Category Archives: Stories – From Life & Elsewhere

Holiday Story #1 – How I Got so Lucky

This is a true story.

I

Brooklyn, December 1967

I knew it was going to be another tough day at the Welfare Department when I saw the woman having an epileptic seizure in the Intake room. She was on her back, eyes rolling, jerking and thrashing, head thumping on the cement floor.

A security guard ran over and straddled her, trying to hold her down. Her arm whipped up and knocked off his black billed hat. Reaching back, he pulled out his billy club.

God, I thought, I hope he’s not going to hit her!

He wasn’t, but it was almost as bad. He tried to push the club between her teeth, to keep her from biting off her tongue, which could kill her. The jerking and thumping of her head made this almost impossible, though, and the club whacked repeatedly against her chin and face. Finally he got the club between her lips, and her movements seemed to slow down.

I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned back to the doorway and headed upstairs to the unit, where my desk sat in the second row from the back, the fourth desk over.

It was a freezing cold December in 1967, and there was no doubt about what I wanted for Christmas:

Two things: a revolution; and then, a telephone for Mrs. Lee.

Actually, the telephone would probably have to come first, but that’s not how I felt–and I’m getting ahead of myself.

II

Every day in my job at the New York City Welfare Department, I saw dozens of good reasons for revolution: sad and desperate people trooping in and out of the Intake room, looking for help, begging for help, screaming for help. And every day, I watched the system fail them, giving them no help, or the wrong kind of help, or help that just wasn’t enough. Continue reading Holiday Story #1 – How I Got so Lucky

My Campus Crusade for Free Speech, 1963

I

            Not long ago, over a friendly lunch near a progressive college, I told the story below to a rising young academic.

As he listened, his eyes widened. Then he shook his head, and put down his fork.

“You could never do that now,” he said quietly.

Did I hear regret? Maybe even a touch of apprehension? (Was it: You couldn’t do that now, because “they” wouldn’t let you? Or, “they” (maybe a different “they”) would stop you from doing it, by  force if need be?)

I wasn’t surprised at this reaction. Not today. But then, and there, we would have thought it outlandish, even absurd. Continue reading My Campus Crusade for Free Speech, 1963

God(DESS) Explains IRMA’S Track

“First of all, I pulled some punches with Cuba. Would’ve passed them by completely — the folks there have fer sure suffered enough from the stupid US boycott — but there’s still the official corruption.

And then Florida — which can’t be separated from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee & Mississippi. First of all, this is the absolute heartland of lynchings; a couple thousand at least, and if you think all that blood doesn’t still cry out like tinnitus in my ears every day, you’re deef as a post. 

Next, because I already whacked the Carolinas last year, and NC got enough of the message to elect a Dem guvnor & kinda “repeal” that HB (Hell Bill) Two. It was a start; but that loudmouth Franklin Graham is getting on my last nerve. Continue reading God(DESS) Explains IRMA’S Track

Review: A Legacy of Spies” — John LeCarre’s Latest

Actually this is the report on a twofer/Marathon:

First, “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold,” and then “A Legacy of Spies,” both by John LeCarre.

“Cold” is 40-plus years old, JLC’s first big hit; “Legacy” is a brand-new sequel/followup/reconsideration. Continue reading Review: A Legacy of Spies” — John LeCarre’s Latest

Did a Days Labor Day Memory: The Big Eclipse?? Wake me When It’s Over

File this in the “Be Careful What You Wish For” folder.

Road signs that are flashing on highways all over North Carolina.

Once upon a time, in the summer of 1972, there was to be a total eclipse. It was, the media told us, going to be amazing, terrific & spooky. I was living in Boston then, and the path of totality was going to pass near me.

July 1972: The dark blue lines like a railroad track are the course of the total solar eclipse. The green arrows show where it was to cross Nova Scotia.

I got excited about this. And as the publicity buildup continued, I became steadily more excited. In fact, I was soon talking to my best friend David Eppers about a road trip: Continue reading Did a Days Labor Day Memory: The Big Eclipse?? Wake me When It’s Over

A Quaker Reflection on Memorial Day

Howard Zinn was neither a Quaker nor a pacifist. But in 1976, he wrote this in his regular column for the Boston Globe:

There was a young woman in New Hampshire who refused to allow her husband, killed in Vietnam, to be given a military burial. She rejected the hollow ceremony ordered by those who sent him and 50,000 others to their deaths. Her courage should be cherished on Memorial Day. There were the B52 pilots who refused to fly those last vicious raids of Nixon’s and Kissinger’s war. Have any of the great universities, so quick to give honorary degrees to God-knows-whom, thought to honor those men at this Commencement time, on this Memorial Day?
No politician who voted funds for war, no business contractor for the military, no general who ordered young men into battle, no FBI man who spied on anti-war activities, should be invited to public ceremonies on this sacred day. Let the dead of past wars be honored. Let those who live pledge themselves never to embark on mass slaughter again.

Continue reading A Quaker Reflection on Memorial Day

New Resistance Reading: “Our Society. Our Future: Resist!”

“To every thing there is a season,” says the biblical sage Ecclesiastes,

A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away . . .
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak,”

and I would add,
A time to endure, and a time to resist.

As I write, in early 2017,  in the United States, such a time of resistance is upon us.


This new collection (now available in paperback and on Kindle) is for those who have been through “a time to lose” — losses that, as I write, are far from over. Some of these losses will have to be endured for a time, perhaps a long time.

Yet if so, they are not to be endured in passive, compliant silence. Continue reading New Resistance Reading: “Our Society. Our Future: Resist!”

Bernie, Garrison, LittleHands & the Rainbow Toilet: My Top Blog Posts for 2016

It’s Top Ten List season, and how can I refuse?  Yet  out of more than 130 blog posts, how can I choose? 

One way is to do it by the numbers: And the clear #1 on that score went up on February 12. It called out  the slighting comments made by Congressman & civil rights legend John Lewis about Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the thick of a hard-fought primary struggle with Hillary Clinton.


I revere John Lewis; but the post also stood up for Sanders’ activist record as a college student — not as a movement hero or leader, but as one of many who did his bit, took his lumps, and had been a loyal ally for fifty-plus years since.

Continue reading Bernie, Garrison, LittleHands & the Rainbow Toilet: My Top Blog Posts for 2016

A family story for today: “I Hate Dill Pickles”

Spring 2018; or maybe tomorrow

Sara Rahman was my best friend then. “BFFs, Amber,” she often said to me.  And some of the best times we had were while walking home from school.

We joked and laughed about everything – stuff in school, books she was reading, her dorky big brother Ahmed, even some of the sillier songs from “American Idol.”

Maybe we were having too much fun. Maybe we shouldn’t have gone running up to the ice cream truck that came jangling by and pulled over to the curb.

But it was a warm spring Thursday, and Sara had five dollars in her pocket, a pre-birthday present from her aunt, and she loved ice cream.

“Especially butter pecan,” she said. “That’s my very favorite.” So we did stop at the ice cream truck. No butter pecan, but they did have big cones of cookies and cream, so Sara got one of those, and bought me an Eskimo pie. Continue reading A family story for today: “I Hate Dill Pickles”