RETURN FROM THE EDGE

Free Willie’s large cherubic face looms over my gurney and announces to the world that he is there to help families answer questions and be my, “little shaver.” He was not kidding. The new hyrbrid heart surgery required that every sliver of hair on my body below the neck be removed. He proceeded, with great enthusiasm to do just that. We spoke about Brooklyn, where both of us were born, restaurants,art and the Harrsiburg area.

Free Willie is an amazing artist. He is about mid 50’s and might have been a great artist, had he wanted to exhibit or sell his, “babies.” I saw about 50 of the pictures on a hand held electronic device. I would have bought any or all of them. I was t be the first patient of the morning and Dr. Martella was a specialist in this procedure. We waited for over an hour and later discovered that the hospital had scheduled me incorrectly. Carol and I and our children Marc and Dara were all at my side when the nurses came to wheel me into the operating room.

I had my neice, Linda, the radiologist, call Dr. Martella. She was impressed by him manner, knowledge and his willingness to speak with her. Linny told me that most surgeons were not so accommodating. When I got into the operating theater ( they still call it that). I requested that they play 1950’s music. They instantly complied and I instantly fell asleep. I am not sure what kind of zonk medicine they used, or even when they injected it,but I was out like a light.

I went in at about 9:15 a.m. and was in the I.C.U. at about 2:00 p.m. According to the faces that surrounded me, the operation had been a success. Part of the success had been because of the operation and partly because I was in good shape. I was not too cognizant of what any of that meant.

I was to be in the I.C.U for the next day or so, being woken up every few hours with injections, blood drawings, tests, food and visits from my wife and children. It was all a blur for a while. I did like, I.C.U. They were exceptionally well trained people. There was nothing about them that you could point to and say, “ Hey what does that mean?” They were beyond professional, knowledgeable and managed every single moment of your existence there.

In a day or so, I was moved up to the cardiac unit on the seventh floor. It was not personal as the I.C.U. There was much hustle and bustle, testing, food and assorted new invastions of my body. However, my heart was not accepting of these alblutions. At the end of the second night, my heart decided to perform the electrical experiment last seen in the “Alive, it’s Alive” scene from the first Frankenstein movie. I had an arterial fibrillation which made life unbearable and was sent down to the depths of the I.C.U again.

The next collage of mendicants were much more than observable in the hallways in the adjoining bed in my room and in my bathroom. They were nurses, both male and female, doctors, physician’s assistants, health care workers, physical therapists, nutritionists and the like. If they did not poke me or prod me or inject me, they delivered medication throughout the night. They interrupted my sleep constantly and necessarily. My neighbor was a 70 year old farmer with irrythmia( he had it from when he was a kid) and had to get back to the farm to deal with his chicks, cows and goats. He was so friendly that I listened to him when the t.v. was not on. He was better than Green Acres.

CAN ONE WANE PHILOSOPHICAL?

What is the difference between waxing and waning philosophical? According to the philosopher Frederich Neiberlungen, it all depends on what you mean by it. There is a midpoint between waxing and waning, as in the old German non-sequitur, “Er vaxed vie a baum.” Somewhere in the process of waxing and waning there is a stasis, a cessation of motion and a hiatus of activity.

When does that happen? In the immortal words of the 2000 year old man, “ My God, I thought that Paul Revere said that the Yiddish are coming. I never sent flowers to the funeral.” These are moments of surcease, when there is nary a sound on the planet and there is no molecular activity.

You may have come to that conclusion already in your workaday world. Sometimes, there is absolutely nothing to do but sit and gaze at the bright blue sky and open your eyes wide with your fingers and see the dust particles descend in the viscous liquid that covers your irises. Those are moments of no memory and no meaning.

As I sit contemplating the expanse of the universe before my surgery, I feel that I am indeed in a no man’s land. I can read, watch football, write blogs, eat, take medication, phonecalls, emails and pretty much nothing else. I have been ordered to “take it easy.” I have often wondered about his expression. What does “take it “ mean? Is there something out there that requires me to stretch out my hands in a grasping motion and secure a prize? If I don’t “take it,” what will happen to me?

How easy is easy? Is it fluid? Is it languid and sloe eyed, or is it complete and utter non- movement. I did secure permission to drive the car. I have gone to the Giant Supermarket, a church in Middletown with Carol to find that our car had been towed and two trips to the casino- one win and one loss.

I have never been more immobile than I have been the last few weeks and now comes the apex of my life- four showers, a light meal, a thorough rinse of the mouth with Listerine and one good thing- no medication. I am looking forward to the procedure as a way of getting out of the current doldrums ( the actual definition related to sailing).

I am also looking forward to visits from my children, who have been a prince and princess in this process. One more day of stupefying nothingness.

THE ADVANTAGES OF REALLY COLD WEATHER

For those of you who either have lived most of your lives in the warmer climes, or have snowbirded to more temperate weather, I propose that you are missing the joy of coldness. There are so many advantages to this frosty part of world that I am quite sure that I will miss many things. Here are but a few:

1. The line going up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building is almost empty during a snowstorm. I have actually experienced this myself.
2. When the hoi polloi go to the stores in preparation for a snow storm to buy bread, eggs, milk and toilet tissue, the other aisles are completely empty and the lines, although long, end very quickly because of the fewer items purchased by the storm troopers.
3. Appearance takes a back seat to comfort. The time needed to put on clothing fastidiously diminishes to nothing and application of makeup takes a few moments, rather than one half hour.
4. The seating at fine restaurants, even at Wendy’s, is open to you for what- ever part of the place you want to sit.
5. Getting your car serviced ( other than snow tires) is a breeze. I can bring in both cars in one day and have them finished in the morning and that includes the 35,000 mile checkup.
6. Children usually can quadruple their weekly allowances by working at snow shoveling.
7. The power companies increase their profits by many fold depending on the severity of the weather.
8. Weather channels and meteorologists are in demand and the viewing of these denizens of doom becomes an necessity.
9. Umbrella sales, boot sales, flannel shirt sales go through the roof. This is especially true of late Spring snow storms.
10. Winter sports, snowmobiling, and the Winter X games become more popular as the weather becomes more dramatic.
11. Staying indoors and watching deodorant and KY Jelly ads is a blessing to the advertising industry and the product manufacturers.
12. Football aficionados are much more interested in a game between the Packers and the Bears if it is in sub-zero weather on Lake Michigan.
13. Inventions are created to keep ones hands and feet warm. You cannot tell the difference between a masked bank robber and a bank client.
14. Children tend to see their parents more as a result of school closings and school delays.
15. Book sales on Amazon, either on the kindle, or for real, zoom upward.
16. Muggings and other crimes of the outdoors diminish significantly.
17. Drivers tend to diminish their speed, although there are always the loonies.
18. Generally, people are kinder in the cold, than in the heat. One only has to be in Florida for a few days to see the shoving on line at the early bird special.
19. Not only do you go to the movies to see a good picture, but also to get out of the cold.
20. Bird droppings are reduced to zero.
21. Going to work each day is a serious adventure and keeps you on your toes.

THE HATEFUL TEACHER

Sitting having lunch with Ginny, our 52 year old adopted daughter, we started talking about education and teachers that we had over the years. Although Ginny is not in education, she has worked for educational organization, written copious grants for educational organizations and has served on a school board. She will probably serve on another school board in the future.

We got into a discussion about great teachers that he had growing up and those that we really hated. Ginny described one such hateful teacher and I described another. She finds it hard to believe that her view of that “BAD” teacher has changed over the years. At the time, Ginny felt that this teacher was cruel, overbearing and lacking in the whole milk of human kindness. She realizes now that the teacher taught her a number of lessons and she still remembers many of the things that she learned in that class.

I described my 9th grade French teacher, Mr. C. He was probably the most overbearing person that I have met in education. He was a breathless talker and ran his class in the martinet manner. He brooked no interference from students, faculty members or principal. His class was his domain. Although his birth language was probably Italian or Spanish (I never found out which), he taught French as though he came from Paris.

His knowledge of French history and culture was overwhelming. His desire for us to become French speakers was, at least, dramatic. He spoke no other language in class and his desire for perfection made the anticipation of going to his class pretty traumatic. His goal was for all of us to pass the city wide French test and go on to French in high school and college. He was the first educator in my memory to encourage us to go to a foreign country and study there. He knew that if we mastered the language, we could go to the Sorbonne.

Was he a looney? I have no idea. Who was the teacher in L.A. who taught all of those kids math and made them such good math students that no one really believed his success story? Yes, we did do very well on the city wide French test and many of us did take French in high school and in college. His effect on us was probably more profound than we realized at the time and maybe not even until later in life.

However, I can still sing the songs that he taught us- La Seine, Le Roi de Boiveur, Margie ( in French), La Vie en Rose, and the Marseillaise. Was he a good teacher? You would never learn about such things in your methods classes in college, nor would you be especially proud if he were one of your teachers, when you were a school administrator. Somehow, we are wrong about such teachers and you know exactly what I mean.

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DENZEL GOLDFARB

Denzel Goldfarb is as goniff. If you have no idea what means get yourself an English- Yiddish dictionary and discover that it means thief. There is also a picture of Denzel Goldfarb there to illustrate the definition. I first met Goldfarb when I was in basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, and he followed me to Fort Gordon, Georgia for Radio Teletype training.

He was with me in Germany for a while and then I lost track of him until a few years ago. He had not changed one scintilla. He was the glad handing, hail fellow well met, touchy feely crook that he had always been. You could never get a straight answer from Goldfarb no matter how many questions you asked him. If you were gullible, you were in serious trouble in the first minute of conversation.
I had not thought of him for a long while, until I looked his name up on Facebook. There he was in all of his glory, age 73, throwing the same b.s. around as he did when I first met him in 1957. I could not fathom that life’s intricacies had not addled his brain, or had him shot or put away in the cookie bin. His entreaties on his Facebook page were most certainly cons that he had dreamed up over the years. I will bet that there are still suckers out there who would believe him.

In basic training, all of us were rather insecure about our place in the military. Most of us had been drafted and left our regular lives behind. According to Goldfarb, he was a dealer in antiques and artwork. His specialty was contemporary American artists and Chinese pottery. We were only too glad to tell us that if we wanted, he could put us in touch with a few pieces. Since he was the dealer, he would have to get a commission, ahead of time, to secure the deal. Most of the soldiers were aware of the con and did not succumb to his bull. However, there were a few who saw that they could make a few bucks off the deal and evidently gave Goldfarb some money to put them in the art business.

Since we were in basic for only nine weeks, none of the marks could really find out what happened to their treasures. When basic was over, Goldfarb took their names, addresses and phone numbers, and promised that they would get their pieces sent to their homes in a short while. I can hardly believe that any of them got anything.

When I reported to Fort Gordon a few weeks later, there was Denzel Goldfarb in the same barracks as I was. He greeted me like I was part of his family, “ Hillman, it is so good to see you boychikel ( a diminutive for little boy). How was your visit with your family?” “Fine I said, how about yours?” It was a meichel ( satisfying experience) and all of the Jewish community in Fargo, North Dakota came out to see me. We had a great party at the shul (synagogue) and the Rabbi blessed me and wished me luck.

Little did I understand, I was eighteen at the time, that everything that Goldfarb said was a lie. He was not from Fargo, North Dakota, nor did he ever go there in his lifetime ( till I saw him on Facebook). He was from New York, as was his entire family.

Goldfarb began his Fort Gordon con almost as soon as the guys got into the barracks to settle down. He claimed that he was a professional card player from Chicago and that he would be happy to have people invest in his skills in card games that would be whomped up, by him, when payday came around. He said that he needed a stash and that he would double anyone’s money who invested in him.

He must have gotten some people to do it. He was very convincing. He was, in fact, a good card player. I could never confirm the fact that he cheated, but I suspected that he was a card counter. In a game with one deck, played on a footlocker with five other people, card counters could have a ball. Since all of his investors did not see him play all the time, he could claim victories and defeats and tell them pretty much anything that he wanted.

He must have paid off some people and not others, but he wound up the sixteen weeks with a bundle of bills. I never deigned to play in any of his games. Not that I was a bad card player, but I believed that the cards were stacked against everyone but Denzel.

In September of 1957, a bunch of us were shipped off to Germany. Goldfarb was one of us. We were first stationed in small town called Boeblingen outside of Stuttgart and that is where our paths diverged. I did not hear from him from a long while. It was not until the mid 70’s that I ran across him in a shopping mall in Allentown. He was adorned in a sleek white dinner jacket and was hawking Norman Rockwell paintings.

Somehow, he had gotten permission to sell these reprints of Rockwell’s paintings in various places in the U.S. It was a kind of concession with pretty girls showing the paintings and the audience asking questions and buying them. Carol and I and our children, then aged 8 and 6 were fascinated by this line of palaver. He has been married for the third time and was well on his way to his fourth marriage. He completely denied that he had ever been in Fargo, North Dakota or had family there.

He was then in negotiations with the King of Morocco for leasing of oil rights in some obscure place in that country. He even gave us a record with the King’s picture shaking hands with Denzel. He was a masterful story teller and the kids hung on his every word.

Sometime during the holidays in the mid 80’s we got one of those Christmas/Chanukah letters describing all of the events of Denzel’s life during the past year. We still don’t know how he got our address, but he did. He was now running a computer school for people just starting out and wondered if anyone on his list was interested in investing. I declined the offer and tossed the letter into the trash.

When I retired as I.U. Director in 1991, Carol and I decided to do a bit of travelling before we would work again in her consulting firm. We took a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. Would you believe it, there was Goldfarb and his fifth wife Hannah and their small child Lovecraft, a beautiful little boy with curly blonde hair. Denzel was his wife’s senior by , at least 20 years. He brought me up to date about his doings.

His success now rested on his new and thriving business relating to clothing for the handicapped. This was a brand new field that had yet to be tapped. He was excited about the possibilities and was in contact with some company in China to produce these garments. He was sure that this would be the wave of the future and plants would spring up throughout the world to manufacture these garments.

He recalled our days in the military in a way that I did not remember. I had completely forgotten that he was an officer and had won a number of medals for valor in the Vietnam war. I did not remember because they did not happen. He told them with such elan, and with such joy, that I began to doubt my own sanity. When we went back to our cabin, Carol and I had to pinch ourselves to make sure that we heard what he said correctly.

We ate dinner with the Goldfarbs just one time while on the cruise and did not see him again till the Facebook episode a few years ago. He was then married to a new bride from the country of Nepal. He had a correspondence with her through the internet and then went over to get her. He was living outside of New York City in Hackensack, N.J. and was now doing tax work for small businesses. He had found a number of loopholes in the tax laws and was finding many people who were anxious to take advantage of his skills.

I did not become one of his Facebook friends. I was almost afraid to find out what his next business would be or if he would wind up in federal prison. As far as I can tell, these were the life and times of Denzel Goldfarb.

TO GO OR NOT TO GO

When we began the McKelvey and Lenfest Scholarship programs, we had an idea that the most difficult thing about it was to have youngsters go away to school. In many rural communities and families, going away from home is not a positive thing. It appears to many rural adults that to leave is to reject family and community values and to take a chance that many kids would never return home.

That was the double edged sword. What would prompt a rural kid to look outside his/her own comfort zone and go to a school that would require them to live on campus. The research was not very promising. Rural kids in big schools tended to drop out at an alarming rate ( witness our own son, who eventually went back and finished). Even people in our town of Shippenville wondered why we were sending our children to such far off places as State College or Clark University in Worcester,Mass. Wasn’t Clarion University good enough for them.

That is the question. Why aren’t the local colleges good enough? Why not Glenville State, or Mansfield, rather than Columbia, Lehigh and maybe even Harvard or Yale. That may seem strange to say to those whose experiences tell them that they would want their children to go to prestigious schools, rather than local state schools or community colleges. For those people with the money and the social experiences, there is no question. However for most rural people, whose children would be first generation college goers, it is a serious discussion.

We had a number of failures in the programs. We had tiffs with a number of parents in both programs. The discussions ranged from- when will our child ever come home to what will they eat and how can they make new friends. Sometimes the fear outdistanced the scholarship. In one case, a family was frightened by their minister who told them that this scholarship was a temptation from the devil. The guidance counselor at the school was driven batty since the minister had impregnated his girl friend at the senior prom when he was a student. The young lady refused a $50,000 scholarship.

In another case, in our Lenfest program, where applicants knew that they would be living away from home at a private boarding school, parents tried their best to dissuade their child from applying. In a few cases, the youngster went to the school and did not get out of the car because he parents did not like the looks of the buildings and the students.

Those cases were in the minority. We spent countless hours speaking to parents about how things would be when their child would go away to school. Yes, most of the scholars were homesick. However, we learned a great deal about how one could mitigate all of these roadblocks to a good education.

Guidance counselors were the first stop on the list. Many rural counselors were themselves products of rural high schools and had gone away to college.They had also come back home to work in their former high schools. Sometimes it was a difficult task to open channels of communications with counselors and admissions people in other than local state colleges. Many were thrilled that their students now had the opportunity to go to almost any school that they could get into.
We put a plan into effect that would, hopefully, allow students from these rural areas to feel comfortable going and living at a college.

We first met with the parents of the students and talked to them about their fears. There was a great deal of misunderstanding about college going. The overwhelming number of parents had not left to go to school , not had they traveled far outside of their counties. We talked about how they would feel if there children called and were homesick, or not doing well. We advised that they always listen sympathetically and offer to come to the school and bring Fluffy the dog with them.

One of the biggest problems was boyfriend and girlfriend stuff. We asked our scholars to have the going away discussion long before they left for school, especially if their friend was not going to school him/herself. We lost some to this problem, ,but not many. We were proud that our scholars saw education as a priority.

Some of the students had travelled to relatives in far off places, or had gone on trips with their schools. We made sure that the high schools ( with our funding) took their junior classes to a college no more than 3 hours away. We made sure that the colleges took the kids to dorms, student centers, the gym, the cafeteria ( and gave them lunch) and other non- classroom buildings.

We met with the college presidents, financial aid officers, admissions officers, some rural students and a professor who the students liked. We asked that someone at the school be assigned to be a contact for us and the scholars. That is something that we should always encourage. The first year student needs and adult to go to when they need to- not just an academic advisor, but some one who is humanly connected to the student.

We took students on trips to colleges when they were not able to do it themselves. We went to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, rural schools in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York State. We had the kids understand that they had a choice to go wherever they could get in and like. Many chose a more local state university, others choose prestigious schools both within and without the state.

We kept in contact with the scholars and keep in contact with them even now in the eleventh year of the program We served as sounding boards and counselors, job placement people and substitute parents during that time and sometimes still do. We were there for the kids to use when they needed us. As it turned out, most of the scholars did not contact us with problems or questions. They were pretty much able to help themselves.

We ran a Summer Camp at a college to get the scholars used to living in a dorm and interacting with other college going students. That was our most successful part of the program . Even after 11 years, the scholars still tell us that having mentors who were older talk turkey with them was of enormous help. Some are still in contact with their mentors. They still have fond memories of the etiquette dinner that we had. We would have the scholars dress up and learn the finer points of eating and how to act during an interview.

It was all great fun and we still do some components of it in some ways. Our completion rate is phenomenal, over 70% and we so enjoy seeing the success of all of our scholars.

THE END OF IMMORTALITY II

The fog of indestructibility once again descended and has not risen until very recently. For a few weeks at the beginning of December, I started having a sort of malaise around my chest. If I could explain it any better, I would. It was intermittent and not at all predictable. At the beginning of January, I decided that I had to see my doctor, even though I had a clean bill of health from him at the beginning of December. He suggested three things- and EKG, a chest x-ray and a stress test.

My doctor is a conservative kind of physician. I have never really appreciated his progressive diagnoses until now. My EKG was fine, as was my chest x-ray. My stress test was not. Who knew about all of the bells and whistles, the nuclear stuff injected into my innards, the 52 pictures in 25 minutes before the treadmill and the 52 pictures afterward.

The technician came out and asked that I sit next to her while she explained that all of the pictures showed no abnormalities except two. Those two showed a blockage in one of my arteries. There was to be a consult with a cardiologist within the next day. I was given extra special attention because of my charm and verve. I was on a fast track to get thing thing diagnosed.

The next morning was snowy and Carol and I kind of brushed the light snow from the driveway. Afterwards, we were to pack up, head to the cardiologist and then drive to Washington D.C. to go on a vacation to someplace really warm. It was all not to be. The cardiologist said that I most probably had a blockage and mentioned the word angina. He arranged for me to have a heart catheterization the following Tuesday at the hospital.

Tuesday arrived early at our house. I was up at 5:30, attended to my ablutions and woke Carol up. We arrived at the hospital at about 8 o’clock. The preparation for the catheterization took about an hour- undressing, blood work, drips, gowns, lots of urinating, shaving in strange places and finally a trip to the operating room.

This was a very strange event. I was totally awake as the catheter marched up my artery and detected not one but two blockages. One blockage could be repaired with a stent. The other is more complicated and I am now scheduled for a hybrid surgery next week. I will have a DaVinci procedure done by robotic hands and one by a cardiologist. I am thankful that I now know why it is I was feeling weird. I have to take it easy till next week and expect another rip roaring time in the hospital. Sitting around the house and reading and watching t.v. is driving me bonkers. Fortunately, a friend of ours and her daughter came up from Greencastle to take us out for Chinese food. Even in my debilitated state, I smack my lips at the egg drop soup and shrimp with lobster sauce. Ever notice how many glasses of water you drink at a Chinese restaurant? That’s not even counting the copious cups of tea.

I am not used to this kind of thing, but I have a number of people who are offering up their prayers for me. I am intrigued by our friend Grahame ( one of the nicest people I know), who is a long time member of the Prison Society, who has a complete Cell Block in one of the prisons praying for me. It is called a Powerhouse prayer. I really do appreciate every kind thought.

My friends and family have been very much involved in my problem and communicate with me every step of the way. My niece, who is a radiologist, spoke with my cardio-vascular surgeon and was impressed. The surgeon teaches other surgeons how to do this procedure. Carol is a bulwark of fortitude and questioning ( as she always is). She may now write a book on this procedure and the personal habits of all of the health workers in the hospital. It is amazing how she finds things out. I am constantly amazed.

To be continued in the next thrilling episode of, “ Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo.” Ming the Merciless does an operation of Dr. Zarkov.