. His biggest customer was re-tooling its factory.  The warehouse had shipped products late.

But his regional manager, Todd, had not yelled at Walter at all. Instead Todd had been friendly and understanding.  Then came the bomb. At the end of the review, Todd had said, “Don’t worry. You moved a lot of product for your age. You are almost selling as much as guys 30 years younger than you.”

“For my age?” thought Walter. It was not the first time Todd had used those words. Walter thought back to the company pool party the previous summer. Walter prided himself in keeping in good shape his whole life. Walter was  showing off a little swimming laps in the pool when Todd and his gorgeous girlfriend showed up.  Walter jumped out of the pool to say hello. Walter was in a really good mood until Todd said,

“Wow Walter! You are in great shape for your age.” Then Todd took off his own shirt and Walter was stunned. Todd’s body was perfect. It was like Todd spent every spare minute in the gym. How do you even get a stomach to look like that? You must have to do 500 sit-ups a day.

Washboard Stomach

But Walter told himself that it didn’t matter. Todd was younger, in better shape, made more money and was his boss. But it didn’t matter. What mattered to Walter was being the top salesman; just like he had been for the past 20 years. But now here he was at the back of the pack and Todd was telling him it was alright . An old guy couldn’t be expected to keep up with the younger people on the team. Of course Todd didn’t say that exactly. He just made that offhand “for your age” remark. But Water got the message. It was alright to get old and fall behind.

Well it wasn’t alright. Walter sat in his cubicle and decided he was going to put into practice another three word phrase. “Whatever it takes”. Walter decided he was going to be the top sales guy next quarter whatever it takes. If it killed him. If it took every dime he had. No washboard stomached kid with a model girlfriend and a full head of hair was going to tell him he was OK “for his age.”

Walter glanced around  to make sure he was alone. He stood up and saw that the other cubicles near him were empty. Then he reached in his bottom drawer an pulled out his Rolodex. He didn’t want the young people in the office to see that he still had one. They already teased him about not being very good at any of the social media applications and always needing help running the computer applications.

Rolodex

Probably none of them had ever even seen an old-fashioned Rolodex. But he still knew how to work it. All his contacts and all his little personal notes about all of his customers were in it. He knew e-mails and tweets were not going to get him more sales. He had a lot of work ahead of him. Phone calls, road trips, little “gifts” (not bribes), and a lot of dinners and heavy drinking with customers.  That was how he knew how to get the sales. He was going to stop pretending to be younger than he was. He was a dinosaur and he was going to admit it.  A big T-Rex that was going to get the prey it was after.

T REX

Walter was not in the office much for the next three months. When he was there it was just to pick up some extra samples or brochures and to use the computers. He was also exhausted. He was working 12 or 14 hours a day driving or flying to customers, and then spending long nights taking them to dinner and drinks.

When he was not entertaining customers he was sending them gifts. Actually the gifts were for their kids. He had found over the years that gifts to customer’s  kids were more effective than gifts to the customers themselves.  Wedding gifts, Bar Mitzvah  gifts, graduation gifts. He was spending more than the company allowed for these things so he actually had to dip into his own pocket.

He knew his work was increasing his sales, but he did not know how he was doing compared to everyone else. The company did not tell sales people everyone’s results until the end of the quarter. It was not like the old days when there was a big chalk board in the middle of the office with the quarter-to date totals listed by salesperson. The company felt that was “too aggressive”. But the competition was still there. In this kinder gentler world they all had to pretend to be part of a team and not the cut-throat competitors  they really were.

The end of the quarter came and as usual all the salespeople were in the office for their reviews and nervous as Hell.  One by one they would be called in and told how they did in comparison to everyone else. There were rumors that this time the bottom five percent would be fired.

The rumor looked like it might be true, since Jack Winston himself had flown in from California to give the reviews. Jack was the vice president of the whole company and had not been seen in the New York office for at least a year. Something big must be up.  “Happy Jack” was a legend in the company. Always nice, never raised his voice, but the “happy” part was just a facade. He was the hatchet man in the company. If a factory closed or a executive fired, “Happy Jack” was the guy who flew in to do it. Now he was here, and the first person he asked to speak to was Walter.

Walter nervously walked into the conference room where Jack was camped out. He looked around for Todd but did not see him.

“I guess you know why I’m here,” said Jack.

“Not exactly,” lied Walter.

“Twenty five percent,” said Jack with a smile. “How the Hell did you increase your sales by twenty five percent in this economy? Most of the rest of the team had a down quarter. The next best person after you only increased her sales by three percent. Congratulations!”

Walter was stunned. Exhausted and broke, but he had done it.

” I am going to take you out of the field, Walter, ” said Jack. “Someone has to teach these kids how to sell. Todd just wasn’t cutting it. I am making you the new Regional Manger. I know you will miss the road, but I really need you to take over that spot.”

“You mean Todd is fired?” asked Walter.

“No of course not,” said Happy Jack with a smile. “We reassigned Todd to be the regional sales manager in Mississippi. It is a smaller market that will be better suited for him. We made a mistake moving him up in the company too quickly. The big New York market was just too much for a young guy like Todd to handle this early in his career. All in all Todd actually did a good job. For his age.”

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy – movie review

Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun adventure movie about a group of misfits who band together to save the galaxy.  It is filmed in 3-D and has some  great action scenes. However the best thing about the film is the humor and the interplay between the characters.

zz guardians 1

Chris Pratt plays an Earth boy who is abducted by aliens in 1988. Twenty six years later he is living in a far off part of the universe making  a living scavenging and sometimes stealing various space objects. Despite his lowly occupation he has given himself the ridiculous title of “Star Lord”  . His price possession is a mix tape of  songs he had with him when he was abducted. The songs are all great and gives the movie one of the best soundtracks of the year.

zz guardians 2

The beautiful Zoe Saldana is “Gamora” the dangerous step daughter of the evil villain   who is trying to destroy the universe.

zz guardians 3

The wrestler David Batista is “Drax the Destroyer” who is as dumb as he is strong.

zz guardians 4 5

Rounding out the Guardians are Rocket (played by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Disel) Rocket is a genetically modified raccoon and Groot is a talking walking tree.

It sounds ridiculous of course, and that is the point. It is supposed to be. It is a great antidote to all those superhero movies this past year which take themselves so seriously.

This is a good movie for adults and kids alike. It is rated PG-13 since there is some foul language and it does have some Star Wars type violence.

We give this movie 4 stars  ****

 

In Praise of Hatred – book review

In Praise of Hatred by Kahled Khalifa is a novel about a young woman growing up in Syria during the time of the ruler Hafez al-Assad, who was the father of the current ruler Bashar al-Assad.

zzhatred

The story is told in the first person by the young woman who never gives her name. It covers a period in her life from high school through her twenties. The government is a dictatorship which uses death squad soldiers to crush any dissent. Outwardly the country seems peaceful, but there are dark forces beneath the surface.

In high school the girls divide themselves into three groups. One group is what we would consider normal high school girls. They are interested in boys, school and popular music and have no interest in politics.

The second group are the girls who have boyfriends in the death squads of the government.  Some of these girls are the  mistresses of much older men who are high ranking members of the government.  These girls walk around like they own the school. The teachers are afraid of criticizing them or even giving them bad grades. One word from these girls to their boyfriends and a group of soldiers might suddenly pick that teacher up for “questioning”.

The narrator belongs to the third group of girls who consider themselves superior to the others. They come from traditional religious families who follow all the Islamic practices, wear headscarves and keep to traditions. The story goes into great detail about how her extended family has a very regular routine of meals, mosque attendance, a stately procession to the woman’s baths. Rather than being oppressive, these routines are very comforting and give meaning and structure to her life. She does very well in school and it appears she will go to college and possibly even medical school.

Unfortunately, there is no way for the high school girls to escape what is going on around them in the country. The underlying religious and sectarian hatred in the country eventually turns to real violence and all of the young woman get caught up in it depending on what group they happen to belong to.

Due to her religious devotion the narrator in the book ends up becoming a part of one of the radical Islamist groups. It is interesting that the story never actually says which one. The love of her religion gradually turns instead to  a love of hatred itself. The hatred of other groups becomes the goal, rather than the means to an end.

From time to time in the story she questions the hatred. Many of the older people in the story keep trying to advise her that she should be trying to achieve a good life rather than a perfect form of hatred.

The book is somewhat difficult to read as it was translated from the original Arabic, and has what we consider strange and complicated names. It is also rather sad when you realize the story takes place over 35 years ago, but that hatred and violence still seem to be the driving forces in Syria.

The novel has many side stories. One of them is about the aunt of the narrator. She is from the same religious sect as the narrator, but falls in love with a death squad officer.  She refuses to stop seeing him, and he refuses to massacre people from her sect when ordered to do so. The two of them eventually run away together to a farm and live out their lives away from the hatred and violence engulfing their country.

Unfortunately the girl telling the story cannot understand her aunt or the officer.  She has gotten to a point where she cannot comprehend love. Only hatred seems pure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cheater

Mrs. Kuperinsky got more upset the more she watched. She was on the westbound Gladstone train and the good-looking middle aged man in the seat next to her was cheating.  He was trying to hide it, but a cheater could never get past Mrs. Kuperinsky.

He was in a dark expensive business suit, and he was working on the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen. “What arrogance,” thought Mrs. Kuperinsky. ” In pen.”

He continued to fill out the puzzle, but every once and a while would stop. Obviously he was stuck for a word. Then he would take out his iPhone and scroll through it. Then he would go back to the crossword puzzle and begin filling in letters again.

Obviously he was cheating. He was looking up answers on his iPhone whenever he got stuck. Mrs. Kuperinsky hated cheaters. Her husband Charles had been a cheater. But everyone loved Charles Kuperinsky. Good old “CK.”

Like the man on the train CK had  started off by cheating on little things like crossword puzzles. It seemed harmless enough at the time. Then he moved on to little white lies on their  joint tax returns. Overstating  just a little bit how much they donated to charity. Not reporting some side income when he got paid in cash. Then he began cheating with the company car. He was supposed to use it only for business, but after a while  using it every weekend for all their shopping and chores.

It had not bothered Mrs. Kuperinsky.  It never occurred to her the cheating went beyond money. They had a wonderful marriage and  CK was such fun. That was why it came as such a shock to her the day CK announced that he was leaving her for a much younger woman he had been seeing on the side for almost two years.

Ever since then Mrs. Kuperinsky had been hyper-sensitized to  the cheating all around her. She noticed what an epidemic is was and how no one was willing to stop it.  People slipped through the turnstiles going into the subway. Other people would sneak their own empty coffee cups into Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts and then fill up with coffee for free. Old ladies at restaurants filled their purses with sugar packets and dinner rolls. Drivers went through red lights in the city. On the highway 100% of the cars were breaking the law and going over the sped limit.  Everyone stole pencils, pens and paper from the supply room at work. The America she had once known was gone. No one cared about the rules anymore. No one except Mrs. Kuperinsky.

She took solace in the fact that she was making a difference by punishing one cheater at a time. She reached into her purse and pulled out a little gold colored box. “Excuse me”, she said to the man next to her. “Would you like this box of chocolates my grandchildren gave me? I didn’t have the heart to tell them I am diabetic, and it seems such a shame to just throw it away.”

The man didn’t really want to accept it, but it seemed easier to take the gift than to get into an argument. The old woman was almost forcing the box into his hands so he accepted it and put it into his suit pocket.

The train stopped at Lyons and the man got off. Mrs. Kuperinsky looked out the window and saw him get into a car next to an amazingly good looking woman with dark hair at least 30 years younger than him.   “Look at that,” Mrs. Kuperinsky thought, “he has his mistress pick him up at the train station in full view of everyone. No shame at all.” Mrs. Kuperinsky glared at him through the window as the train pulled out of the station.

Mr. Meyer got into the car with the young woman and she said, “Who is that old lady giving us the evil eye from the train Daddy?”

“I don’ t really know Amy. She just sort of started talking to me on the train and then gave me a box of chocolates for no reason.” He pulled out the box ans showed it to Amy. “Every time I took out my iPhone to check my e-mail she gave me a weird look.”

“Are you crazy Daddy? You took food from some nut case on the train? Besides, you know the doctors said chocolate is bad for your blood pressure.” Before he could object, Amy grabbed the chocolates, got out of the car and threw them into the garbage can by the train station.

“How is Mom doing?” asked Mr. Meyer.

“Not good Dad. The chemo has taken away a lot more of her hair than last week, and she is very thin and white as a ghost. Try not to look too shocked when you see her.”

Mr. Meyer and his daughter drove off to visit Mrs. Meyer in the Sloan Kettering cancer treatment center in Basking Ridge.

That night a hungry raccoon found the box of chocolates while rummaging through the garbage. He was dead  ten minutes after eating them, and the poison which Mrs. Kuperinsky had carefully injected into each candy.

As the raccoon died, Mrs. Kuperinsky was  in New York City. She had taken the return train back to New York.   She was now  sitting in Dunkin Donuts next to a young man who had brazenly come in with his own Styrofoam cup. He filled it free form the coffee bar, and the people working at Dunkin Donutss were too busy to notice.

Mrs. Kuperinsky asked the young man if he would  like some nice chocolates to go along with his coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers to the Gentle Woman’s Anniversary Quiz

We had a big response to the Anniversary quiz. Thank you for all the comments and good wishes from the readers. Below are the answers to the quiz.

  • Question # 1- Answer is # 2 -. Ronald Regan was the the President when the Gentle woman got married.

ZZZ REGAN

 

  • Question # 2 -Answer is # -2 – The Gentle Woman has a daughter named Robin.

ZZZ ROBIN

 

  • Question # 3 – Answer is # 3-  Bob Hope said that the key to a good marriage is separate bank accounts.

 

ZZZ MONEY BAGS

 

 

 

  • Question # 4 – Answer is # 3. – The Gentle Woman has spent her  career as a public school teacher.

 

ZZZZ OLD SCHOOL HOUSE

  • Questions # 5 – Answer is #1 –  The favorite drink is Kendal Jackson Chardonnay. However she also likes Louis Jardot. If you are a Baby Boomer from the New York & Connecticut area you will get the joke about  Boone’s Farm Strawberry wine. 
    At the time the Gentle Woman was in high school, the drinking age in New York State was only 18 and very loosely enforced.  It was easy for a 15 or 16 year old to buy wine in a liquor store.  Boone’s Farm was an awful tasting wine but an entire bottle only cost one dollar. It came in ridiculous flavors like apple and strawberry to cater to the younger crowd.  The drinking age in Connecticut was 21. However, there were many many liquor stores literally a few feet over the border in New York State. All of them had cases of  Boone’s Farm stacked floor to ceiling waiting for high school kids from Connecticut. The heyday of Boone’s Farm ended when New York raised the drinking age to 21 and decided to actually enforce it. The Gentle Woman wants to point out that she was never a Boone’s farm drinker.

ZZZZ RABBIT WINE

 

  • Question # 6 – Answer is # 5. – Summer is the Gentle Woman’s favorite time of year.  The hotter the better. That is probably why she named one of her Rabbits Summer.

 

ZZZ SUN

 

 

  • Question # 7 – Answer is # 3 – However, we had an error in the story. The name was supposed to be Tom Carvel. We had mistakenly put down the name as Lou.  Later in life the Gentle Woman did live near Whitney Houston. However, when she was a little girl Tom Carvel was the nearest celebrity.

 

ZZZZ ICECREAM

 

 

  • Question #8 – Answer is #5 – Although the Gentle Woman has been married to the same man for  33 years, she has changed her last name many times. She started the marriage using her husband’s last name. After a few years she legally changed her name so that it was her  maiden name hyphenated with her husband’s. The problem with that was that people kept leaving out the part prior to the hyphen and kept calling her by her husband’s last name.  Therefore she legally changed her name again so that it is now a combination of both names with no hyphen. These changes continue to confuse computers for every tax filing and job application .  She is currently thinking of changing her name again back to her original maiden name.

ZZ COMPUTER

The Gentle Woman’s Annversary Quiz

On August 8, 2014 the Gentle Woman and her husband celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary. Below is a little quiz related to it.

wedding cake

Question # 1 – Who was President of the U.S. when the Gentle Woman got married?

  1. Bush (senior)
  2. Regan
  3. Ford
  4. Lincoln

 

zzz rabbit

 

Question # 2 – The Gentle Woman loves animals so much she named one of her children after an animal. Is the name:

  1. Fawn
  2. Robin
  3. Bambie
  4. Squidward

 

Bob Hope

Question # 3 – Bob Hope was also married for a long time. He said the key to a long and successful marriage is:

  1. Separate Careers.
  2. Separate houses.
  3. Separate bedrooms.
  4. Separate bank accounts.

Question # 4 –
The Gentle Woman has spent her career as a successful:

  1. Writer.
  2. Architect.
  3. Teacher.
  4. Reality star( before the Kardashians ruined the business for everyone else.)

Vino

 

Question # 5 – The Gentle Woman’s favorite drink is.

  1. Kendal Jackson Chardonnay.
  2. A good Pinot Grigio
  3. Louis Jardot  Pouilly Fuise.
  4. Boon’s Farm strawberry.

Question # 6 – The Gentle Woman’s favorite season is:

  1. Winter.
  2. Spring.
  3. Summer.
  4. Fall.

Question # 7 – The Gentle Woman grew up close to which following celebrity?

  1. Walt Disney.
  2. Whitney Houston.
  3. Lou Carvel.
  4. Roy Rogers.

Question # 8 – While married to the same man for the last 33 years, the Gentle Woman’s last name:

  1. Is the same as before she was married.
  2. She took her husband’s last name.
  3. She used a hyphenated name of hers and her husband’s
  4. She combined her name and her husband’s with no hyphen.
  5. Numbers 2, 3, & 4 combined.

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy – movie review

Lucy, starring the beautiful Scarlett Johansson is an action-packed science fiction thriller.

Scarlett

 

Scarlett’s character is “Lucy”, an American living in Taiwan. The movie is not exactly clear on what she does for a living, but it is hinted that she is sort of a party girl. Her sleazy boyfriend tricks her into delivering a briefcase to a violet Chinese crime boss.

At this point her whole life changes and the real story begins. She is knocked out and  operated on. A bag containing a new designer drug is inserted into her abdomen. When she awakens she is told that if she does not smuggle the drugs into the United States the crime boss will have her whole family killed.

All of this is a set up for what happens next. The bag leaks and the drugs flood into her body. Amazing changes take place and she is now able to access extroaginary mental powers.

The other big star the movie is Morgan Freeman.

Morgan

He plays Professor Samuel Norman who does research into the human mind. While Lucy is having her adventures in Taiwan, Professor Norman is explaining to a group of students that the average human being only uses about 10% of his or her brain’s capability.   He speculates on what would happen if someone could ever reach 100%.

Of course this is exactly what is happening to Lucy. The drug is unlocking more and more of her mind’s powers .

The problem with the movie is that the plot is rather silly. It is a fun movie since Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman are magnificent actors and there are a lot of action scenes. However, we wish the movie had stayed with the theme of unlocking the brain’s potential.  It would have been interesting to see what the impact would be on a silly frivolous young woman who suddenly finds herself getting progressively smarter at a geometric rate.

Instead the movie becomes another superhero or X-Men knock-off. Lucy becomes a combination of Magneto and Professor Xavier. She can make guns fly out of bad guys’ hands, read people’s minds, travel through time and even make people float in the air. There is no basis for this in the premise that the drug is simply unlocking the brain’s potential. Just because you get smarter does not mean the laws of physics no longer apply.

The ending is also very disappointing. Lucy and the Professor do not meet up until very late in the film and do not really interact very much once they do. It is a shame that the director chose to have the two stars of the film work mostly independently of each other.

We won’t give away the end but will say that it is a weird sort of 2001 a Space Odyssey  ending that left a lot of people in the theater saying “what the heck was that ending about?”

Still it is worth seeing just for Johansson, Freeman and the special effects.  If you are bringing kids, be warned that this movie has a lot of violence and blood and a very high body count.

 

We give this movie 3 stars ***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Whitney Houston

The following story was told to East Coast Stories by a New Jersey contractor who prefers to remain anonymous.

whiteny houston

Different images come to mind when people hear the name “Whitney Houston.” Some people focus on her rise from poverty to stardom, or her tragic death.  However, I remember her as a neighbor in Mendham.

Ms. Houston had a lovely house and property and had hired me to put in a rustic split rail fence in the backyard. When I found out who I was working for and that she wanted a fence, I assumed that she was going to ask for some high chain link monstrosity  topped with barbed wire.  I admit that I guessed she would be very hard to work for. Instead, I found her to be a beautiful soft spoken woman who wanted a simple split rail fence to accentuate the rural feel of the rolling backyard.

When I built the fence it was a warm summer day. It was not a big job, so I was working by myself. Ms. Houston was home with another woman.  They were in the music room, which faced the backyard where I was working. The windows to the room were open to let in the soft breeze.

Then I heard the piano begin to play and the two woman began to sing.  It was a soft song and not one that I recognized. Whitney sang the lead and the other woman harmonized. I don’t know which one was playing the piano. The sound was wonderful.  Periodically they would stop and laugh and then start singing again. It was obvious that they were not rehearsing for anything. They were singing just for the fun of it.

I remember thinking that life does not get much better than this. There I was  in the fresh air in the bright sunlight on a warm day listening to my own private concert.

I  saw Whitney Houston once more after that. I was waiting in line at the Black Horse Tavern in Mendham when she came in with a couple of friends. She did not try to jump the line like a big celebrity, but instead waited like everyone else. Then she saw me and said hello. She actually remembered my name, and said how much she like the fence.  The guys I was with treated me like a real star for the rest of the night after that.

When I heard about her death  years  later I didn’t cry. Let’s face it.  I’m a building contractor in New Jersey. Guys like me don’t cry.  Besides I don’t want to think about that side of her life and her struggles with inner demons and substance abuse.

For me the Real Whitney Houston will always be the one I met. She was a beautiful charming woman singing with a friend on a warm summer day just for the pure joy of being alive.

For more stories of ordinary people’s encounters with celebrities  you may want to read, The Real Dick Clark and The Real Steve Allen

 

 

 

 

Answers to the Gentle Woman’s Second Quiz

The Answers to the Gentle Woman’s Second Quiz are below. Be honest with yourself on how many you really got without looking them up on the internet first.

  • Answer to Question #1 is #4. – It was a trick question. Rabbits cannot vomit. This sounds like it is great, but actually  can be a real health problem. If a dog or a cat eats something which turns out to be bad or dangerous, they can quickly throw it up and remove it from their system. Rabbits, on the other hand have to wait for the item to pass all the way through their digestive systems. This is one reason why you have to be so careful about what you feed your rabbit friend.

 

thermometer

 

 

 

  • Answer to Question #3 is #2 – The Gentle Woman’s first rabbit was named Alvin. The T.V. show Alvin and the Chipmunks had just had its premier on T.V.

 

Alvin

 

 

  • Answer to Question #4 is #2. – It was a Mark Twain quote.

Mark Twain

If you liked that quote you may want to read the poem by Walt Whitman which begins,
“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self contained. I stand and look at them long and long.”

  • Answer to Question # 5 is #4 –  The rabbit in Alice in Wonderland is only ever identified as “The White Rabbit.”  Over the years, the term “following a white rabbit” has come to mean many things encompassing everything from chasing an impossible dream to tuning into a drugged out zombie.

 

We hope you enjoyed the quiz.