Someone who looks a lot like Elsie (I found this girl on Wikimedia, and it turns out she was born 10 years after my Elsie and lived in Budapest). Her name was Elza (1981-1996).

Today I was having a “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment where I wondered what difference my life will have made in the world.

Suddenly, there was Elsie’s face. A beautiful German Shepherd that I haven’t seen for more than 35 years.

In the summer of 1973, I rented an apartment from a local Methodist church. The old clapboard house itself was offices (1st floor), Sunday school rooms (2nd floor), and my groovy little apartment on the 3rd floor.

When word got around (small college) that I was staying in town for the summer, I heard from a boy who had plans to go to Europe between semesters. He asked me to keep his dog. I soon heard from others that this boy used to kick his dog and generally treat her badly. Elsie’s countenance matched that description. She was nervous, skittish, bowed, and apologetic about everything.

At any rate, I felt very grown-up and as if I was starting a new life. I had my own place and my own dog.

At first, Elsie posed a small problem. I didn’t know how to care for a dog.

Elsie didn’t know that. I found a tennis ball and every day I spent hours, literally hours, bouncing the ball off of the church’s walls in the neighboring courtyard, to Elsie’s sheer delight. I took her everywhere. I don’t even recall that this fellow had given me a leash. But Elsie didn’t seem to need one.

I brushed her, gave her hose water, every attention that a dog could love.

It was a lonely summer for me. My roommate had taken up residence with her boyfriend most of the time. I worked for the college mowing grass for most of the summer — a good friend and I had convinced the school that we should be the first female maintenance employees.

Nights belonged to me and Elsie. I wrote at night, and then, when the heat broke a little — sometime near midnight,  I would ride my bicycle at breakneck speed down the hill to the Chester River. I taught Elsie to run on the sidewalk next to me. (Bad things could’ve happened, but they didn’t.) She swam in the river and was dry by the time we got home. We did this every night, rain or moon.

When fall came around, and I moved back into the dorms, Elsie’s owner came to claim her. At first, he didn’t recognize her. He smiled, crookedly, in disbelief.

In fact, I heard from his dorm mates that Elsie was a completely new dog. Confident and loving. She held her head high now. She was somebody. Still, Elsie took the boy right back.

I visited Elsie a few times in the boy’s dorm. One day after Thanksgiving, I ran into Elsie’s owner on campus. He told me that he had forgotten to bring her back to school after the holiday. I was stunned and broken hearted. How could you leave your best friend behind?

In fact, Elsie never came back to school again. I can only hope that this boy’s parents kept that beautiful girl for the rest of her days.

And so, I am proud to admit that I have had a positive effect on a living creature. One that I could see. One that I could feel. And one that paid me back in full today.



Started in 1889, the Eastman Kodak Company has been part of all our lives. Much like today’s generation where terms like “Google” means search, or “Facebook me” means get in touch, the “Kodak moment” has been part of all of our lives, and has always meant a special moment in time that has been captured on film.

Being a photographer, and one who was taught using film and processing my own film (and subsequently spending years in the dark), I can speak from my own experience and say that film is officially dead. I remember my days in art school, and if you were in the photography program, the darkroom was your night club. We would spend days, nights, weeks in the darkroom. The ones who were “serious” about photography would make photographs on film, and process their own film and make their own prints. Digital was emerging, but if…

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Game on, Santa?

Since when is it OK to dis Santa?

In Best Buy’s latest Christmas commercial, the big box store comes off as kind and ever-so-thoughtful, whereas Santa’s tiny gifts won’t even fit into a stocking. In fact, the mom mocks him as he tries! She’s already filled them with Best Buy gifts for under $100.

Oh, Mom does suggest that he can fill her dog’s empty stocking. Message: if you can’t use a Kindle, you don’t deserve anything at all?

Shame on Best Buy for creating a commercial without a heart. May you sell little this year except for “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Bad broughtupsie

This week, two seemingly disparate stories.

In one, a young boy brings down the once-great Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

In the second, a couple screaming at each other in a fast food restaurant make national news.

The first story is about a single individual who speaks up about a harm that’s been done him. A great harm. With hours, the story is famous. In fact, the unraveling brings in seven other young boys who basically tell the same story as the first. Further unraveling leads to the top and topple of the Penn State football empire.

The second story is about a Burger King patron who becomes so enthralled with what appears to be the demise of a relationship that he turns on his phone camera. He video records the transaction and posts it to the Internet, saying “I am listening to a marriage disintegrate at a table next to me in this restaurant. Aaron Sorkin couldn’t write this any better.”

Both stories are about tremendously bad and selfish decisions. In the first story, a head coach and his henchmen refuse to report the rape (by one of their own) of a young boy in 2002. And perhaps other rapes of young boys as well.

In the second story, the decision was TO publish another very personal affair, albeit a loud one that must have affected the entire restaurant.

This decision affected not everyone in the restaurant, but did seriously affect the couple and their families. And may even have caused the demise of a marriage.

Both decisions, both stories, are about people who had something at stake that they wanted to preserve. For Joe Paterno, it was his empire. For the videographer, Andy Boyle, it was a random piece of entertainment. 15 minutes of fame.

Both decisions were at incredible expense to other people.

It has been said that the strength of a civilization is in how it treats its weakest (or poorest, or more vulnerable). The thought has been attributed to Gandhi, Pearl Buck, and Pope John Paul II.

If that’s the case, we’re not doing very well as a global civilization.

Not self-preservation, but self-aggrandizement, is the culprit here. Of course we can blame any media, including the dastardly ABC news (who aired the Burger King story) for participating in the second story. Turns out Andy Boyle is also in media, the web developer for the Boston Globe. Should have known better.

For all of our new-fangled communications tools, we’re not really communicating. We’re each more an island than ever. Each making decisions that at any moment can ruin other people’s lives.

Where have ethics gone? Moral judgment?

Jamaicans call this flaw “bad broughtupsie.” Amen, and how. But where and when will good broughtupsie become the norm?

Worse, people are still debating whether Joe Paterno should have been banned from “his” 410th game.

More reading:

Four questions for starters, New Yorker
Something disintegrates at a Burger King, NPR
Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story, Penn State review

I miss Steve Jobs

Young Steve Jobs

Young Steve Jobs

That’s it, basically. He inspired me to buy my first Mac in 1987, and all Macs thereafter. No matter their cost … they would have been a bargain at twice the price.

His persona, his follow-through, even his failures … will keep CEOs paying attention for decades.


Blast from the past

Scene from Blast From the Past

I was at a post-funeral “party” this afternoon at an exclusive private country club. I’m sure I’d have to be recommended and approved to join this organization, but because someone in it died and I went to high school with her daughter, they let me right in. I knew I wouldn’t know many people, but that didn’t matter. This girl would care that I showed up.

As I walked toward the front door, I was joined by four black women. I introduced myself as a friend of Mary’s daughter, and they explained that they had been caretakers for Mary Watkins (everyone called her Mary Watt) for the past three years.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the hallowed wooden halls, the thick Persian carpets, and the primarily black and hispanic wait staff.

I ran into Polly right away, extended my condolences, and moved on for now, letting her chat with the throng. Then I spotted two old high school friends. One I keep up with, the other I haven’t seen since graduation. We’ll call the first one “H” and the second one “B.” Here was the conversation as I walked up to H + B and addressed myself to B.

“Hi! It’s great to see you again, B. Do I look familiar to you?”

B’s eyes rolled. Her father had been a state senator. Her wedding had been posted in the New York Times. The name of a Garfinkle was involved.

“Why don’t people understand that it’s rude not to introduce yourself right away,” she said. “Hi, I’m so-and-so. And the other person introduces herself. I mean, do you look familiar? Sure. Of course you look familiar. A lot of people look familiar.”

Our graduating class had 30, no 31, people in it. It had been 30 until we got a newcomer who had been tossed out of St. Christopher’s School for Boys on a pot-related matter. But I digress. I can name every member of this woman B’s family, and I haven’t seen her for 40 years. Practically to the day.

H, a little nervous perhaps, piped up and said, “You remember Susan Smith.”

I pressed on, smiling,”So you’re saying I was rude to you?” I just was floored, but I couldn’t quite believe what she was saying. I wanted to understand, and to offer my side of the story — that I just assumed she would recognize me. Which is the truth.

B seemed not at all interested, and didn’t even hint that she was interested in how I had been doing all these years.

“It just keeps happening over and over again today,” she said. “I’m so tired of it.”

Twice she had called me rude.

“It’s surprising that you’re so frustrated with introductions, given that this is such a high-bred group,” I said.

B repeated herself, “I guess there aren’t any borders for rudeness.” Or something like that.

OK, thrice.

When B turned to the food table, I said to H, who had turned her head and spotted the four black women at the table behind her. Behind them was a rainy seascape — the pool is closed for the year and the boats all in. You could imagine the broad hot lawns of summer, the children in their kayaks and wading shoes, the many umbrella’d drinks served.

“I met these women on the way in,” I said, pleased to be able to tell H something she may not have known, and perhaps to introduce her to them. “They were caretakers for Mary Watt.”

“Obviously,” said H cattily, then turning back around. With a smirk. An actual smirk.

She later mentioned to someone else we were talking to that she and I talked about business sometimes. I said, “I thought we were friends.” She said, “Oh, and well, friends.” I had embarrassed her?

I wondered what year it was, right here in this grand Florida room. It might never have changed from 1968, the year I met these two as young girls.

By then, Polly had come to sit at the caregivers’ table, and waved me over to introduce me. “Thanks,” I said, “We all met. So glad you can sit for a bit.” I got up and got a little food — Polly had arranged for sushi and little brie and fig wraps and deviled eggs. Cubed cheese, of course. Roast beef. An open bar.

There was never any snobbishness to Polly that I can recall. She’s never struck me as judgmental at all. Today, she lives in a modest two-story cottage on a quiet street in Newport News. When I first met her, her family home was bayside and she had her own playhouse by the water. I’m pretty sure she’ll never want for anything material.

I took a moment to look around the room and remember, in a way, the kind of people I had known when I was in high school. My father, a country lawyer, really, had wanted to send his children to private schools after desegregation. In my case, I found myself in school with families who owned swimming pools and ice companies and huge law firms and whose boys wore blue oxford cloth shirts and loafers even on the weekends. Izod for slumming.

I remember struggling with self-image and esteem.

But today, perhaps, I really realized how conservative conservatives really are. And by conservative I mean nothing about politics. I’m just talking about the status quo — a high status quo. The land where sweater sets and pearls are de rigeur. A hair out of place isn’t a great thing, so let’s smooth all hair into sleek triangles that don’t frame the face very well. Let’s not wear any interesting colors. Our people don’t stand out by virtue of wearing fashionable clothes, anyway. Oh, and those without smooth hair are allowed to have very odd haircuts … some pulled back by hairspray or something I couldn’t see. I forget that rich people are conservative, but when they have an odd streak, it comes out in bad hair. Sometimes bad shoes.

But I think worst of all was the slight B intended toward me today, or didn’t intend. No matter. Her disrespect no longer makes me feel like I’m not good enough. In fact, the opposite. Remember Blast from the Past, the movie where a young man has grown up in a fall-out shelter locked down in the 60s because his father thought there’d been an atomic blast? One of my favorite scenes is shortly after Adam finds his way out of the shelter, some 35 years later. His new friend Troy explains Adam’s definition of a “gentleman” and a “lady.”

He thinks that I am a gentleman and 
that you are a lady!
Well, consider the source. I don't
even know what a lady is.
Exactly! I thought a gentleman was
somebody who owned horses. Turns out,
the short and very simple definition
of a gentleman or a lady is: someone
who always attempts to make the people
around him or her feel as comfortable
as possible. That's it! If you don't
do that, nothing else matters. The
cars, the clothes, the houses...
Where did he get all that information?
From the oddest place. His parents
told him. I don't think I got that

In short, I’d much rather make other people comfortable than to make them uncomfortable, because I take making people comfortable as a great definition of “courteousness.”

So it took every fiber in my body not to respond to B, “I’ll tell you what I think is rude ….” right there in the middle of that room, which appeared to be out of the 1960s but had nothing of the true definitions of courteousness and grace. Very little of what Adam had learned from his parents.

If B were to find this blog one day, maybe she’d have a breakthrough. Or not.

I was just happy that I no longer took her aristocratic mannerisms to heart. Oh, I just googled her, and found that she was arrested last year for throwing “a missile” at an occupied vehicle, and for damage to a law enforcement vehicle. Could be she’s not married any more. Tant pis.

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