JOHN THE COUNSELOR

Got a very disturbing call the other day. It was from Bill Moyer, a former science teacher at the junior high school in Kutztown of which I was the principal. He told me that John Rohrbach, the guidance counselor at that time, was caught and rolled over by his car. He thought that he had put it in park, but did not. The car lurched forward, knocked him down, broke facial bones, ribs and pinned his left arm under the car for five hours before state police released him.
John had to have his arm amputated. It had been without oxygen for over five hours. He went to the hospital and is now in a rehab center outside of Reading, Pennsylvania. I went to visit John last week and he did not recognize me at first. Finally his long term memory kicked in. His short term memory is non-existent. His physical therapy is going well, but his understanding of where he is comes to naught.
I have known John for 40 years. I am in communication with this son Kurt on almost a daily basis. I have kept in contact with John since I left Kutztown in 1982. He has always been a friend and the finest guidance counselor I have ever seen.
Most people do not have evidence for their prejudices. The evidence for John being an incredibly great counselor resides in a statewide test that the kids took in the seventies. It was called the Test of Educational Quality Assessment. It was more than just reading and writing. It asked questions about the school and some personal questions from the students. In the section related to counseling, John came out in the 99th percentile. It was simply amazing. That was in my first year. As the years went by, I began to understand what all of that meant.
I recall some really funny events that marked John’s tenure with me as the principal. It was a rainy Friday in Kutztown. Andy Rump, one of more interesting citizens, decided to cut out of school. John and I were determined to catch him and bring him back. We ran out of the building down towards Main St. We were sopping wet as we increased our speed. When we got to Main St., we stopped. We looked at each other and both said, “What the hell are we doing here?”
One of our students had not shown up to school for a week. We tried calling and sending letters. We could not reach the parents at home or at work. We got the truancy officer to go to the house. He actually called the local police to come with him. Sometime during the day, John was called and told that the boy was in the trailer and would not come out. They thought that John and I would know the kid and have some impact on him. What they didn’t tell us when we went into the trailer was that the young man had a 12 gauge shotgun in him bedroom and was threatening everyone. John and I called to the youngster and finally got him to come out and sit down to talk with John. Once again we said to each other, “What the hell were we thinking?”
One of our 14 year old special education young ladies was very troubled. She asked to see Mr. Rohrbach in his office. He obliged her. There was kind of a very thin couch in his office. She beckoned him to come sit close to her. He obliged. She reached out grabbed his shoulder and placed her face near his ear, as if to tell him a secret and stuck her tongue in his ear. He came out of the office screaming. We did not get the full story till about 20 minutes later. The young lady could not understand what all of the fuss was about.
John was a real jokester. The butt of most of his jokes was me. One day in April, I came to my office and hung my coat in the outer office, as I always did. When I was ready to go home in the afternoon, I noticed that there were a number of small springs attached to my coat. I asked John what that was all about and he told me that he was concerned that I did not have a “Spring Coat.”
On a cold winter morning, there was nothing like a hot cup of coffee. I was accustomed to put milk and sugar in my coffee. The milk was in one of those small containers that you find in a school cafeteria I (yes, we paid for it). The container was in the refrigerator in the nurse’s office right next to John’s office. That morning I filled my coffee cup, put in my sugar and opened to refrigerator door. I would grab for the milk container. I did just that and spilled the milk all over myself. It had been tied to the shelves in the refrigerator. At least John and my secretary helped clean me up.
One day, I had to go to a one day conference at Lehigh University. I left from school in the morning and came back at about five in the afternoon. When I returned, I was shocked to see that my office had been completely emptied. I was astounded. I looked around everywhere in the building for my chairs, desk bookcases and such and could not find them. Next morning, they magically appeared in my office. John claimed that he had nothing to do with it.
John is still the jokester. Even in his foggy stage he told me that after his rehabilitation, he would seek a job as the 80 year old one armed man in the remake of the fugitive.
There is no one that I have ever met like John. I pray that he returns to us.

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THE ULTIMATE FEAR-WOMEN

I hesitated to write this rant because I was uncertain about what an ending might be. Let’s see what comes out. I will write and let things happen. I was raised by women. My dad died when I was four. My grandmother, Frieda, my mom Sonia and my older sister Renee took turns looking after me. The result of this upbringing led me to some strange habits, as a man, and an understanding of those three women that I carry with me today.
They were and are fierce about almost everything they did, or do. My sister still has the capacity to behead you in any conversation on most topics. She is unalterably conservative and can rattle off reasons for the failure of our country, both economically and socially. She is a direct genetic descendant of her maternal forbearers. Grandma and mom had that same capacity.
It is no wonder then, that I was the only boy to approach girls at junior high school dances . I was removed from the boy scouts because I was more interested in what the girl scouts were doing. I say none of this with tongue in cheek.
The world did change in the 1960’s. As birth control, labor saving machines, and a workforce need became part of our culture, women began to free themselves from their age old attachment to the home. Some say it was a bad thing and has caused immense dislocation of our society. I am not sure of any of that, but I do listen to the arguments. The women’s lib movement was frightening to a large segment of our male population, not just here, but around the world.
It would be possible in a few years, so these men thought, that women might take over the world. Men would be relegated to a lesser role. When sperm banks became the rage, there would then be no need for men as babymakers. Women would be in charge. They live longer, raise the children, work outside the home and really don’t need men for much. The ire of the rougher sex was just beginning to be stimulated.
Many of these fellows retreated into the bible and are still there today. After all, no matter what a liberal interpretation of the bible says, women were pretty much chattel. Take a look at Deuteronomy and see the rules for women. In the New Testament, there are few women and no apostles. When Dan Brown’s book came out about the DaVinci code, that hypothesized (fictionally), that Mary Magdalene was actually a helpmate to Jesus and maybe the most important apostle, many men got angry.
It was not just men in this category of hatred of women. In our country we have a number of women who also saw the 1960’s as a horrible thing. Their traditional roles were being challenged and stay-at-home moms were being denigrated. The likes of Phyllis Shlafly and Dr. Laura hurled venom at Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and others for telling women that they had rights and choices in their lives. “Women like to be mothers and homemakers.”
What happens when women have choices and are not tied to the home or to anything else? They then can do what men can do. So, the 1970’s saw a backlash. Political campaigns were based on anti-women rants, which go on unabated today. However, the fight has been joined by such women at Ann Coulter, Sara Palin, Michelle Baughman and many others, who use their anti-women feelings to enhance political campaigns and bookselling.
The men who are still living in the 1950’s are fighting an action against Roe v. Wade, contraception, and now abortion after a rape (a legitimate rape, whatever that is). These are folks who appeal to anti-woman feelings deep down in working men’s hearts- the fear of the loss of masculinity and control over their domains.
I am not saying that white collar men are immune to these kinds of entreaties, but the politics is aimed at working men. According to the anti-women sages, you will just become an unnecessary part of life. Stand up and fight- no abortion, no working outside the home, no taking men’s jobs from them, no more handling of the money and so on.
Countries in some Middle East areas are so anti-women and fearful that an Arab Spring with women taking charge are restricting women further. How about honor killings? Now comes the perfect answer, straight out of Reconstruction. How about separate, but equal? The Saudis are going to build a city strictly for women, so that they can live according to their wishes and not the wishes of the Iman’s, princes, kings, caliphs and other male leaders. What a wonderful idea. It certainly worked for African Americans here in the U.S. Why not for women in Saudi Arabia?

MANDA THE SINGER

Her long red curly hair sways into her face when she plays the piano and sings at the same time. Her 3 octave voice seems to come from some other unworldly place, rather than her mouth. She is as Irish as County Cork with a smile that can light up a very dim room. She can sing her own songs, which she creates out of whole cloth, and anything else that you might ask her. Manda is a singer in the most traditional of ways.
Her voice is at once cultured, brassy, lilting, uplifting and down and dirty. Her interpretations of some old standards make them sound like new songs. Her own creations extend her range from a low alto to an operatic coloratura (she has sung opera). I have often wanted to have such a trained voice so that every note was of my creation, rather than the songwriter’s, or the person that I was imitating. Manda makes each song hers and it was delightful to see.
Our small bunch of followers on our way to Norway on a Royal Caribbean ship, were fascinated by her and sat with our drinks held high as she sang almost every single request ( mostly by me). Our compatriots, Bo and Renate (from Denmark) and David and Julie from Cape Cod became instant fans of this wonderful musician.
Here piano playing follows her voice to a T. If you have any musical background \you know how hard that is to do. Manda makes it look easy. She can play with one hand and gesture with the other ( not sure she even realizes she is doing it). Carol and I purchased one of her CDs. We will probably keep in touch with Manda and hope that we will run across her sometime in the future, or go to someplace where she is singing.
Not sure what the future holds for her and her horn playing husband. We can only wish them the best of luck and hope that the break , they so richly deserve, gets to them quickly.

THE TEENIEST BATHROOM IN THE WORLD

Carol and I usually stay at bed and breakfasts when we travel abroad. It is a simple way to meet people and get to know the country a little better. We did that in Copenhagen and had a ball. Our first room was with a music producer who is a percussionist and has about 20 bongos in the house. His 16 year old daughter sings and there is always fun stuff going on in his house.
In most b and b’s you share a bathroom with other guests or with the home owner. In both of these cases in Copenhagen, we shared a bathroom. In the second home, we were treated to the smallest bathroom I have ever seen in a non airline bathroom. Actually, I have been in an airline bathroom that is bigger.
The room was about two cubits wide (distance between the tips of your fingers to your elbows and about 4 cubits long. Sitting on the toilet was an adventure. I am sure that Senator Craig could not have done it. Someone bigger than me would have had to be extricated by the jaws of death. The sink was about 10 inches by 18 inches. There was no room to put anything. Shaving was a joy as was any kind of washing.
The most fun was taking a shower. A track was set up on the small ceiling which excluded only the toilet seat. So, the shower covered about 75% of the room. A shower curtain hung down from the track and surrounded you when you pulled it around your body. Instructions were to squeegee the bathroom after taking a shower to that lime scale could not begin to build up.
The shower itself was hand held and could be turned in any direction, save the one that you wanted. Carol was particularly enamored of her inability to shoot water on the parts of the body that needed it most. I, on the other hand, sprayed water all over the place including the toilet bowl. It was an experience that made our stay in Copenhagen memorable. By the way, we have a video of the whole bathroom. Ask for it when you come over.

THE EVILS OF PACKING

I don’t believe that I have ever gotten over the idea of packing for a vacation. My wife, Carol takes about twenty minutes to complete all the tasks assigned to her. She does the money, the passports, the tickets, planes, boats, lodging, etc. with a flair that I cannot even conceive, while I have trouble figuring out what socks to bring along.
The sock bring along always results in my going to Burlington Coat Factory to pick up a pair or 6, or sometimes even twelve. You can never tell when it will know it Italy or Spain or in Florida during August. My retinue of clothing is always so much more than Carol’s. She is satisfied with a couple of pairs of slacks, maybe a pair of shorts and a small number or washable tops. She includes her underwear and stockings, or socks and an extra pair of shoes.
That takes care of the about 1/3 of the large valise (the politically incorrect word for suitcases). It is my job then, to fill the rest of it up. We have to take a camera and probably some binoculars (that goes without saying), an extra pair of shoes, about four pair of pants, shorts, a bathing suit and copious underwear. You never want to be seen in dirty underwear.
Then there is the question of hats. Carol has an old straw hat that she wears all of the time. I have a large number of baseball caps, cowboy hats, and strange looking woolen hats. It takes me a while to figure out the latitude and longitude of where we are going so that I may be confident that I don’t fry or freeze. Should I take a formal shirt, a tie and sport jacket. I could take all three. After all there are a couple of formal dining evenings on the boat. We may even go to a fancy restaurant and I will be forced to look like a street person if I don’t have, at lease, a jacket.
We have some friends who have taken a course in packing. They learned to twist things so that they are much smaller than they once were. They also have plastic bags and a vacuum pump that can take the air out of plastic bags and render them as flat as Saran Wrap. I am a bit afraid to do that. What happens if all of those bags explode in my face and I am forced to wear a mask for the whole trip?
The question of unguents and creams and assorted medical supplies can drive me crazy. Carol has a rather small red back that she puts all of her age related ablative materials and jewelry into. She then stuffs them into the large valise and off we go. I, however, do not have that kind of capability. I have shaving cream, razors, after shave, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, many bottles of pills and vitamins, salves for unmentionable parts of my body, Pepto Bismol, Align and other helpmeets. By the time I believe I am ready to go, I have used up about three or four days of scrounging around.
Of course we have to have some foreign money. I have gotten some from my local bank and have also drawn out some American money. The exchange rates are so at variance, that I am instructed to take care of this item.
By the time our day of departure comes, we have checked almost everything. Oops, we forgot sunglasses or eyeglass cleaner and have taken our cell phones, which have no use where we are going. The day of the trip, I feel that I have missed something like nail clippers or something. Don’t forget to check the gas on the stove, shut down the computer and put a message on there that we will not be home till . . . Now what did we forget. Must be something. Oh well, we are not going to the Antarctic; there must be stores where we are going.

PAUL

Seems like a few months ago that were living in Clarion, PA. I was the Intermediate Director and we had over 25% unemployment there. It was a bad time for the people, in general, in Western Pennsylvania is the early 1980’s. I was just settling into my job, which included reading seventeen newspapers every other day. It was imperative that I do this to keep up with all of my seventeen school districts and kind of impress the superintendents.
I also made it a necessity to visit every single school board in the entire Intermediate Unit. At each board meeting, I was given some time to explain what the I.U. did and what my job was all about. When I arrived at the Red Bank Valley School District offices, I was greeted by the Superintend of Schools, Dick Krepp, who introduced me to the editor of the local paper, the Leader-Vindicator. That is how I met Paul,
The meeting began with the pledge to the flag, a prayer and introduction of guests, of which I was one. I was asked to approach the board table and give my schpeil. I did my due diligence rather artfully, I thought. One of the board members, a professor at Clarion University, took particular umbrage with everything I said. He asked me what my salary was and inquired if I thought it was too high. I told him my salary and answered all of his questions. I was about to ask him what his salary was at the university (it too was a public institution), but I didn’t.
Carol and I got out of there wondering what kind of impression I made. Later on, I found out that the rest of the board and supe, thought that the professor’s questions were really out of order. The meeting was on a Tuesday night and the Leader Vindicator came out on a Thursday. I quickly grabbed hold of my copy that afternoon and read the article by Paul. It made mention everything that I presented and nothing about my salary. I quickly called Paul and thanked him for the article and the absence of my salary. He said that in the near future, he would publish my salary, but he was not going to allow that effete snob to tell him what to write in a story by continuing to bring up my salary.
That was the beginning with Paul. He is an uncommonly kind and thoughtful person and a great reporter and editor. In the following years, he became the editor of the Clarion News. It came out twice a week and could keep up with the happenings in Clarion County. Among all of the folks he raked over the coals for those years, I was among them. I can remember one cartoon that he had me and my skinny body dressed up in a barrel with suspenders crying “poverty.” The cartoons were done by Paul ( although most of us thought it was by his wife).
Paul soon became the managing editor of the Clarion News and made it a success in many ways. People waited for it come out to see what Ronald T. Bogus had to say, how the county commissioners were screwing up, how the schools were doing with their budgets, births and deaths and a comprehensive community newspaper.
After we left Clarion, Paul went up to the college to become their publications person. Since we were not there, I am not sure what his role was. He was there for over 9 years. He came to Lancaster in the early 2000’s to become the managing editor of a publishing firm. That’s when I ran across him again.
In my communications with him, he seemed a different person. His marriage had dissolved, his kids moved to different parts of the country, and he came to grips with something that had been with him since childhood- abuse. He published a book in 2010 that described his early life and how he coped with it. He is still coping with it right now.
He is now living in a log cabin in Lancaster County and has just been downsized. It’s tough for me to see this totally competent person in such a condition. At this point, we are looking around for something that he can grab onto. He needs our help and we will give it to him.