Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Near Death-by-Parking-Spot


Minutes were likely taken off my (hopefully) long life last night.  My husband and I were meeting friends for dinner at Rose Tattoo in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia. He drops me off near the restaurant, and as I’m about to walk in, someone pulls out of a parking spot. I stand in it and call hubby, telling him to circle back fast. Then a guy in a black BMW starts edging into the spot I’m claiming. I wave him off, but he keeps coming. ‘My husband’s just around the corner,” I say, holding my ground.
“I’m calling the cops,” he replies.
And he does.
Just then my husband shows up and decides not to get into the middle of it. (I’m snapping a photo of BMW's  license plate –but it didn’t come out cause I accidentally had “video” on; BMW’s snapping a photo of me.).
With my husband having pulled away,  there's no point any longer. So, I step out of the space and walk into the restaurant. "I hope you don't serve that guy," I tell the hostess. 
A drink or so later, I’ve calmed down. And after a great meal, it's almost forgotten. But as we leave, the hostess says:
“The guy came in with the cops. They were asking for you. I told them I didn’t know where you were. The cops said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’”
A search on the internet shows that this kind of thing happens all the time. In last winter’s heavy snow, Mayor Nutter said people should respect the lawn chair holding the spot a homeowner dug out, though technically it’s a free-for-all, it appears. 
But if I was there first, why isn't it my spot? Do I need to be sitting inside of a ton of steel?
Anyone know the law in PA? I couldn’t find it. Aside from that, what would you do?
On line there are dozens of comments from angry motorists and equally angry pedestrian place-holders. Here's my favorite: 
 “The spot goes to who wants it the most. The person standing there while a vehicle edges ever so close to their knees or the driver willing to run over the parking squatter.”
There are lots of ways to be "unretiring." 
Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Will you know when it's time?

Courtesy of Philadelphia Magazine
How will you know when it’s time to leave a job?  This is a question I mulled over for many years as I turned down one buy-out after another at my ever-shrinking newspaper. 
Was I still having fun? How much did I need the money? And, critically, what would I do with myself?
These were some of the things I asked myself each time the owners ordered up a “reduction in force.”
During one of those moments of indecision, I talked with a friend who worked for a medical foundation about what her job was like. We spoke for an hour and then suddenly she confessed:   “You have the job I always wished I could have.”
That clinched my decision for that go-round.
Over the years, I consulted so many friends, that they got sick of hearing me talk about it. After one buy-out period in 2000, when I finally decided to stay, one friend sent me flowers. The note said:
"Congratulations. And now, will you please shut up."
Time passed. The newsroom staff shrank from over 600 to about 240 in 10 years. Some of those who left were my friends. For Arlene Morgan,  an exciting job offer at Columbia University's School of Journalism landed just as she had lost faith that management had a vision for the future. She's now an associate dean running numberous exciting projects and programs.   Another friend couldn't shake her anger about the direction of her department. She went off to teach and write. And a third friend, Jane Eisner, also reached her bolting point, despite a well-read national column. She is now winning prizes as editor of  the Forward.
For those who stayed, the hours got longer and everyone had to shoulder more weekend shifts.
Still, we all felt we were serving democracy and bettering our community through our journalism. I loved mentoring reporters and helping them do their best work. And they voiced their appreciation. On balance, I was happy every day to get up and go to work.
But with last October's buyout -- which cut another 18 newsroom positions -- my gut told me that it was time.  I felt bottled up -- my creative juices no longer had an outlet.
One of my joys over nearly three decades had been the ability to quickly take an idea from brainstorm to print, often sparking an immediate public reaction. In a small way, I was making a difference.
But by last year, while I was still having fresh, exciting, important ideas,  there were no longer enough reporters to execute them. I was a conductor without an orchestra, an inventor without a tool shop, an artist out of paint.
Three months later, I can be as creative as I want every single day. My step is light (as is my wallet), but my heart is heavy for those who continue to do the hard and important work of journalism under ever more trying conditions. This week the publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and its joint web site,, ordered that another 37 positions be eliminated through buyouts -- at least initially. That’s several hundred people weighing their futures and trying to make a decision.
I wish them well. Each will surely know, in his or her gut, whether it's time to take that leap to the (hopefully) next great thing.
What are your thoughts on when it is time to leave?  Email me at and I'll blog about your answers, or comment below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love and Laughter Alot Later

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Nancy Lynn Sagel was 16 years old and a student at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. Hal Kessler was 28 and her history teacher.
“It was 1960 when I met Nancy. She sat in row 7, seat 1,” said Hal. “In addition to being a good student, she was always upbeat even though she was subjected to me as a teacher.”
“He’s funny and warm and that’s the kind of teacher he was,” said Nancy. “Everybody loved him.”
That was the end of the story for many, many years.
Nancy, too, became a teacher. And at age 32, she married Elliot Florin. One day, “he left to play tennis and that was it,” she said. “He died early. He was 53.”  She closed up her Nancy Lynn candy shop in Avalon, N.J., and with the help of  friends, moved on.
After a long marriage, Hal’s wife fell sick and he cared for her for four years until her death in 2008.
But this is a Philadelphia fairy tale and it has a happy ending.
Over the decades, Nancy and Hal would occasionally bump into each other – once at Decatur elementary, where Nancy was teaching.
Hal joked to the staff,  “’One of my former teachers is on the faculty!’ That got a laugh.”
Another time, they ran into each other at a funeral. “He was wearing a light khaki suit. I told my friends, ‘I saw Mr. Kessler today.’ ”
Then, after Hal’s wife died, they bumped into each other at the Genuardi’s market in Rockledge,  about equidistant from his place in Elkins Park and hers in the city.
“It was one of the aisles where they have apple sauce and little packs of fruit,” Hal said.
“You remember that?” Nancy said, as the two told me their story at Le Bus in Manyunk.
“I asked Nancy for her phone number and email and she said, ‘I don’t go out with older men,’” Hal quipped. (He is a jokster… see my earlier blog about a guy who does nothing.)
That was 3 ½ years ago.
Last  September, they went together to Nancy’s 50th high school reunion.
“He was the class reunion star,” Nancy said.
“Don’t put that in, it’s embarrassing,” he said.
“A lot of people knew; a lot of people didn’t know,” said Nancy, beaming. “It was the topic of conversation.”

What draws them together is their shared love of history, theater, movies, eating out and watching sports. “We’re both home bodies,” said Nancy.
They see each other almost every day, but have no problem doing a lot separately.
“When you find someone late in life,“ you also want to keep your own interests,  said Nancy.  “On Saturday night Hal babysat his grandkids and I went out with my friends. And I’m going with my girlfriends to Las Vegas."
But she’s decided not to go with friends to China for 21 days this spring.
“I can’t be away from him that long,” she said.
Tonight, Valentine’s Day, they plan to dine at Bridget’s steak house in Ambler. Just the two of them.
“I’ll probably have the steak,” said Nancy.
“I’m one of those people who go to steak restaurants and order salmon,” said Hal.
“We feel very comfortable with each other,” said Hal.
“I’ll sum it up better,” said Nancy. “I just adore him.”
“Ditto,” said Hal.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Heart Divided

C. Everett Koop and wife, Cora at Painted Bride
Few of us remember the poignant real-life story of the conjoined twins who shared a single heart, as well as surgeon C. Everett Koop.
Who would live and who would die? was the unthinkable question that drove the parents, the rabbis, and the medical staff at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia at the time.
Which is why the former US. Surgeon General now 96, drove with his wife 7 hours from Dartmouth to Philadelphia to be at a play reading in Philadelphia last week about that very case. Later, he spoke about one of the most profound dilemmas of his long, illustrious career.
Donald Drake, who wrote the play, “Choice,” covered the story in 1977  for the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was among the most powerful he ever wrote (among many powerful stories). And as a young reporter at the Philadelphia Bulletin at the time, I remember, jealously, his access and his insight. 
As a journalist, Drake thought constantly about “story” and studied the techniques of suspense and climax.  Not surprisingly, after “retiring,” he turned to play writing. Many of his nearly two dozen works have drawn on his years as a medical writer.  “Gorked, ” which had me sobbing when I saw it, is about the isolation of an elderly man, frozen in his body after a stroke, who, unbeknownst to his children actually knows everything going on around him. “Clear and Present Danger,”  is about a schizophrenic teenager who tests her parents’ love, and stems from the story of Sylvia Seegrist, who flipped out in 1985, firing wildly in suburban Philly's Springfield Mall, killing three people. The twins' story was one  that Drake could not shake either.
Donald C. Drake
In “Choice,” a religious Jewish couple are torn apart by the decision they must make. The surgeon tells them that only one child can live; the other – without the shared heart – will have to die. But which would it be? And was killing one to possibly save the other justified? A violation of Jewish law?  Should the babies live joined for as long as they could?
In real life,  the choice was wrenching but ultimately clear.  Saving a life is paramount. And one of the babies contained the greater share of the heart. (See the rabbinical explanation.) But Drake takes the liberty of art to make the decision even more fraught, with the couple warring against each other; the hospital staff threatening to boycott, and the rabbis disagreeing on God's law.
Dr. Koop,  who as surgeon general unflinchingly rampaged against cigarettes, sat in a wheelchair in the front row of a sparse performance space in the Painted Bride. Though he now wears hearing aids,  he appears vigorous for his age, with a full head of hair and his trademark Amish-like flowing beard. He remarried two years ago, after the death of his wife of 60 years.
Dr. Koop had no reluctance addressing the audience, talking about the strange feelings he was having  seeing his story – his character – depicted on stage, a weird convergence of art and life.
The reading had brought back to mind his own “religious” moment during the surgery.
He explained that at CHOP,  he had been caring for the children of a rabbi and had talked to this rabbi about the case of the twins.
Still, Dr. Koop had not planned for what to do with the body of the baby destined to die during surgery.
 “When I tied off one carotid artery and killed a child,” Dr. Koop said,  “I’d given no thought about what would happen to the body… I had one dead baby and one live baby; I separated them. One of the nurses took the child who was now dead and carried it to the door of operating room. The door opened and there stood the rabbi. … The fact that he was there, seemed almost like God’s blessing on what I had just done. It was very important to me.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Car Talk

Click here to see what it is!
Loved everyone’s guesses about my new car.
No, it’s not a red Miata (sigh). Not a VW Passat. Not a Lexus (though I would have loved that princess car. --See my previous post.)
Curiously, not a single one of you suggested that I might have bought a Ford or a Chrysler or a GM car. What does that say about buying American? (I might have considered a Ford, but no dealer is near me)

Two of you got it right. As did Matthew Broderick!
I was driving my "urban metallic" one before he drove this red one  on Super Bowl Sunday.  I also agree with Broderick on this:  "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

These words, from poet Sonia Sanchez, are provocative.

Nothing ends
every blade of grass
remembering your sound

They're from her poem "Haiku Morning."

I'd love to interview Sanchez, 77,  recently named  Philadelphia's poet laureate, but Zack Heller, of Philadelphia's Two-One-Five Magazine got to her first, with a beautiful profile of Sanchez and her peace project. 
Learning the art of  haiku is yet another possible challenge to walk up to now that I've left my job. Sanchez is encouraging people to write haikus on the subject of peace. Some of these poems will be incorporated in a mural in South Philadelphia this summer, in a joint project with the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia, First Person Arts and the city's Department of Human Services. It's called Peace is a Haiku, and you can compose right on the website.

Here's the haiku that "Stacey" posted on Monday.

Learn to listen again
Hear voices troubles feeling
W/ mindskin handseyes listen

Friday, February 3, 2012

Of Breasts and Bravery

Politicians beware! The uproar prompted by the Susan G.  Komen Foundation’s decision to cut funds to Planned Parenthood is a glimmer of the power of women who don’t want to see their health issues – their freedom of choice issues – abrogated by the politics of abortion.

Some of us, like myself, were not allowed to speak up on this issue in the past because of our jobs. As a newspaper editor,  I had to sign an ethics agreement each year, promising that I would not embarrass the paper by taking a public stance on an issue which I might cover in my job.
It’s a good policy, journalistically, and I was careful to stay clear of stories where I had a strong emotional involvement.

But now, in my unretirement, I can tirelessly speak out. And quote others who speak out.

Cece Citron, an academic counselor at the University of Pennsylvania who herself has marched in the grueling, but exhilarating three-day, 60-mile walk for breast cancer, is angry. “I am absolutely appalled about Susan B. Komen and  my feeling about it is that they’re hurting young women and low income women. …If I were registered now [for the three day walk] I’d pull out. I’d rather have my efforts and fundraising go to Planned Parenthood. I am terribly appalled.”

I’ve witnessed women’s despair in the face of pregnancy.  In college at a time when abortion was  illegal, I saw the agonizing routes young women took to find secret doctors in distant or disgusting places. Then, as a Fulbright scholar in Santiago, Chile, I volunteered in a low-income clinic where a pioneering physician, Dr. Jaime Zipper, was designing inexpensive IUDs to allow women to plan their families.

I doubt the Komen organization that worked so hard for so many years to build its reputation and raise millions to fund its mission to cure breast cancer will quickly, if ever, rebound from this decision. Even though it has already backpedaled and rescinded its decision. Which is tragic.  Because either way, it is women who are hurt.

But perhaps some good will come of it.  The uproar “lets people know the good work that Planned Parenthood does beyond abortion," said David Broida, whose late wife, 
Susan Broida was a much loved  advocate of sex education and family planning.

As Susan Broida once said, ‘It’s the silence that is the problem. The silence is deadly.”

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Future Shocks: What car will get me there?

Who would have thought it would take me more than a year to buy a new car? And how fraught the decision would be at this stage of my life?
The last car I had bought was in 2004,  and that choice was easy.  I had quickly settled on the Mazda MPV, a small mini-van. My husband and friends scoffed: the kids were grown and gone and the dog had died. So why did I need a mini van that could fit 7 people?
It was all about wanting to feel that my life was still exuberant and full. I wanted to feel as if I was a carpooling mom, but instead of little children,  I’d take friends on trips. My husband and I would roll our bikes right into the spacious back and head for Maine.

And  the car would help our adult kids finally move their stuff -- nursery school finger paintings, report cards, year books, college papers, CDs, posters, and the furniture we'd been saving for them--  into their own homes.
I wanted my life to be full and this car would help me do that.
It worked great (though our attic is still a disaster area of unclaimed possessions).
This time around was different. I felt that somehow I was buying a car for a long ride into an unknown future.  What would my life be like? What kind of car would take me there?
Now that I’d left my job, my “commute” could be anywhere –or almost nowhere. Would I be volunteering in the city? Traveling the country? Still out on bike trips? Working at a new job?
Did I need a smooth-riding, really comfortable, maybe even upscale car particularly good for long trips visiting the grandchildren? Two of them are hours away in  a snow-belt town; another in a totally different direction.
“Buy a ‘big girl’ car,” one daughter said, urging me to splurge.
I’d never had a luxury car. Was this the time?
“This could be your last car,” a few people said to me.
Huh?? The thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I hope to have a couple decades of driving ahead of me.  But if things didn’t go well, maybe they were right.
What car did I want to drive to my grave? How could I possibly make a decision