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Greatest Spectacle

Life Story Club Contributor

August 28, 2020

One of the things that did occur to me was my encounter with Desmond Tutu. And I bring it up particularly because, this is an astounding moment when he was asked what was the most important moment of his life, and he said when Mandela was being put into his prison and the planes went over he thought to himself, “These are my planes.” And the most impressive person I’ve ever met in my life is Desmond Tutu, and I had the opportunity to live with him on the ship for three and a half months. He went on it because there were 700 college students that he could try to persuade to turn their lives into more meaningful, turn away from money, and turn to the world.

Anyhow so that was really a moment, and he was head of the reconciliation staff. And I heard him do an Easter service and whoever took their hands out, running up and down, it was everyone, right? And the kids would go through with the chalices and everyone would drink and inevitably they would come back with at least half of a huge chalice of course, but they kept refilling them. And when the kids got there he would say, “Okay you have to drink it all.”

And he also presided at a funeral, a memorial, on a large ship, and it was for a man who actually died in my room when we were in Shanghai. And his widow went back with the body and came back like four weeks later with her brother as her companion, and then Tutu held a memorial service.

And what he said…it was six weeks into the thing maybe seven, and what he said was, “We didn’t know each other six weeks ago and yet what more wonderful place could you be back into because this is truly a family that has bonded…” He said it better than I can. And then what they did was, he stood, and everybody stood in line and they gave everybody a rose and then each person threw the rose into the ocean. So Mandela and Tutu, they were like a one-two, in the same place with the same…

Anyhow the reason I got on the ship and had the chance to meet Desmond Tutu was that I had just lost a cat in 2012. And I said, “Now I can get away. I’m going for a weekend.” And on Groupon which I looked at every day, it says “106-day educational cruise.” Now being a perpetual student to begin with, having lost my cat due to emptiness, I could say, “This is for me.” So I signed up for this four months around the world, on a ship with 700 students and 200 crew. We got on this cruiser and we went and we stopped in at Japan, China, Burma, India, Singapore, and Hong Kong. It was the best of times and the worst of times and I’d go back.

Childhood Games

Life Story Club Contributor

August 14, 2020

So I played all the word games and I played hopscotch and I don’t know if someone mentioned this game where you had this street there were topics. And you had a ball and you had to bounce the ball and you say, “A my name is, C my name is.” And actually I was thinking, I wish I could have a list of all the games that you guys mentioned. Because I would just like to think about that again because I don’t remember my childhood very much at all.

And I did all those things so it would be nice to have a list. But I basically was an outsider. I was the one somebody talked about having a sister who never really fit in, and that was me. So when I played hopscotch, and bounce the ball. And what else? I was playing with the school kids. But I really was friendly with them. And I wasn’t going to their houses afterwards. Basically, I was sort of isolated. And I sort of have been a loner all my life. So my sister really is my only family – you know, nuclear family. And my sister and I didn’t get along you know?

And in school, I was sort of accepted by groups but I wasn’t in a group. I started playing games and I also played tennis a lot. And when I was in high school I used to … play with the boy’s team. There was no girl’s team. They used to play with me. I would kind of be part of their practicing. So I really didn’t have people outside or inside. I also took dance classes of all kinds which I loved. And actually continued doing all the way through an adult. But basically, I really didn’t have kids to play games with, you know? Anyhow and as I said, mostly I don’t remember my childhood and that’s okay.

A Journey by Ship

Life Story Club Contributor

August 21, 2020

I went on this semester at sea around the world, and when we were in Burma at … not even where I was going on the trip but in Yangon which is the city that we stopped in, they told us that we have to go to see Shwe Dagon, and it was like, we didn’t know what it was but that’s what everybody told us to do. It was the first night we were going on our trips and … so we took a taxi to this place that we didn’t quite know what it was and the driver on the way up said, “Oh you’re so lucky. You know there’s a full moon tonight, it’s gonna be perfect.” And we got to this place that we knew nothing about, and we got there and we had to take off our shoes and we walked along this marble kind of tunnel.

And we walked into this golden place, is all I have to say, but none of us even knew at the time with the center of it that … it’s one of the most important pagodas in Buddhism, and it actually has Buddha, some hairs from the Buddha you know, in it. And the central pagoda itself is 323-feet high, and it’s all gold and at the top has like, 70-carat diamonds on top and the whole top is surrounded with hundreds and thousands of carats of precious stones. But all we saw was the ground level, and at the ground level there must have been maybe 30 different pagodas you know, and full size and beautiful. And this one had seven different Buddha images, and this one had 12 different Buddha images, and it was filled with all these people who were worshipping there, so there was like a line of water with candles in it where you could light a candle.

I would say it was probably at least maybe 50, 60 yards long, and it just was filled with candles. When I walked in there I said to the people I was with, “This must be what a kid feels when they walk into Disneyland.” And I’ve never been to Disneyland, I wasn’t there as a kid so I have never had the experience of being totally overwhelmed by the beauty and sacredness of the place. And then … there were all these people worshipping there. Each one of these temples I mean, you just look at one and you see there are 50 people in it and that’s one of the insignificant pagodas there. And you see a monk sitting there talking on a phone and these bunches of children running around. And it’s one place that I would go back to, obviously, it’s in Burma and I know I’m never gonna go to Burma again. But it is one place that I yearn, I yearn to tap the moment to see again.

And I recently started thinking about it because there was another group I was with, and when the COVID started I said, “Why don’t we kind of, send stories to each other – what’s our favorite place in the world?” And I was friendly with a woman who taught, who has been on the trip three or four times and I said to her, “What is your favorite place, that you’ve been?” And she said, “The ship.” And it’s true, that was a very special place because it had 700 college students and it was 106 days, and I had to do a semester, and they had all these trips that were six and seven days long, so every day on the ship was a day where you had classes. And the reason that it was so wonderful, the ship, was not only being with these people but also going on all these wonderful trips.

You know when I was in India I went to the Taj Mahal, and I went to … I can’t even remember the name of the sacred city where they bury people, and other people had gone to the Pink Palace. So you’re away from each other for six, seven days and then you come back to a heavy school schedule but also to exchange experiences with all the other people. And it was just the most incredible experience. And I do regret the fact … I had great difficulty because I was alone, and most of you know about my aloneness, but I would have done it again if the world had not deteriorated the way it was. I think that it was one of the most life-changing experiences, and a place where I had no history, so that I kind of … part of the reason I went was because people will see me who have no preconception and I will kind of learn from that who I really am.

At the temples I only spent one evening because I was going on trips. I actually went to Mandalay, so that’s why I chose to go there. There was Bagan, which is where you know, the Land of 2,000 Temples. There were so many trips. Most … a lot of the young kids headed to a famous lake resort but a couple of days before we were getting to Burma and I was going on about Mandalay and one of the professors he said, “You know there’s no Mandalay Bay, Mandalay is nothing.”

And really Mandalay was nothing. It does … it’s been burned down a number of times, and what we actually ended up doing was we were on a bus and we drove six and a half hours outside of Mandalay to go to a mountain village that the Brits used because it was so hot in the summer that they would go up to this place. And it had the most fantastic park … the park had pagodas. I mean, it was just amazing. But you know, Mandalay was nothing. So, anyhow … Shwe Dagon – of every place I’ve ever been in my life, that’s the one place that as I said, I yearn. My heart yearns to go back there.

The Balanchine Ballet

Life Story Club Contributor

August 21, 2020

I have to say that a Balanchine ballet makes my smile every time. A ballet by George Balanchine. A New York City ballet choreographer, founder, choreographer. Greatest choreographer… that ever lived and 98.7% of anything he’s choreographed puts me in a euphoric state. For my sister’s birthday, she wanted to go to see Swan Lake. And I started looking for videos to send her. And I have a whole bunch of wonderful dances. I actually have seen a few you know, YouTube videos and videotapes of Swan Lake in specific and it’s so gorgeous. It … brings me to tears every time.

And the thing with ballet, I have to say is it is so diminished on a screen. So when you watch it think to yourself if this were live this would be four times as wonderful. Long time ago, PBS did this special where they took a baseball player, a running back. It was a Green Bay Packer. So it was back when they were champions. And one of the premiere dancers from the City Ballet. And they had them do these same sort of athletic things. And the dancer so out beat the linebacker in his abilities and strength. It was simply astonishing.

The Definition of “Beauty”

Life Story Club Contributor

August 14, 2020

What do I think of when I think of the word “beauty.” I say “Brad Pitt.” But it made me think about the word. And a lot of you… several of you said “Nature.” Which is beautiful but I was … I was thinking about the word and I looked it up and I’ve come to decide that beauty is a scale. It’s like what we think of beauty is something that’s more close to the ideals that we have of it. The higher up … the more points you have toward that ideal that is beauty.

And I think there are some things that are kind of universal. Certainly in humans, certainly symmetry. It gives you a lot of points toward beauty. So I said, “Brad Pitt.” And I think Brad Pitt is beautiful and high up on the beauty score because first of all, whoever remembers him in that moment in Thelma & Louise when he first appeared bare-chested, it was like “God.” I mean I remember that moment and kind of that thrill. In that way, he’s beautiful and has maintained it.

But also I think he’s humble about it. So there is his beauty, physical beauty and the fact that he doesn’t flaunt it and he lets himself be himself. Interesting as an actor. And I think he takes really interesting roles and I think in terms of his … the way he lives his life seems like a beautiful life. I’m not saying he’s perfect but I’m saying he does all these things that keep putting him up the scale. And so beauty for me adds up in points. Like if there is a tree, it’s a beautiful tree. Trees are beautiful.

My favorite Brad Pitt movie … you know, I haven’t even seen all of them. Although you know, I read about them so I get what they’re about. Let me think. When you see him then you think about, “Wow what if you had never seen him before?” You know what I mean? It was like “Pow.” What a moment.

The Definition of “Beauty”

Life Story Club Contributor

August 7, 2020

There are things that I see that I think are beautiful – whether it’s art, or it’s a tree, or it’s a person. And then also when I taste something, I mean I can say the taste of this is beautiful or the sound of music is so beautiful. So when I think of the word beauty -actually I must say, and this is kind of shameful – when I first thought of the word beauty, I thought Brad Pitt. Isn’t that amazing that I think that he’s beautiful in so many ways? But I’m partially generalist, you know. I mean when I see a perfect apple I think, how beautiful – you know? And when I see a room that’s decorated, how beautiful. And there’s so many things in the world that I perceive.

Something I tasted that brought to mind the word beauty…you know, I’m a food addict to that point. But I’ll tell you one thing that when I tasted it, it just blew me away. It was when I was at a restaurant. The casual dining one, Nougatine. And I had their dessert there. And it was like this chocolate thing. And I thought, “I have never tasted anything like this,” you know? In all truth, there are so many things that I love. When I thought of the word beauty, I thought…well I say, “Wonderful” or I say “How fabulous.”

But really beauty you know, I mean it covers all those kinds of positive emotions for me. I’m sitting here and I’m looking at a Buddha head that I have. It’s sitting on my window. And I think, “Oh, that’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.” You know? And then over here I have this collage that makes a peacock. I mean you know, just the world itself is so astonishing. And there are so many things that you can look at but that you never notice. So when you look at them closely they’re simply amazing, kind of like a snowflake you know?

When you look at a snowflake and it looks like a blob, and then when you see it and it’s this absolutely complex thing or one of those, you know Fibonacci or whatever they’re called. Like snails … all those spirals that are simply perfect and they’re mathematically so … that’s so beautiful. I think ideas are the thing that impresses me most, beautiful ideas. Things that I can’t really touch but they just astound me. Nature … things in nature that are so perfect, and those are the things that touch me most.

Hard About Growing Up

Life Story Club Contributor

July 31, 2020

Yeah. So I did mention it last week. And again, my difficulties in growing up was that I was an outsider, that I never really fit in with my peers. And you know, to this day I remember years and years ago, I went to this therapist and she said to me, “You are an outsider. And Colin Wilkinson wrote a book about people like you in 1953, mostly they’re artists.” So I bought the book because I always buy books and I put it away. And then one time I didn’t have a book to read. And also part of the outsider, if you have a kind of bleak outlook for the world. So I bought this book, I said, “Oh, let me read it, let me read about other people who are like me.” So they named Dostoevsky and Kafka and Camus. And I said to myself, “Oh, let me go to chapter two. You know, it must get better,” but it didn’t. And I have sort of a lack of social filter as well. I’m very insightful and I’m very bright. And I say things to people that I shouldn’t say, even though they were true, they might not want to hear it or it’s like not exactly the right things to say. So I have what has developed for me out of this childhood as outsiderhood is a total fear of any sort of intimacy, whatsoever. I have never been in an important relationship. And even with friends, there comes a point where I just kind of draw back.

Now, I have been in all sorts of therapy since I was about 19 because I knew something was wrong, you know. But to this day, it remains as a part of me that I don’t belong. And that was something that… I was also, you know, a chubby kid. I wore glasses. I was smarter than the rest of the class. So I was always on the outside. And also I didn’t understand that because I was on the outside and because I was a loner, even though I didn’t want to be, I would have liked to have been part of a group, I also didn’t understand that for me to sustain friendships as I moved from one life to another, because I have lived many lives, I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve lived in Canada, I didn’t realize I was the one that had keep up with people when I left the group, because I’m the only one that doesn’t have family and friends and children. So that it was up to me to keep in touch with people after I’m done. And I didn’t, which is how I sort of ended up now in this sort of very alone piece of life. And of course, it all started in childhood, as I’m sure I said, that after World War II, we moved into an area with no Jews. So they sent me to a Hebrew school, you know. I didn’t know anyone and so on so I was sort of moving thing in my life that I’m on the outside all the time.

And when I look at it now, I look at it, I sort of have a little bit of contempt for myself, but on the other hand, as I said, from 19 years old, I’ve tried psychoanalysis, I’ve had cognitive therapy, I’ve done, I’ve done, I’ve done, and I’m really kind of like a nice person, really. \So that was the problems in my childhood. And it followed me, as many of you have said, it has followed me through my life. And I suppose in some way I am presumably adept at this isolation. And as to a date that I could think of as the best day in my life…gee, I’ll tell you the opposite. I spent the first 30 years of my life thinking that I could not start my life until I got my bachelor’s degree and I kept flunking out of school.

And when I finally graduated, I was 51. When I graduated summa cum laude in Latin and Greek, I woke up and I said, “This is the worst…” and when I went to work, I said, “This is the worst day of my life. Why did I spend 30 years going after this piece of paper that was meaningless when I could have done things? I could’ve started things. I could’ve gone into the fashion industry and started at the bottom.” It never occurred to me. It just, every time I had an opportunity for a new start, it was back into school, you know. A few weeks ago I said, “I look now at my life from the wrong end of the telescope, like I look at the fact that I was alone, where actually, when people hear about my life, they say, ‘You should write a book. It was so interesting, you know,'” so…and it was. So there are the two sides, but just like a mirror inside of me, the part that’s inside of me overpowers all the rest, but as I said, I did live in London. I did live in Paris. I did live in Montreal. I had wonderful friends. So it’s, in the end, it’s always inside of me.

My Neighborhood

Life Story Club Contributor

July 24, 2020

I was born in the middle of World War II. And my first three years of life were spent on South Beach right across in Miami, right across from the beach, which I remember two incidents of, which is showing to my grandmother and that there was a kind of stone bridge across the beach from where we lived. And then I moved to New Jersey after my dad came back from the war.

I’m Jewish. My parents, my father lost a lot of family in Europe. And so we moved into a neighborhood that has never seen a Jew in Clifton, New Jersey, 15 minutes outside of New York. So my earliest time was sort of separation from the community because they didn’t know how to treat us and going to a parochial school because my parents were afraid to send me to public school. And then we moved into an old community. And, you know, the community where I lived was totally white. I didn’t even see a black person. So this is kind of relevant now for now. The first black person came into my school in ninth grade. And when I think about it now, I think, “Oh my God, what he must have been going through,” you know?

Anyhow, it was a suburban community and we were very comfortable. And we were…you know, had all the kind of ballet, and music, and high schools, and all of that. And it was a very old town. And as a matter of fact, the park near where I lived, in one of the houses was actually designed by the same person who designed Central Park. So although my life itself, because of my kind of outsider status, was not particularly happy, the growing up situation was basically ideal for children, I think. We weren’t afraid. Our doors were left open. We played with each other. We walked to school. We walked home for lunch. There were all these activities available. And it was a very easy life. And it was a very like, I guess, almost, you know, a kind of perfect, stereotypical, kind of suburban American life. I think, I guess that answers the question, right, what was your childhood like. That was my childhood.

I myself was a little bit of an outsider but there were definitely… I mean, my sister is still friendly with them. I mean, I went into the public school system when I was in third grade. So everybody was kind of established in, you know…and I was sort of unsocialized, so I always had trouble. But my sister still has many friends from kindergarten. So it was a very established community, particularly an established Jewish community. And the most amazing thing I can tell you was my grandfather who lived in New York, he was an immigrant from Hungary and who owned dance studios actually had a class in Passaic where we grew up, that people in that town actually said, “Oh, your grandfather taught me how to dance.” I mean, we didn’t even know he was there. So… Yeah, you know, and there was activity in the Jewish…the YMHA had a lot of activities for kids and the various temples. So we were… I mean, it wasn’t that we were kind of cut off from the community, but it was kind of homely a little bit. You know, you kind of hung out with those who were very much like you income-wise. It was, as I said, a very suburban typical kind of community. Okay, a suburban Jewish, I suppose this is what… There were other parts of town that there were other ethnic varieties and so on. But very much like the 1950 movies you see, “Leave it to Beaver.” He wasn’t Jewish, was he?

This was Passaic, New Jersey. All of those outside of town say Passaic. But we didn’t. We say it Passaic. It was a very, very, very old Jewish community, very old. As I said, my grandfather, who lost all his studios in 1929 in the crash, he actually had a dance studio in Passaic, so that’s how old the community is. That’s why my parents chose to move there because there was, you know, a very established Jewish community. It was a very strange time if any of you guys remember. I really don’t except to say I knew I was isolated.

I was sort of unhappy and alone for most of my life. But I knew that I was not being sent to public school in our first grade. So I was cut off from the community of kids my age. I do have some sort of recall of sort of playing with kids, but most of my early memories are just stories that I was told. So I’m totally an unreliable record. Although my mother used to say that when my grandfather died, and we were living in Clifton, which was a community with no Jews, that people crossed to the other side of the street when they saw any of us because they didn’t know what to do. So I suppose you could say that unknowingly I was kind of segregated from the community.


Life Story Club Contributor

July 8, 2020

So, I wanted to tell you about not accepting defeat. And that is that it took me 12 universities, dropping out at least twice from each one to get my degree. And I kept going back. And I kept going back. And I said, “This time I’ll do it. This time I’ll do it. This time I’ll do it.” And, you know, it took me 30 some odd years. And I just kept going back and doing it. And ironically, I ended up getting my degree in Greek and Latin Summa Cum Laude. So, I don’t know. You know? I mean, I did not accept defeat.

And the kind of other side of it was, I had this idea that I couldn’t start a career. I couldn’t do anything until I got the degree, and that’s why I kept going back. And the day that I walked I said, “Gee, you know, I spent all this time just going after this useless piece of paper, you know?”

I started when I was 17. And I got my degree when I was 50. It took 30-something years. And I went to so many schools that by about the 10th or 11th school, it was like when they asked me to tell all the schools and do all the transcripts, I could even remember where I went.

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