Monday, December 28, 2009

A Happy New Year

Joe was always looking forward to something so I wasn't surprised when he sent the description of this cartoon on in November.  I thought it proper that I fulfill his request and post it this week.  Joe changed the caption a couple times. Originally it was to “decide if we want to go on”, but Joe never had any doubt about that. Later he sent another possible caption suggested I make the choice.  As I went about drawing the cartoon I took the creative license Joe offered, making Joe one of the two characters and changed the “if” to “how”.

There could be many footnotes to Joe Taylor’s life, maybe that’s because one of them would be “He wasn’t finished”. At the age of 90, in his essay Life as a Spectator Sport, Joe expressed his desire to live to the fullest extent possible for as long as he could because he found life so interesting. Many people who have appreciated Joe’s approach to life have taken the time to write and share their sentiments. Joe’s daughter Barb has graciously assembled a selection of thoughtful salutes and comforting words sent by card, letter, and internet. Words can never convey the friendship and love we found in Joe, but if each of us go on to live our lives as fully as he did, then his life will be made more complete. Joe commented that his memoir was different from others, because it was the story of a happy life. In honor of Joe, let’s do the same starting with a happy new year.

Thanksgiving 2009

Tributes from friends:

Some measure a life lived in years.
Joe lived 94 years and that is the least important thing about him.  Junctures in his life where others began retreat signaled new beginnings for Joe.
Defiance in the face of gravity an time took this soldier though space and time as if unaware of ordinary expectations.  His airy countenance and his love of the spirit and importance of the moment defied age and provided those who met him with a sense of the eternal.
I guess I never thought Joe would die.  I still don't.  Somewhere a twinkle shines and a sixth career is well underway.

Joe and I have been friends for more than 40 years.  We met when I applied to him for a job at the Association for Jewish Children in Philadelphia. When we met, there was an instant "click".  We worked together, often had lunch and talked about poetry and politics, thoughts and feelings, and shared our perspectives on life.  His wife, Gerry, and he often joined my family for holiday dinners; we still miss both of them.  Joe was warm and sensitive, a unique man with wit and humor, insight and clarity.  He could right through the most complex situation and isolate the essential elements.  I talked with him just two days before he passed away; he was his usual upbeat self and eagerly looking forward to the publication of his memoir.  I look forward to reading it.  I hope you are too.

Just an amazing man and writer and musician. I am so grateful to have met Joe and Gerry. To his family remaining, peace in the valley
He was an interesting and extraordinary man, who got the most anyone could from life. We could all learn a lot from your dad.
I was always happier for time spent in his company, or reading his blog. Joe's wisdom, warmth, and appreciation of his fellow man never diminished with age, and stand as an inspiration for us all.
Your father was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met in my life and I feel so grateful to have known him. He matched word and deed seamlessly and he will be greatly missed.A very fitting tribute to a really special man. I always felt better about life after talking with Joe.
Joe was such an incredible, loving man, a pure joy to speak with and share time with...his passing leaves a deep void in all of our lives.
I feel there's always a reason that people are brought into our lives. Joe was a mentor, a friend, and he taught me so much. What a gift.

I am so sorry to hear about your dad's passing. I am also so enchanted and amazed at the man he was and how he will be remembered. You must be so proud. Such a wonderful legacy
I thought about Joe’s unfailingly creative spirit and the outlets he found for expression…The whole process of his book’s creation engaged and energized him when so many of we, oldsters are sleepwalking.
Very impressive look at an even more impressive guy. I was amazed at your dad's energy and accomplishments when I met him, and I obviously only knew a small part of his gifts. All the more to love, and, sadly, to miss.
Your Father sounds absolutely incredible, and his blog is a pleasure to read. An amazing man!

Thank you for sharing his blog with us. I really enjoyed reading his words.
With his daughter Barb and son Paul

Joe was a remarkable man -- creative, thoughtful and wise. I enjoyed reading his submissions each year to the Marblehead Festival of the Arts and marveled at his wit, concern and imagination.
I was so sorry to hear about your dad, but am thrilled that you sent out some of his writings. I'm so sorry I never had the opportunity to experience his quick wit and immense wisdom. The selections you sent are fabulous and really touched me, so in your time of sorrow, enjoy and draw solace from the wealth of beautiful words he left to inspire all.
I was so saddened by the news of your father. I would love to have known such a distinctive man.....such an interesting life!
I am so sorry to read of the death of your father. I did read some of his blog posts and wondered if it was truly an accident that he was conceived or more of a miracle.
What an amazing guy! His wisdom and kindness, humor and smarts will endure and always color my world.
As a prospective Marriage and Family therapist, I sought him out to compliment him on his wonderful and wise essay on love and relationships….He was, and will remain, a real inspiration to me regarding what one can accomplish in one's lifetime given the right combination of persistence, wisdom and humor. What a pleasure to have had the opportunity to meet this wonderful and vibrant man.
Our deepest sympathy for the loss of your very special Dad. Joe was such a sweet, intellectual man. We tremendously enjoyed the times we spent in his company. I look forward to reading his memoirs.
In these last few years, Joe's blog and his memoirs were exciting to track.
I was so looking forward to attending his book-signing. It is wonderful he completed his memoirs and they will be ready to share with everyone soon. His footprint in life will live on forever. He was an amazing and inspirational man and I shall miss him very much.
Thank you so much for your generous sharing of your love for your Dad. It reaffirms what we know to be true... in the scheme of things... that such a man as your Dad needs to be held by us closely, dearly, diligently so that we can learn from his example of the true, honest, and real sensibilities of life and the living of it. I am grateful for your sending me this link and will read and re-read the wisdom within. Just for now his words... to recognize... " the many millions who unassumingly make our society worthwhile. We are the renewable energy of the earth," become a needed/desired mantra for those of us who need to rededicate and realign our lives to his sensibilities and try to set in motion a more vibrant and alert society. Clearly... he led the way.

Thankfully his memoirs are published and his stories and philosophies will be with us forever.

I so enjoyed him. He was unforgettable.
Thanks for everything Joe. Though you lived long, your time was too short. May your presence be ever apparent through the lives and smiles you have inspired.

I took a quick look around and quickly found your father’s blog. Wow! Just a few words from some excerpts of his work were enough to blow me away. What wisdom and insight he had, and about so many subjects. I can’t wait to read more…. It’s obvious that there aren’t many people like your father

Your father was a true intellectual with a great warmth whose range of conversation and wit knew no bounds.  I'm so glad to have met him.  He represented a generation that brought so much enlightenment to younger people.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Finish Line

On December 5, 2009 Joseph L. Taylor made his transition from this life. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him as well as those who never met him because Joe brought something powerful and amazing to every life he touched; a strength of character and conviction that was compelling and contagious.

The following excerpts are taken from the chapter entitled The Finish Line in his memoir My Five Careers:

This memoir is almost finished, and before long, so the life. In one way, the end to living will be a relief. Philip Roth said, “Old age is not a battle. It’s a massacre.” I want to go before the carnage begins. Should an account of one’s life end with a rhetorical flourish, a counterpart to the long, lingering, soaring thunder and defiance in the ending to the last movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, or should it end with a wail of sadness that one’s life is coming to a close? (The Beethoven analogy is fitting, because the music also does not want to end). What if one feels defiance in the morning and sadness at night? Or feels both ways at the same time? It doesn’t matter. All of the endings are valid but futile attempts to thumb a nose at personal fate….

….My story is both gratifying and scary in terms of the random. We come to life through the most fortuitous of events. If I had been conceived a day sooner or a day later - or even in a different minute or hour of the day of my conception - I, the person I am, would not be on this earth, for there is no chance that the same sperm and egg would meet again. That observation is humbling. I am an accident. I began this memoir by saying that I have a story to tell. It is utterly beyond comprehension to think of the billions of men and women on this earth who also have stories to tell. It takes effort to live a life. If harnessed, the energy of spirit alone, from despair to jubilation, spent every moment of time on the tawdry and the sublime, the evil and the noble, the ordinary and the singular, could power the planet…

….If this memoir has struck a blow for Everyman, I have accomplished my secondary mission. As the grave of the Unknown Soldier is a symbol for the many millions who have died in wars fighting for this country, so a Statue of Everyman should become a symbol for the many millions who unassumingly make our society worthwhile. We are the renewable energy of the earth.

Two final observations: I am prepared for death. Everyone who has ever lived has also died. That’s the deal. Death is personal, but it is not personal.

When it comes to Joe's appreciation of random events in shaping our lives, it doesn't seem too ironic that his passing coincides with the long awaited release of his memoir, My Five Careers, which includes Out of My Mind, his previously released collection of essays, short stories and verse.

If you would like to get "more later" as Joe always signed his blog posts, you can get a copy of his book by clicking here.

If you would like to add a comment to this post just click on the light gray link below which at the time of this edit was 3. You may also wish to refer to the directions in the top of the right sidebar for additional information.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Own Kaddish

This piece is mostly true but it contains some extrapolations relating to other members of the family.

The tiny infant lying in his crib, common and ordinary as a specie of human being but paradoxically awesome in the commixture of helplessness and future potential, looks up uncomprehendingly at a face he would later understand is that of his father. Father is smiling lovingly, yet hesitantly, for his mixed emotions have left him unanchored in his new fatherhood. A few months later, held in his father’s arms, son reaches out to touch father’s beard. Lowered to the floor, he tugs at father’s pants leg to pull himself up. At ten months, supported by his father’s arms, he takes his first steps. On his second birthday he and father build a replica of their house out of a pile of blocks; father reads him the story “The.Little EngineThat Could,” then they go in the backyard and father teaches him how to dig for worms. Before long they will go fishing in Redds Pond. At age four he tries to catch a ball thrown by father. Father teaches him to ride a bicycle. In kindergarten he makes valentines for mother and father. He tries to steal a candy bar in a neighborhood store, is caught, reported to father who takes him back to apologize and pay for the candy out of his own allowance. He brings his first report card home to father and mother. From his allowance buys two golf balls as a Father’s Day present. For his sixth birthday father buys him a half size violin and hires a teacher. In wood working class he makes a tie rack for father. Father takes him to see the Phillies play and Sandy Koufax pitches a no-hit game for the other team. Father and mother take him with them to the Yiddish Theater on Lower Second Avenue. Afterward they have steaks at the famous Sammy’s Romanian Restaurant. The next year father says this year for our vacation we are going to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountains. In his Bar Mitzvah speech, he thanks mother and father for all they did to bring him to this day. As one of his presents father takes him on a weekend fishing trip to a lake upstate. He writes his first letter to mother and father from overnight camp; mother and father come to hear his first concert as concertmaster of his high school orchestra. Father teaches him to drive an automobile; and allows him use of the car to take a girl on a date. Through a friend, father secures son a part time job in the stock room of a department store. At a Thanksgiving dinner with many relatives, father tells story of his escape from Russia in l910, leaving home, ostensibly to report for military duty, but instead traveling by train to a frontier village, where he was met by an ”agent” who smuggled him across the Polish border, then making his way to Germany for an America bound ship. Son plans with mother and father on choice of a college. Father hugs him good-bye when he leaves for school and gives him a check for spending money. Ho brings his girl friend home to meet mother and father. At graduation, diploma in hand he embraces mother, father and girl friend. He and girl friend spend a year trekking around the world. He knows mother and father worry about him, so, he writes home every week. On his return he discusses job offers with mother and father. At his wedding, after his bride dances with her father, he watches. He telephones mother and father from the hospital -- it’s twins! -- two boys. In alternate years he, wife and the children spend Thanksgiving with his mother and father and her parents; telephones mother and father from his mid-west city every Sunday morning. Writes to mother and father that with the children older, he now has time to join the violin section of a community symphony orchestra. Attends the retirement party for father and makes a speech. Gives the present of a Mediterranean cruise to mother and father on their 50th wedding anniversary. Makes a flying trip home when father breaks a hip in a fall. Takes a week off to be with father when mother dies. Goes home again when father has open-heart surgery, Every December l escorts father by plane to a retirement condominium in Florida. Every April l returns father from Florida. A few years later takes a week off to get father settled in an assisted living facility. Returns home once more to assist father in entering a nursing home. With father failing, comes with wife and children for a last visit. He recites the mourner’s Kaddish at father’s graveside. Kaddish is a Jewish prayer in praise of the dead. I recite Kaddish in praise of my father.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Two Women

Karyn and Mary are the two most courageous and admirable people I have ever known. They are both wheel chair bound, yet they are the two most cheerful and outgoing people in our condominium of about 200 residents. Karyn is able to walk for a very short time with the aid of a walker, but the only occasions upon which I have seen her doing so are a few times when she has come to my apartment two floors below, in our elevatored building, to have dinner, or to bring cookies she baked, or a Belgian dessert sauce she made. Occasionally we go to lunch in a restaurant.

Karyn has a window of two hours a day when, on her good days, she is able to get out of bed or her wheelchair. Karyn, in her early fifties, looks much younger than her years. She says that one effect of her illness is to reduce the appearance of aging. I think she is the most beautiful woman in our condo. She has clear blue eyes, long blond hair and a glowing complexion. Karyn made partner in a Boston law firm at an early age. When a member of her extended family has a problem, Karyn is the person they turn to. She accompanies them to the relevant community resources and applies her considerable skills to the desired ends.

Karyn wears a crucifix on a necklace chain at all times. Her Catholic religion is what gives her the faith and grit that is so remarkable. But as the hard-headed realist she is, I think she would also say, “What else should I do? Become a lifelong shut-in?”

Mary, a strong, sturdy personality, is older than Karyn. When I am with her, my own energy level rises because of her openness and enthusiasm. She has two children and four grandchildren. Mary, too, is a college graduate and by occupation was an automotive consultant. Her job took Mary all over New England. She was active in political campaigns and played tennis avidly, often competing in tournaments. She says it is “sheer desire” that sustains her in who she is and what she is accomplishing

Most women experience stress if they can’t find the right party dress or if the washing machine breaks down, delaying the laundry for a day or two. Psychologists tell us that the way people behave on the surface is often a defense against forces that threaten self-esteem. Do not make the mistake of confusing “defense” with weakness. An effective defense is a sign of a strong, tough character. Becoming a life-long shut-in is also a form of defense, but what a difference! One is the key to living at the maximum of personal potential; the other is surrender to undermining forces. Therapists probe deeply into a person’s defenses, for the defenses tell us how a person is handling problems.

Whatever it is that fortifies people to cope, Karyn and Mary have it in abundance. An aggressive denial of incapacitation, such as they have, helps. The student voted as “most likely to succeed” might glide through life as though it was a bowl of jello. But for the Karyns and Marys, daily living is a combat with hostile forces. Karyn and Mary help the rest of us to see our lives in a healthy and rewarding perspective. Think of that when you pass a man or woman on the street in a wheel chair. In particular, give Karyn and Mary a secret salute.

Photo courtesy of schipulites photostream: Ms Wheelchair Texas at

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Invisible Pile

There is a big, big pile some where in the world. It is the most enormous pile ever stacked up, disappearing into the infinity of the sky, but you cannot see it. Everyone on earth helped make this heap. Everyone felt real good when they tossed their contributions onto the ever-growing pile, and most people felt bad when, although the pile never stopped growing, it never achieved its purpose. The pile is made up of a very common yet admirable product that, despite its enormity has no visible body. This product has a short expiration date. The most popular growing time is from midnight of January first every year to sometime during the next two weeks. The best of worlds could be constructed from its throwaway contents. It goes by the name of “discarded good intentions.”

I will be calm and reasonable with my three adolescent children; I will absolutely remember our wedding anniversary date and send flowers, the roses that I noticed recently have thorns; I will remember to take out the trash every night without being reminded; be assured that I will take the time to vote for my town’s selectmen because all politics are local and a democracy must start from the bottom; I will not be late for work again (actually, my job is on the line). I will take those two night courses that I need for the job promotion; attend regularly all meetings of our Neighborhood Improvement Association, even those dealing with budgets, and will greet my neighbors in our condo elevator, warmly, as though I meant it. I will even be friendly to Nosy Nancy because I need to charm up my reputation and people will notice. I will visit my mother and take her out to dinner more often and also send her flowers on her birthday. I will patch up the differences I had with Fred, my fat brother-in-law and send New Year cards to all my relatives and friends. I promise to replace every burned-out light bulb immediately and vow to start making a playroom in the basement (the fingers I injured last time I began on it healed a long time ago). No more excuses. I will not honk my horn in traffic and I will get my car inspected on time to avoid penalties. I will make myself a better person of myself in all ways.

There, that says a lot and shows that I am sincere, because it will be a big job. The best thing I can do now is to quit making noise about my good intentions and start the good-intending. I need to go find my tool box. See you on January 1st.

More later, Joe

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Laurie retired from her job after a long stint as Director of a school for learning disabled children. She felt that she was burned out. Today, Laurie works part time for a group of doctors, evaluating children for learning and psychological problems; she is a docent at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem MA; at the Audubon Society on the North Shore of Boston she teaches children about the marshes and animal footprints in the snow; and she was in the leadership group for the extensive volunteer program at her son’s high school Jamie, Laurie’s eighteen-year-old son, is a freshman at George Washington University in Washington D.C. As a child actor, and later in high school, he had leading roles in musicals and stage plays, He sings beautifully (Accepela Choir in high school), tap dances and has an appealing presence. He acquired an immediate celebrity status at George Williams, when, during the first week, he was selected in competition with 300 other students as one of three new voices for the Accepela Choir.

In September, during the second week of classes, Jamie developed Swine Flu. Laurie immediately flew to Washington, had her son transferred from his dormitory room to a hotel suite, nursed him, participated with college personnel in arranging his schedule for after his return, did a host of errands related to his illness and his doctor, and five days later -- including a weekend -- Jamie was back in school. He had missed only three days of classes. After a visit to Alexandria, Virginia (across the Potomac River) to explore a crafts fair, Laurie returned home. She resumed her normal activities the next day. No time out for her.

It will not appear in any record of the medical treatment Jamie received, but I have no doubts that Mother Love was a crucial factor in Jamie’s rapid recovery. That, plus Laurie’s competence, organizational skills and poise under stress, enabled Jamie to utilize his personal resources to combat the illness, free of guilt and other distractions. Mother Love does not come in a pill. It is among the most primitive and ancient of human qualities, and no matter what course evolution, including mutations, have taken place, Mother Love has survived, even grown in its importance to child development. But there are mothers who are emotionally cold, even frigid and rejecting of their children. The most extreme case I saw in my work in a child treatment center was a single mother who did not even want to look at her new born child. There must be many such mothers we never know about. A relative took the child and we never learned what happened subsequently. Many years ago it was the custom to prohibit unwed mothers from seeing their child after birth, under the theory that even a fleeting bonding would damage the child and mother. The noted child psychiatrist, Melanie Klein, believed that maternal rejection was a core element in the development of emotional and mental illness in children, and that bonding occurs immediately, much more quickly than had been thought. Jamie was one of the fortunate children who have a mother who loves him deeply.

I have a photograph of Jamie and me, standing side by side, receiving awards for our prize-winning essays in a literary competition, the youngest and the oldest of the writers. Laurie was a Hospice volunteer in our home, visiting twice a week during my wife’s terminal illness in 2005-2006. We have remained good friends, lunch together frequently, and have dinners along with her husband and my adult daughter and son. Sometimes Jamie would join us for dinner in a restaurant. Random events, such as the Hospice assignment of Laurie, simply happen, but our lives become better when we utilize chance to our advantage.

photo courtesy of aussiegall under a CC2.0 license

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

End of an Era

I just cancelled my subscription to a daily newspaper after sixty-eight years of subscribing in Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Paul, Philadelphia and to the Boston Globe. No, I am not losing my eyesight, nor am I running out of money or moving to Paris, where like a proper Parisian, I will read Le Monde. It's simply that I am fed up with what the papers write about and the predictability. Actually it is not their fault. They are only the messengers for the newsmakers. The chief culprit is Congress. The Senate and House have lots of meetings, but little of genuine significance to the nation ever happens. The journals have to put out an edition every day. How can they do it if there is no news? By re-cycling the same story over and over and over with slight modifications to stress presumably, but often softball NEWS – REPUBLICANS BLAST OBAMA ON BUDGET, or DEMOCRATS FAULT GOP ON CLIMATE CHANGE.CHANGE. The story could be about Social Security or Medicare or drug lords and their cohorts and clamping down on crime (while the prison population soars, or a scandal involving celebrities, or getting divorced or having a baby, or a child killed by a parent who should have had his parental rights terminated or been sent to jail a long time ago ,or a back and forth in arguments about gun control, or -- enough, you get the point. What will I do? I'll think about other former necessities that are now not worth my time.

More Later, Joe

Monday, September 7, 2009

Post Nuptual Agreement

A husband and wife are sitting in the den after dinner. He is reading a newspaper and she is sitting at a desk writing a letter. In the background a stereo is playing Chopin piano music. She turns her chair around to face him.

She: (stops writing) I’ve been thinking. I want to buy you a new wristwatch.

He: A new watch? I have a watch, it’s old, but it still works. Thanks, but one is enough for me.

She: It’s not for now. I want you to have something to remember me by.

He : In that case you can buy me a gold Rolex. I’ll remember you real good.

She: You don’t’have to remember me that much.

He: (Lowers the newspaper to his lap) What’s this remembering business? Are you trying to tell me something?

She: Why do you have to have to read a meaning like that into a simple offer? I just want you to have something to remember me.

He: If I go first you will have wasted your money.

She: (She ignores that) Another thing. You will say Yarhzeit for me when the time comes, the way you do for your parents on the anniversary of their death? That is if your second wife won’t object.

He: I can’t believe it! Is that what this is all about? Forget it, there won’t be a second wife.

She: Every man needs a wife to take care of him.

He: It will be expensive but I’ll take my shirts to the laundry.

She: Have I been such a bad wife that you would not want to be married again?

He: Mmmm. let me think about that. (He pretends to think). No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s just that to be fair to another wife I’d have to show her that I care and I can’t see myself wanting to put that much into a wife again.

She: That’s nice.

He: Besides, considering my age and whom I would marry it could end up that I’d have to take care of her. To paraphrase your favorite poet: “In caring there is responsibility”.

She: You might have to take care of me some day.

He: That’s different. You’ve earned that right.

She: Fifty-six years is a long time. What was the best part?

He: There was no best part. It was all good.

She: You don’t mean that. A marriage is never “good” all the time. Like the time we quarreled when you wanted to go to Prague and I wanted to go to Budapest. C’mon tell me the best part.

He: The whole was better than the parts – satisfied now?

She: I knew it! Some parts were not good. (She laughs.) Remember the Mikado we saw in Sarajevo? Katishaw was ugly but she was said to have a beautiful left elbow.

He: I remember the seats were $1.70 and you sat next to the English lady who was married to the Lord High Executioner. It was opening night and people were all dressed up in and it was televised. That was the best Mikado I ever saw. It was a good trip. (They fall silent).

She: One more thing. We talked about it but we never did anything about the cemetery lots. Shouldn’t we do something now?

He: Well, with both kids living north of Boston we should buy plots up there. It’ll be handy if they want to drop by once in a while.

She: Remember to talk to the kids next time we see them.

He: Besides, at the rate our friends are dying off, it’ll get pretty lonely around here. We should probably move up there sometime soon.

She: I’ve been thinking about that, too. (they fall silent).

She: I’m finished interrupting. You can go back to your newspaper. (he resumes reading, she returns to her letter).

April 3, 1990

More Later, Joe

PS: In my previous blogs I have shared excerpts and essays like this one, from my past. My new book entitled, MY FIVE CAREERS: Increasing Brain Power and Promoting Longevity through Strenuous Exercise of the Mind, includes and is based on many of the ideals and illustrations posted at Joe's Place. Look for the book to be released in the Fall. It will be available in paperback at Amazon. I'll let you know more later. Joe

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Busboy

The first time he spoke to me was when he served the coffee at the end of the dinner. After placing the cup and pouring from the silver pot in his hand he said, “I forgot to bring the sugar and cream. After a pause he added shyly, “This my first day her and I don’t remember everything yet.”

Although I have difficulty remembering busboys and waitresses, I had noticed him because he walked as though he was not quite sure of his body and his face had an earnest but unanimated look.

I was sitting alone in the roof top luxury restaurant in a hotel in the Colorado Mountains awaiting the start of a Child Welfare League of America on children and youth. None of my friends had yet arrived and so I had no company for dinner. The inexpensive hotel coffee shop on the ground with its air of transience and filled with men and women eating quickly to get to their next appointment, was uninviting. Loneliness encourages me to extravagance, I found my way to the hotel’s luxury restaurant. Surrounded by elegance and pampered by an attentive staff. I had worked my way to the coffee.

“I don’t use sugar or cream,” I said, “so I don’t mind.” Because he still looked pained I said, “First days can be hard.”

“Yes, but I am trying,” he said. “I graduated from Vocational School

last year and I couldn’t get a job.”

“I’m glad you found one and I wish you the best of luck.”

On the way out I stopped at the reservation desk and asked to speak with the manager. Larry Mullins was his name and after mixing a salad to a table of four, he approached me.

After introducing myself, I said, “I just wanted to say something about your new busboy. I was impressed with how he wants to please people, not only me but I was watching him at other tables. You don’t find too many people like that anymore. I hope he make it.”

“You mean Daniel,” said Mullins. “It’s nice of you to mention it. He is mentally retarded but I mean to keep him. He been out of school a year and I told everyone here that I don’t care what happens, he is going to stay. I can make him learn.

I choked a little, told Mr. Mullins I was glad to hear that. We shook hands and I walked away feeling that this conference for children had already peaked for me.

More Later, Joe

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Further Thoughts on the New Feminine

As if we don’t have enough portentous questions to solve, let me add another. Who will replace the vanishing Playboy Magazine “Playgirl” as the next popular ideal of American Beauty? With obesity in both sexes already beyond fifty-percent and growing, can the longings of the American male accommodate themselves to the reality of the New Feminine, or – or what?

There is a self-parodying joke about the Jewish man who, when told that the elephant population in a region of India was declining at an alarming rate, asked if that was good or bad for the Jews? We must ask, is the eclipse of the long-legged, slim and admirably proportioned, high-cheeked, sexy woman good or bad for men?

Every age has had its definition of femininity. In recent memory there were the Gibson girl (ample), the flapper (bold, unconventional), Rosie the Riveter, (World War II worker), the Bobby-Soxer, and of course, the Playgirl. Obesity was not in style. The early American woman tended toward sliminess, for among other factors, the hard physical life of a pioneering and the dominance of the farm life kept the weight down.

Concepts of physical attractiveness are, as anthropological studies have shown, malleable. Over the centuries, concepts of female physical beauty have ranged widely each having their day. Venus was the ideal in ancient times; in medieval Europe diminutiveness and daintiness in feet, hands, breasts and long necks were prized; women of some weight are considered desirable in parts of the world (the (Middle East); gaudily painted faces in some cultures (African) are the custom; the short and squat women of the Arctic have no difficulty in finding mates. In contemporary times the suburban, gym-muscled, self-assured woman, a more attainable model than Playgirl, command deep respect. Question: How flexible will the American man now be in his concept of female beauty? Judging from worldwide cultures – and from what I have observed daily in my strolls around my home town (Salem MA), he will meet the test of gallantry.

Did I say male sexual selection – and I could add female sexual identity – is malleable? In fact it seems that men and women will buy whatever happens to be in stock at the time. Maybe sexual selection should be noted and reviewed in the fashion magazines, the way high skirts-low skirts and tight jackets-loose jackets are critiqued.

More Later, Joe

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Eloquence of the Common Man

The many scholarly books on the subject describe the newcomers to America as “waves of immigrants and “hordes of New Americans;” refer to their habitats on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as “tenements” and “railroad chain cold water flats”. The streets were described as teeming with “rickety pushcarts’ and their goods for sale; and filled with children at play, dodging pedestrians and street vehicles, shrieking with joy while putting pedestrians at risk. amidst the squalor, this iconic site is also home to one of the great stories of/in the growth of America. The years were the last quarter of the 1800’s –1915. Except for the novels and short stories about the lives of immigrants, the sociological treatises fail to convey an understanding of these flesh-and-blood people. Let me tell you about a small community of Jewish men in Wilkes-Barre, PA, many from Russia, Poland, and Romania, as I knew them during the years 1927-1935.

First, the common part. These men were tradesmen – bakers, butchers, grocers, peddlers in the commodity-starved rural countryside, small shopkeepers, salesmen. The men made a living for their families, some quite successfully, and blended smoothly into the general life of the city. They were mostly Socialists, victims of cruel, anti-Semitic programs, and without exception were virulently anti-Communist. They voted routinely but futilely in presidential elections for Norman Thomas; and most important for this piece I am writing, they were all members of the Workmen’s Circle, an organization, as the name clearly denotes, for the working man. The Workmen’s Circle had a substantial building of its own on “The Hill” in Wilkes-Barre, called “The Lyceum,” that served as a forum on social and political issues, and as a cultural center for the continuity of Jewish life.

A group of perhaps twenty-five men met every Sunday morning for lox and bagels, and for discussions. My father and his younger brother, Israel, were as close and affectionately attached as any brothers I have known. We visited Israel and his family several times a year and each Sunday my father, with me in tow, attended the morning meetings at the Lyceum. Some members dressed in suits, others in sweaters. Of the many intriguing experiences I had at these gatherings, the one I remember most is the weekly “redde” session, the Yiddish word for speakers and speech-makers, -- everyone spoke Yiddish -- and the subsequent discussions.

Now for the eloquence. These ‘tradesmen” spoke fluidly, colorfully, to the point, with an aggressive intelligence and thorough understanding of the issues on tap that day, political and cultural, from current legislation to literature. Each man seemed to live for these Sunday mornings. They knew it, and put a zest into the proceedings that was infectious. I was amazed. Each man had some schooling in their homeland, some less some more, but they were avid readers of the newspapers and journals -- Yiddish and English. The bond among them and the respect they had for each other was moving. In common, they had survived successfully, first in their flight to America, and then in becoming Americanized and acquiring citizenship. Israel spoke one Sunday about his escape from Lithuania, a real thriller (discussed at length in my book). Every man had a story. At the time I knew these men they were in the prime years of life. I often wonder, with gratitude for what they taught me, how the remainder of their lives turned out.

More later, Joe

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who Am I?

WILLIAM JAMES, THE PHILOSOPHER, SAID that everyone has as many different selves as there are people who know him. Each person, from his wife and children to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, perceives the same man differently. Ever since I heard that in Philosophy101, I have been confused. Who really am I? Which one of me is the real Joe Taylor? For that matter, who are you? If we don’t even know whom we are how can we ever solve global warming or cure cancer? The guy who figures that out should get two Nobel Prize, one for the day dreaming that is the precursor to original thinking, the second for his solution. I already qualify for one of those talents. The prospect of such riches and fame out there waiting for me to “originate” has temporarily distracted me from writing. Some may think it presumptuous of me to regard myself so highly, but a fact is a fact however absurd. I’d like to say more about that but I emptied the bottle of the stuff I was drinking to gird myself for scribbling this.

Am I deranged? The word “telefunken” keeps popping into my head and I can’t get rid of it. “Telephfunken” has something to do with telephones. Maybe it means telephone. That’s a hard way to say “telephone,” but it’s typically German. That reminds me. The recently deceased Walter Cronkite’s name was originally spelled “Chronkite”, (with the” “h” after the capital ”C”). Spelled that way the word means illness. My authority is a relative of Mr. Cronkite. Anyway, is “deranged” one of my selves? If so, I want to make it clear that there are many good parts to me. I know, because my barber told me. This barber was once at a funeral where not the preacher, not any person who spoke had a good word to say about the deceased. In desperation, the minister asked if there was anyone attending the service who had a good word to say about the dead man. The barber stood up and said, “I always found him an easy man to shave.” So there.

How can I not be out of my mind if I have to contend with so many different personalities mixed up in me and battling to be Joe Taylor? May the best man win. But seriously: Auguste Descartes, the French philosopher, said “I think therefore I am.” So, is it our cognitive capacities that define us? Emanuel Kant, the German, said, “I ought therefore I can.” Or is it our moral character? Calvin Coolidge, the President who preceded President Herbert Hoover said, “Business is the business of America.” That argues for our work life. As for me, I think it is our love life – the people we love, in the various ways that love can be expressed -- that defines our souls.

More Later, Joe

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hospital Joe

(The following is an edited version of an article Joe wrote a few years ago. Joe had minor surgery at Salem Hospital Thurday, July 15. He will be home Friday and is, of course, already back to business.)

It happens everywhere I go. There was girl in Philadelphia once, she walked toward me on a center city street. She wore a shiny tan skirt, a white blouse, blond hair falling to her shoulders, a page boy bob framing her fresh face, under a totally blue sky and sunshine all around. She passed me by like I didn't exist.

I had quite a conversation with her in my daydream prone mind:

Hey you -- yes you, in the navy blue power suit and pink blouse, with the gold necklace around your neck, and swinging that black alligator attache case, striding along confidently on your way to a corporate takeover. You passed right by and didn't even see me. But that young hunk coming the other way, you gave him a good look. OK, I don't really expect that you will pay any attention to me. My cane gives me away. But even at my age I don't like to be erased. In the inarticulate lingo of today, it feels a little like, you know, being wiped out.

Am I poking fun a myself or am I serious? Both. That girl in Philadelphia reminded me of other times and other girls, as an old photograph tells of times that can be retrieved. I used to buy camelia corsages for girls like her. Sometimes I would skip lunch or eat apples from the trees on campus to have the money. There were rides in automobiles and I would hold the girls tight. And the dancing! I inhaled the slightly scented aroma from her body and we danced cheek to cheek then, not like today where dancing looks like prizefighters squaring off in the ring. There's so much more to dancing than what what they show on TV. That's the serious part. As for the self-mockery? That comes from remembering my age.