THE STORY OF MOSES/ A LA CHABON

“Isis be damned,” decried Hatshepsut, Princess of Egypt, “It just can’t be.” The princess’ handmaiden was not in tune with what was going on. “Can you believe it, I am certain that I am pregnant. I can’t be pregnant, my father will kill me. He wants me to marry Prince Ba and produce many grandchildren. Now all of that is down the crapper.” The handmaiden bowed demurely and suggested, “Maybe there is a way out of this. Maybe we can do something that will solve the problem.”

Hatshepsut looked quizzically at her handmaiden. “Are you crazy, what can we possibly do that would help me get out of this situation?” “Well,” the handmaiden said, “Hasn’t your father told the Hebrew midwives to kill all of the Hebrew boys when they are born? And, haven’t the midwives failed to do their job?” “Yes,” said the princess, “what has that to do with this?

“How close are you to giving birth, princess?” “I am not sure but probably about 6 months. I seem to be carrying small and can wear loose clothing for a couple of months,” exclaimed the princess. “Well then,” said the handmaiden. We must keep the birth of the child from your father and all of the others in the palace. When the child is born, you will take the child, if it’s a boy, and put it in a reed casket and put it in the bull rushes. You can then claim that you found it there. Once that is believed, you can ask one of the Hebrew midwives to nurse the child and then take the boy (if it is a boy) and raise him as your own. No one will be the wiser.” If it’s a girl, we can have someone else take it and raise it as their own.

“What a great idea,” declared the princess, and that is exactly what she did. She found a Hebrew midwife and asked her to be a wet nurse and to raise the child and then bring it to her when the child is grown and she will take it from there.

So it was that Moses was raised in a Hebrew household, knowing that his adopted family was part of a group that was being mistreated by his real family. That screwed up Moses entirely. He could not understand why it was that he was in the middle of a situation, not of his doing, which seemed so unfair. He was in a blue funk one day when he was walking around in town and saw a real big burly guy beating the crap out of this little guy.

He called out to the big guy to stop, but nothing happened. He walked over to the man and said, “Didn’t I just tell you to get out of this man’s face?” The burly man took a swing at Moses, which was a huge mistake. Moses had been trained in the palace in the art of wrestling and rendering his opponent unable to breathe. So while the man took another swing, Moses used a form of the Vulcan Death Grip and killed the man.

The little guy ran away and Moses was left with a dead body to get rid of. He put the big man on his back and walked out into the desert and buried him. However, the news of his valiant deed (so thought the Hebrews) and his murder of an Egyptian (thought his real family) reached the ears of the Pharaoh. Ikhnaton acted quickly to find Moses. He was going to kill him, family member or not. This was not something you could do as a non-Egyptian. Moses had heard that the Pharaoh was looking for him and made a beeline for foreign places.

Akhenaton had no understanding of the history of the Hebrews in his land. He only knew them as slaves that built things. All he knew was that they were not Egyptians and had been used as slaves for many years. He had no idea that they were descended from the original 70 family members that Jacob had brought down to Egypt from Canaan four hundred years before.

Canaan had a famine and Jacob needed to get his family out of there before they starved to death. He had heard that Egypt had stored up grain during the good times and was willing to entertain his family as guest workers for a time. Who knew that the time would turn out to be four hundred years and that Jacob’s family would become so numerous? Little did Jacob know that this was the plan of the Grand Vizier of Egypt, Jacob’s long lost son Joseph (or so Jacob thought). Actually, the Joseph that was the #2 in Egypt was not really Jacob’s son, but the illegitimate son of the Pharaoh Thutmose. The original Joseph had been killed by the very caravan that had stopped to pick him up after his brothers had left him to die.

This Joseph was a wily cuss and knew that the Hebrews were a strong lot and could be counted on to do a bunch of cheap labor. That is how they wound up being the new underclass in Egypt. Had Jacob only known what was in store for his family, he would have kept on going to the Sudan.

Moses wound up being the butt of the old farmer’s daughter’s jokes until he later somehow became the leader of a nomadic group of Hebrews. To be continued . . .

RANDOM ACTS

A long time ago a young man of my acquaintance told me about an incident when he was in elementary school. He was sitting at his desk in art class, working on a project. He was deeply involved in the activity, when the art teacher came over and smacked his hand and told him that he was not doing it correctly. It was such a traumatic experience, and so unexpected, that remembers it all of these years later. It kind of led him away from something that he enjoyed and he has not been comfortable doing anything artistic since then.

Reading Michael Moore’s autobiography, produced another random event that has affected all of us, no matter whether you love or hate Michael Moore. When he was a senior in high school, he was stopped in the hallway by the assistant principal for discipline, a Mr. Ryan. Mr. Ryan told Moore to tuck his shirt in, which Moore did, and then proceeded to give him 2 or 3 whacks on the behind for being out of step with the dress code. Moore never forgot that event and, at age 18, ran for school board and had Mr. Ryan and the principal of the school fired. That began Michael Moore’s political activism.

I have a similar story to tell about my short, but basketball laden year and a half at Queens College in the middle 1950’s. To say that I was interested in my classes, would be a joke. I was only interested in basketball and the other sex. I spent most of my time playing ball- soccer, basketball and later, baseball. I will not bother you with my social life. I had entered Queens College in September of 1955 and limped my way through 3 semesters, betting mostly C’s and D’s and an occasional B and at least one F. By March of 1957, I was not at all sure that I would be able to finish college. I liked my French course, my art course and hated all the rest, including my major- accounting. The grind was too much for me. I did not discuss any of these things with my family.

I was having a good time socially, but knew that I would soon be asked to leave, or to go on some sort of probation. One Saturday evening, I was socializing in front of the Midway Theater on Queens Boulevard, near Continental Avenue when I saw an Army recruiting storefront down the block. It was as if god was telling me that was the next thing that I should do.

I crooked out of school on Monday and went down to the recruiting station and kind of signed up for the Army. Actually, the recruiting sergeant wanted me to sign up for three years. I dismissed this idea as being too much in the future and had him move my draft number up and I was in the military for two years.

When I went to the bursar’s office to sign out of school and get of my dough back, they insisted that I go see a counselor and talk to him/her about quitting. The counselor was a nice and placid woman who told me that over 90% of the students who left college never came back to finish. I told her that I thought that I would be one of the 10% who did. She looked at me in a kindly way and smiled. “I sure hope so,” she said.

When I finally told my mother that I was leaving for the service, she threw a seven ( a Philly expression) and told me that it was a really dumb thing for me to do and only Sheguztim ( gentiles) went into the service and what would I do there anyway. She was sure that I could not drive a tank or shoot a gun, or certainly not kill anyone. I told her that there was no war going on and if they wanted to teach me to drive a tank, that would be fine.

She would have none of my palaver and called for a meeting of my family to convince me not to go into the service. Strangely enough, she called on my father’s side of the family to convince me. My Uncle Irving and my cousin Arthur and my mother’s cousin Lester had all been in the service during World War II and survived. The get together turned into a going away party for me- lots of tears from my aunts and well wishes from the male side of my family.

I often wonder what I would have done, had I not seen the recruiting station on that fateful Friday evening. As I stood there with a Kool cigarette hanging from my lip, what would I have done after quitting school? I guess I would have gotten a job and become a member of the working class. As it was, I came back and finished Queens College. My trouble making days were still ahead of me.

STANLEY AND THE CHUMSKY

He slept in my bed when I was about eleven and married my sister in November of 1950. You can figure out that they have been married for 61 years and they are still together. Stanley was a poor boy from Brooklyn, who made it all the way up to being the President of a securities firm on Wall Street. The firm died after the 1987 recession and Stanley went back to being a customer’s man. He still goes into work, at age 82, three days a week.
Three out of the other four days, he goes to a dialysis center at five in the morning to have his blood “cleaned” (as he describes it). He has other minor ailments, some heart problems and diabetes among others. Of late, he was been less active than previously. He still plays chess once a week and does some walking in the arcade below the massive building that he lives in.

My sister and Stanley have probably been at odds for most of their married life. Stanley is described by my sister as the, “Prince of Darkness.” She claims that he does not go along with any of the suggestions that she makes in any phase of their relationship. Stanley believes that his opinions on most subjects trump most other humans.

One cannot get away from a visit with Stanley without a diatribe about economics. His hatred for the leadership of our country for the past 60 years is palpable. His feeling about Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan cannot be expressed here. His lack of respect for our last two presidents results in his wanting to write them letters, but knowing that they will not understand him. His belief system is colored by his understanding of John Maynard Keynes (the real philosophy of economics) and not the half baked ideas of those who have only read part of his works. His feelings about such things have not changed since I have known him.

Both my sister and her husband claim not to have any friends. Alvin Chumsky and Stanley have known each other for over 60 years and remain only business friends. I believe that they met in high school. Stanley and Renee do not entertain at all anymore and very little when they were younger. They are absolutely involved with their children and grandchildren. My sister is kind of proud that she has only acquaintances and not friends. She is the mirror of my mother who often espoused the theory that one can only depend on your family and not “strangers.”

As they have gotten older, the differences between them have exacerbated. As Stanley becomes more infirm, Renee becomes more of a care giver. This would not be so bad, if Stanley had any feelings about cooperating. Renee might insist on going to a doctor, or making some later arrangement for dialysis with Stanley, and him not agreeing with her at any time. This often leads to heated discussions and argumentation.
As I look at them for all of the years that they have been with each other, I know that there must have been some moments of tenderness and yes, love. Those times are not apparent any more. I have asked my sister about having a 50th anniversary celebration and more recently a 60 anniversary celebration. All of these questions to no avail. Her answer is always the same. “Why should we celebrate, just for being with each other for so long.”

It put me in mind of the couple that had been married for seventy five years and were getting a divorce. When asked by reporters why they waited so long, their reply was, “We were waiting for all of our kids to die.”

WE INHERIT AUNT RUTHIE

Sometime in 1996, Carol and I got a call from my Uncle Joe¹s brother Mac. We had not seen Aunt Ruth or Uncle Joe since our daughter¹s wedding in 1992.
Somehow, we were not going up to New York (and are still not) very often.
When we did go up, we visited my mother, in her apartment or finally in the old age home that marked her final days.
Mac¹s call was disturbing. Seems he had gotten a call from Aunt Ruthie saying that she could not seem to wake Uncle Joe. She thought he had been sleeping for a few days. When Mac went over there, he discovered his brother was dead. Aunt Ruthie did not seem to be disturbed by these happenings.
According to Mac, Ruthie was in the throes of dementia.
Mac found our phone number in Aunt Ruthie¹s phone book and gave us a call.
Carol and I pretty much dropped everything and headed up to New York. When we got there, their apartment in the Warbasse Cooperative was in shambles and they had not paid attention to hygiene for a long time. The stench was overwhelming and the mess was beyond anything that we could imagine.
Aunt Ruthie was happy to see us and actually knew who we were. She smiled and offered us some food (which she really did not have). I had called my sister Renee to come to the apartment and actually picked her up on our way there. Everything was filthy, including Aunt Ruthie. At that point, she was very overweight and found it difficult to move around.
As I began to straighten up the apartment, Renee and Carol moved Aunt Ruthie into the bathroom and tried to give her a bath. It was extremely difficult.
Carol and Renee are not big strong powerful women, but about 5 ft 1 or thereabouts. I could hear them grunting as they maneuvered Aunt Ruth into the bath.
She was beyond filthy. Evidently, she had not cleaned herself when she exited from the bathroom in a long time. It was our impression that Uncle Joe had been taking care of her for a long while. Her body was covered with excrement, including between her toes. As sad as that sounds, Aunt Ruthie was completely oblivious to her situation; in fact, she was happy and kidding around with Renee and Carol during the entire operation. Somehow we had to laugh- have you ever tried to wrestle a chubby, naked, slippery woman out of a bathtub?
By the time Ruthie was dried off and dressed I had accumulated things to throw out. I had found a massive shoehorn collection, four or five vacuum cleaners, assorted underwear still in cellophane wrappers (not plastic or any modern wrapping). These items, many of them over thirty or forty years old were all being stored in a closet along with a bunch of used Depends.
The amount of trash and extraneous items eventually filled thirty-nine 50 gallon black plastic bags. We gave most of the clothing to the Salvation Army and rescued some of Ruth¹s clothing. Mac and his wife Evelyn did yeoman work in helping us.
Because Ruthie¹s had not had medical attention for a long while, she was not doing well physically. Eventually, we had to put her into a hospital for a while to get all of her vitals back in shape. That took a number of weeks.
We were told that putting her in the hospital for a while was important; something about Medicare and going from a hospital to a nursing home rather than going from your house into a nursing home. Who knew?
While Ruthie was in the hospital we made arrangements with the Jewish Home in Harrisburg to take Aunt Ruthie. Somehow Joe and Ruth had accumulated about $125,000 in savings. We suspected that they had saved a large portion of their social security checks and had denied themselves practically every creature comfort (maybe even food) to do that. That money dissipated at a rate of $6,000 per month at the nursing facility and was gone long before Ruthie passed away.
The day came to pick Ruthie up in New York and transport her to the Jewish Home in Harrisburg. We had packed all of Aunt Ruthie¹s worldly goods in our van, which left only a small space for Carol to squeeze into a back seat. I drove and Aunt Ruthie, who was in the passenger side of the van, sang songs with me all the way to Allentown where she announced, ³Let¹s all eat!² We stopped, for old times’ sake, at the beautiful Holiday Inn hotel and restaurant where our daughter¹s wedding reception had been several years ago.

I will turn the rest of the story over to Carol:
Allentown is in the middle of Pennsylvania, so when Ruthie began pointing out all the ³boats² that were sailing by the restaurant window, it became clear to us that she was in a world of her own. After lunch Arnold went to get the car and I was walking Ruthie- ever so slowly- through the hotel lobby. There was a conference in full swing and Ruthie smiled at and greeted all the business people as they hurried by.
Suddenly Ruthie stopped, “I have to go to the bathroom.²”Now, we had been told by the nurses at the New York hospital not to let Ruthie take off her Depends, “You will never get it back on her,” they had warned and we didn¹t even have a clean Depends with us. However, Ruthie was my dear aunt. How could I deny her this common courtesy? So, together we slowly shuffled into the Lady¹s Room. Ruthie was exclaiming over all the mirrors as she disappeared into a stall and locked the door. Minutes passed. I waited. More minutes passed. Then, I heard her, ‘Honey,’ she sang out, ‘I¹m stuck.’ ‘Open the door and I¹ll help you,’ I said. ‘Honey, I¹m stuck in here.’ As she was starting to panic. ‘Just push the lock,’ I offered. Nothing. ‘Try sliding it,’ I urged. ‘Oh, I¹m stuck,’ she cried. Well, what would YOU do?
I crawled under the door of the stall and realized, too late, that the nurses were right. Ruthie and I were busy wrestling her back into the damp Depends when I heard the door to the Lady¹s Room open. Peering under the stall door, I witnessed two sets of long, sleek stockinged legs in high heels enter the bathroom. The women were chatting so I can pinpoint the exact moment they must have noticed our two sets of feet in the one bathroom stall. Silence.
I waited until the women disappeared into separate stalls and then Ruthie, unfazed by what was happening, and I emerged. Needless to say, I was anxious to exit the bathroom, but Ruthie remembered we needed to wash up. She turned on the faucet and I was immeasurably relieved to note that the two women were still hiding in their stalls, as Ruthie proceeded to remove her false teeth and rinse them off.
The rest of the trip was uneventful!

DEPRESSION IN HAPPY VALLEY AND BEYOND

The terrible events at Penn State have repercussions worldwide. This is not to say that these events are connected to the economic failures of Greece and Italy. For those of you who are not familiar with the Penn State culture, these words seem almost ludicrous. However, they have meaning to Penn State graduates and hangers on.
Being an alum of Penn State has meaning beyond the once a year phone call imploring you to give money to your old alma mater. Penn State is more than just the place that you went to school; it is a cultural paradigm of which you are proud. When P.S.U. folks see each other in the four corners of the globe, they immediately feel at home. These are friends that you can trust and hang around with. After all, they are part of the largest alumni association that there is.
For those of you who have no connection to the home of the blue and white, retirement areas are springing up there so that the elderly can come back home and live. The neighboring areas, such as Boalsburg and Penns Valley flourish from the reflected sunlight of Happy Valley.
International events are held there and folks from all over the world fly into the State College airport. Even when you look to see that the surrounding area is barren of population, you see the magnificence of the area as you land at the airport.
The imagination runs wild thinking about the number of vehicles from motorcycles to rv’s that are adorned with Nittany Lion stickers. How many coffee cups, blankets and innumerable tschakies are there in the homes of alumni and others? How many small children wear Penn State tee shirts, onezies, hats, scarves, swaddled by PSU blankets, wear Penn State underwear and have a JOEPA Bighead or cardboard cutout in their homes?
The web is rife with Penn State graduates trying to help each other get jobs. The career center at Penn State is a marvelously active place. Many companies come onto campus to hire their best and brightest. What happens to Peachy Paterno ice cream?
There is no end to the speculation about how all of this might turn out. The pride that Penn Staters have in their school is directly related to the football program and not to their majors. Even the venerable ag program suffers as a result of these happenings. How will the rest of the world look at the university with the formerly unblemished reputation?
How long did it take other schools, with events ,not as horrible as these, to make a comeback? What happened to CCNY, LIU, and other schools in the point shaving scandals of the early 1950’s. How did West Point come back from its cheating scandal? What about S.M. U and their football program of the 1980’s? How about the University of Miami? Have they come back yet?
Or is this completely different ? Is this an issue without end ? Will the football program fall into disrepute with prospective players? Will the administration’s failure to act stop some very talented professors, researchers and such from taking a job at a university that did nothing to prevent these tragedies? Will the state legislature, always a Penn State supporter, jump off the bandwagon? Will the alumni stop their giving to a school that has embarrassed them to their families, friends and co-workers? We shall see.

BROKEN ICONS

The revelations about the coach at Penn State molesting all of those boys and the lack of action taken by a number of officials over a 13 year period is devastating. Even more contradictory, is the absence of follow up action by the renowned coach of the Nittany Lions, Joe Paterno. Among all of sports icons, prior to these unfolding events, JOEPA has remained an unblemished figure, a molder of men and someone who disdained the darker side of sports.

There were no cheating scandals or recruiting violations attached to his name. My own family viewed him as someone to look up to. My son called me from Penn State, when he was going there in the 1980’s, to tell me that he had seen Paterno on campus and had actually gone up to him , said hello and Joe had responded in kind. He donated over a million dollars to the library at Penn State and was a fund raiser for many different charities.

Now the page turns, and his weak response to a very serious situation tells you something more about his legacy. In this era of constant news, the chances of an unblemished private or public life are practically nil. I can speak for no one, but myself, when I conclude that icons are made to be broken. There is something in our souls that like to emulate Abraham, in Genesis, who smashed all of the idols in his father’s home.

While we cluck and tsk tsk, we really are happier when we find out that someone who has a clean public image is found to be less than what we thought of him or her. We spend many years unearthing trash about Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa and George Washington. At the end, we find out that they were just as human as we are. Their thoughts and actions are still housed in human bodies replete with all of the doubts and dark sides as all of us.

We never seem to get that. When Charles Barkley told us that he did not want to be a role model for young children, we kind of laughed at Charles. We wanted to have him be something that he knew he was not. Fortunately for us, Charles knows himself very well and tried to tell us. In many ways, he was successful. When we see him now on TV, we realize what he was talking about.

All of this is wrapped up in expectations. We want so much to believe in something or someone. We look for idols, for mentors, to those who we can aspire to be like. We want Herman Cain to be the kind of person who can be President of the United States. We wanted Roger Clemens to be cleared of all drug charges; we wanted JOEPA to retire with an unblemished record.  We also wanted them to be knocked off their high perches.

That contradiction is endemic. It is part of our own self image. We can never live up to these people and are positively disposed when they are proven to be mere humans like us.

 

Coming soon in 2014 a shocker by that master of mafia mayhem

                                 Ronaldo Finkenbinder

The Night was Clear and the Moon Was Yellow . .

                 THE SANITATION CONSULTANT

And the leaves came tumbling down. As I drove to the manor house, my strained eyes could only see the parchment lights coming through the trees. I could not get UP enough speed to get to the house in time to prevent the massacre. The entire family was wiped out courtesy of a banana clip inserted into an automatic Schlitzer- Wolfgang  weapon. The number of bullets deposited into the once human figures told me that this was no ordinary mob murder. It was done with enough malice to preclude a professional killer.

The Blendini family members were arrayed all over the family room in odd poses reminiscent of pictures of hell in Dante’s Inferno. There was no attempt to place them in repose or in a semblance of order. The killer was thorough in his/her work, but sloppy and angry. This was going to be a very difficult case.

The phone call that I had received earlier in the evening had not prepared me for the carnage that I was looking at now. The call from a  family member just told me that I was going to find a mess and that it was up to me to clean it up and then find the killer or killers. 

This was my job these days- sanitation consultant extraordinaire and bounty hunter for the New York Family Cooperative. If you don’t know what that is, look it up on Google, or call the Attorney General of your state.

Don’t you just hate it when you come to the end of the mystery, suspense or political thriller and find the above as an introduction to the author’s next opus. I wish they would just have a summary, rather than a couple of pages from chapter I. Sometimes there is enough writing so that you are angry that the book is coming out in about two and one half years.

You then realize that each of Finkenbinder’s books are the same. The murder or murders begin the book, a bewildered single woman, or wife of a deceased person needs your help. You get a call from your unknown employer telling you to clean up the mess and find the real killers. You then run into all kinds of obstacles, take all kinds of trips ( usually with the single woman), kill other people who are trying to kill you, get beat up and then find the killer. The killer is usually someone whom you have met somewhere in the early part of book and to whom you paid no attention.

Usually, you do not remember that you have read the beginning of a book till you pick it up and think that you have read the book before. Sometimes you even put it down and are certain that you have read it.