Under the Sky

For two days the consistently smoggy skies over Beijing were blue, sort of.

Then APEC ended and the heads of state, including President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, returned home. On cue, the skies returned to a murky, smoky pall, ending the brief respite from pollution and the rarified exposure to breathable air.

In the previous week, China had shut down its factories, sent workers on forced vacations, moved cars off the road, and stopped residents from firing up their coal powered heat despite the frigid temperatures. Foreign dignitaries arrived under a naturally blue canopy.

Clean air is that natural resource we sometimes take for granted in America. And frankly, something I worry about given how little environmental work gets done in Congress, and now, given the midterm elections, how much may actually get done, and not for the better.

I’m bothered by this on a couple of fronts. First, I hate how cavalierly some of us regard our environment. We ignore the recent reports from scientists, of no particular partisanship, advising that things are bad, really bad, and getting worse. I’m bothered that the students in my college classes are smart and hardworking but they’ve grown up hearing the terms “climate change” and “global warming” so often the phrases no longer carry any weight. Not unlike when we said Xerox to mean copying, and Kleenex to mean tissues.

I know it’s impressive that Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping last week reached an historic agreement to cut emissions by 2025, but according to an editorial in the New York Times, the amount of damage that will be caused in the next 11 years will pretty much make that a wash.

Still, I suppose it’s something.

I walked early this morning with a neighbor. A few clouds cluttered the blue sky. Many trees still held selfishly to their last clusters of brilliant red and orange leaves, their discards scattered at their bases like exquisite quilts. I thought: It’s gorgeous here. And there is no reason on earth why it shouldn’t be.

What occurs in China and the U.S. and elsewhere in the world matters to everyone. Climate change is not a local problem. No matter where we are, we share this space. Like the song from the movie “An American Tail,” And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby. It helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky.

I can’t seem to get that song out of my head.

Hopefully, neither can you.



When my kids were very young and just beginning to like reading I introduced them to my favorite comic book series, Archie. Veronica, Betty and Jughead quickly became familiar to our family. While others filled their kids’ Christmas stockings with toys, we filled ours with Archie digests. Instead of a decorative bin of magazines or other suitable reading material in our bathroom, we kept a basket of Archie comics.

So it stood to reason that when we adopted our kitten 17 years ago, we’d name him Archie.

Those of you who know us, know Archie, a handsome, champagne colored Persian cat with striking amber eyes. He sits regally atop the backs of couches or lies snoozing on your lap. At night he obediently walks into the laundry room, his room, and climbs into his bed. He comes to me even when I tweak his name, calling him Archibald, Barch, Baldy. He is the perfect pet.

Sadly, this past Thursday, Archie, the exquisite old guy with the sweet disposition, passed away in his sleep. After an emergency hospitalization and some tests, it is thought that he died of a brain event, like a stroke. We took him home from the hospital Wednesday and put him in his bed. He couldn’t walk or lift his head but we were happy he was home. During the night, Archie died.

Grieving for our pet is expected and understood. But it has occurred to me belatedly that losing Archie results in other losses as well. We’ll miss our vet, Karen Gates, for example, who has taken care of Archie for the past 17 years, and my cat, Ashes, before. And our groomer, Brian Gusz of Curbside Grooming, who has primped Archie since taking over his father’s business some 12 years ago. Both Dr. Gates and Brian, who make house calls, do so because angelic Archie wasn’t always so well behaved.

As an adolescent he hated being placed in the carrier, apparently sensing the visit was almost certainly ending at the veterinarian’s office. So we found a vet who came to the house. With Archie’s long, silky coat easily matting, he also needed to be groomed with the frequency of a dog. Nightmarish experiences were routine with groomers both onsite and ones who traveled to our house. One groomer actually quit on Archie in the middle of clipping him, by ringing my doorbell and saying he could do no more. I saw Archie looking at me from the window of the groomer’s truck, his paws on the ledge. Poor Archie. He looked like Simba after a night on the town.

After that, we tried everything; muzzling him, even having Dr. Gates sedate him, so he could be groomed. Finally, Brian came to the rescue. Instantaneously, Brian developed a bond with Archie, gone were the leather muzzle and any need for sedation. In fact, Archie went willingly into Brian’s arms.

I will miss Archie terribly. But I am grateful to have had him a part of my family’s life for so long – in pet years – and for the wonderful people he introduced us to.


Kate: A Brightness that Can’t Be Dulled

For my extended family, this has been a very trying time. Two weeks ago my irrepressible, ebullient and exquisite step-niece died suddenly from as-yet unknown causes. She was 27.

Over the weekend, my step-brother, my former sister-in-law (I use the term “former” for the sake of exactitude because she very much remains a part of our family), my nephew and my niece’s fiancé led a tribute to Kate at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

The memorial service opened with a loving, honest anecdotal eulogy from my brother and closed with the tossing of flowers into the Boston Harbor. The women in attendance were given a tube of rich red lipstick, a favorite of Kate’s, who was a talented makeup artist.

We became a family more than 27 years ago with the union of my mother and their father, both widowed at the time. Between them they had five children, and 10 grandchildren, Kate being the third from the youngest. Despite everyone spread throughout the United States and one overseas, we have come together often, usually for happy occasions like milestone birthdays, weddings, b’nai mitzvahs and the occasional Thanksgiving.

Amazingly, our parents are both in their late eighties, and as a family we haven’t faced a tragic event in more than 20 years. And now this.

As Kate’s parents would want, we remember this young woman, not with sadness, but rather for the joy she brought to life. We picture her at every family event – most recently at two weddings – acting as the social coordinator, dragging her cousins onto the dance floor and moving spiritedly to the music. Her smile and energy filled a space the way helium expands a balloon. And so Kate lifted our spirits.

No life should end as young as this one. And no parents and sibling should feel such pain. As family and friends we can do little but validate their loss, love them with all of our hearts, and remember their Kate in all her vibrancy.

That, and rock her red lipstick.


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I wasn’t sure I wanted to go but I had convinced my childhood friend, Barbara, to fly in from California, agreed to meet a few old friends for lunch and mailed in my check.

The die was cast for me to attend my high school reunion. And so I did, this past weekend.

Before you respond like so many of my more recent friends, “No thanks, I wouldn’t go to mine,” let’s consider the sway of the high school reunion:

Where else do you experience equal doses of curiosity and familiarity?

Where else do you party with 100 plus people, all of whom know your age?

Where else do you see the first boy/girl you ever kissed, and a couple of others you wished you had?

Where else do you talk with people who remember your childhood house?

And your parents? And that Miss Raycroft really was tough on you in English class? And that you always did want to become a writer?

And where else do you enter a room filled with football jocks, Ivy League braniacs (shout-out to you, Cuz), far out artistic types and ordinary kids, like me, and it no longer matters?

Truthfully, who cares? At our age, we’re just grateful we’re able-bodied enough to attend.

Three days later, I am still thinking about the evening, feeling elated that I went. If only I could get this tune out of my head:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

CHEERS to Lower Merion High School class of 1969!


Don’t Blame Her

When paired singers dance provocatively during award shows or Super Bowl we, for the most part, hastily condemn the female. Think Miley Cyrus and Janet Jackson. The men they share the stage with, on the other hand, get off scot-free.

There would have been no twerking without Robin Thicke, or wardrobe malfunction without Justin Timberlake. Or, most recently, no highly suggestive moves by Beyoncé, without Jay Z.

Beyoncé, minimally dressed, gyrated seductively all around Jay Z in the Grammy’s opening number. And the blogosphere and some folks I encountered the following day blasted her “inappropriate dress” and “suggestive moves” at a time “kids were still watching.” No one commented on her husband’s participation.

Beyoncé took the hit.

Miley Cyrus continues to be derided and mimicked after twerking Robin Thicke during their performance at the VMAs. The talk shows and blogs were all over her for weeks. SNL convulsed with Miley skits, even bringing her on as a host in which she mocked her own performance (good for her). Whether you like Cyrus, hate her, or think she’s a wrecked ball, if Thicke hadn’t been on the stage with her she would have merely looked silly. Thicke, who’s 36 to her 20, by the way, and whose Blurred Lines video features all nude women, participated in the scene.

Cyrus took the hit.

And with Sunday’s big game approaching everyone recalls Janet Jackson’s ill-fated performance during which she sustained a purposeful wardrobe malfunction. Again, the so-called malfunction would not have happened if Justin Timberlake hadn’t ripped her top off, as rehearsed. But no one criticized Timberlake (who, yes, I adore). Without Timberlake there would have been no wardrobe malfunction.

Jackson took the hit.

Regardless of what you think of these and other suggestive performances (and the list is extensive in the music, film, and television industries) why is the woman the only one criticized? If you think a performance is too suggestive, then I respect that. If you think it’s tasteless and humiliating, I just might agree. But place blame where blame belongs. And that’s not just on the woman.

It takes two to tango.


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