Saturday, March 25, 2023

Understanding Your Parents

I just solved a mystery that'd confused me for decades.

In childhood we see but don't always understand our parents' behavior. Their motivations often elude us. That was the case when I observed my normally-thrifty mother spend money every year buying sets of uncirculated coins from the U.S. Mint. The "United States Proof Sets," encased in plastic, include that year's penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half-dollar and dollar. I discovered dozens of these in my father's belongings recently when cleaning out his stuff.

As a child I was a coin-collector myself so the concept of collecting coins wasn't foreign to me but my attraction to coins was their aesthetic value. For example, my favorite coin (from Germany) has fancy writing on the SIDE of the coin. How cool is that? Other coins also have intriguing designs.

My mother had no interest in coins' artwork so that wasn't her reason for collecting. Nor was investment value. The value of coins depends on two things: condition and scarcity. While the condition of coins in these sets is "mint" (never handled by humans) they are certainly not rare. Millions were minted and sold meaning they'd never acquire any real value.

No, the reason lay elsewhere. I pondered my mother's uncharacteristic behavior for decades. Only now, after sustained consideration and mature insight do I understand it.

To grasp what was going on, you have to put yourself in the head of an insecure immigrant. As young adults my parents desperately strove to assimilate, to become Americans. They wanted the idyllic life of an American family. My father took courses to lose his German accent; my parents finished the basement of our small house with a wooden bar and decorated it with alcoholic advertisements (e.g., Rheingold) to host drunken parties with their neighbors. Stuff like that.

Viewed in this context, my mother's coin-buying suddenly makes sense. She was not purchasing coins; she was buying into the idea of America. Her puchases were an expression of faith in a country she and my father embraced wholeheartedly. 

Patriotism is uncommon now but back then, especially in immigrant groups, it was pervasive. Standing apart from American culture was dangerous; fitting in was safer. Demonstrating allegiance to our country's symbols, including its currency, is a form of cultural worship my parents engaged in. 

Now, finally, I get it. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

My Career

I was admitted to the Bar on March 23, 1983 -- which makes today the 40th anniversary of that event. (I actually started working as a lawyer earlier in September 1982.)

I announced my "retirement" a year-and-a-half ago but, honestly, it hasn't occurred yet. Winding down my law practice is taking longer than one might expect: there are too many complicated, long-term commitments to conclude quickly. I've had success, however, and now confidently predict final, real retirement by this Summer. I want a big party to celebrate this history of work and have already picked out a band. 

How long do you want your career to last?

Wednesday, March 8, 2023


In last night's game Devils veteran Ondrej Palat caught a high stick in the mouth and was forced to leave the second period with knocked-out teeth and busted lips. But in the tradition of heroic hockey players Ondrej had his mouth sewn up in the locker-room and came back in the third period -- where he scored another key goal. This picture tells the story.

The Devils are TOUGH. 

Monday, March 6, 2023

"The U.S. and the Holocaust"

I've been terribly sick the past three weeks with RSV. The worst part of the illness is blurred vision. That's prevented me from reading and writing. Please forgive my absence from your blogs. I hope to return to commenting soon.

While sick I watched a new, 6-hour documentary from Ken Burns about the Holocaust ("The U.S. and the Holocaust," PBS, 2022). Its core message: Americans were fully informed of the tragedies committed in Europe during that period but chose, inexcusably, to turn a cold shoulder toward widespread suffering.

The documentary examines the dangers of appeasing evil and ignoring noxious beliefs (which persists today). You're also struck by the fragility of family as parents and children were cruelly separated from their loved ones. Finally the vast scale of the horrors of that time is hard to take in. Literally millions were murdered.

The 3-part series, while difficult to watch, changes your perspective on several important subjects, such as man's capacity for inhumane behavior.

(If you want to borrow the DVDs, just ask me.)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch just died.

You could not have been alive 50 years ago and been unaware of who she was. Western society elevated her to the pinnacle of womanhood -- a dubious and slippery perch.

At that time Raquel said something deeply true, not just for her but for many women who learn conventional "beauty" isn't an attribute but a tool: "To have it said that you’re a sex symbol, the most beautiful girl in the world, is initially terrific. You think, isn’t that neat? Then you pass a mirror and you say, ‘Uh-oh, that face ain’t gonna launch a thousand ships, and that bod’s not so hot either.’ Nobody can be the most beautiful girl in the world. It’s just fairy-tale time. Now, after some psychotherapy, I’ve come to grips with the monster and said OK, there’s the public thing, the label. It means money and the chance to do other things. It’s going to be tough, but using it you can open up the other side and let people find out you’re a serious artist." (source)

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Valentine's Day

I hit the Valentine's Day jackpot last night. Took Robin to dinner and a live concert of Beatles songs by a talented band at My Father's Place

Robin sang, danced and laughed all night -- the happiest I've seen her in years. Beatles music magically makes people happy: there was enthusiasm from teenagers to 80-year olds.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Legal Marijuana

New York State recently made marijuana legal for recreational use and the first store just opened in NYC. To its credit the State is prioritizing social justice in licensing sellers. The first store is a laudable non-profit (Housing Works) which started in 1990 to help people with AIDS find housing. Currently it provides housing, healthcare, and vocational training to thousands of New Yorkers. I went into the city for an art event today so I added a detour to Housing Works and -- legally -- bought cannabis.

I understand those who oppose marijuana but (1) it's legal here, (2) I'm an adult, and (3) you're gonna have to respect my self-determination. As a former pot-user I know the scare tactics of the drug war (from 1960s onward) were untrue: I'm not going to become a heroin addict after puffing a joint.

Candidly I haven't smoked grass in 40 years. I consumed it in college and law school, then dropped the activity when I got a job. For me lighting up after such a long time is more nostalgia than anything else.

The reason I smoked during the seven years I spent in higher education was to reduce stress from academic striving. Those were tough years and pot helped me relax after long days of study. I didn't get that relief from alcohol and currently drink only for flavor or to improve socializing. 

Marijuana has changed over the past half-century. Grown with better care than the skunk-weed we often got, it's cultivated by horticulturalists who know what they're doing. Legal weed is guaranteed pure and safe, avoiding contamination that sometimes taints illegal pot. Plus, a new market is opening -- products designed to appeal to connoisseurs. Terms like terpenes and cannobinoids are used to distinguish among different weed strains. Each type is labeled with its percentage of THC (the thing that makes you high) so telling strong product from weak is now easy. This isn't your grandpa's ganja.

Buying pot in New York means standing in line, proving you're over 21, selecting from a menu and paying. Like you do for everything else. Simple and efficient. The menu has dozens of brands of pot in flower form, rolled joints, vape oil and edibles. 

Have you ever smoked pot? Will legalization make you consider it again?