Saturday, May 27, 2023

Medical Student Medical Event Debriefing Service - A Proposal


Medical Student Medical Event Debriefing Service


Inevitably, in the course of medical school training, medical events will occur which are striking. Sometimes they are destabilizing – being present at a death, seeing a patient happy one minute and dead the next, seeing a patient raving crazy, seeing a patient and family receiving a dire diagnosis, seeing the controlled chaos around a code blue, tending to a severely ill patient day after day with no end in sight, seeing children suffer and families coming apart. Sometimes, happily, there are uplifting events – an amazing life-saving, life-changing event, a great diagnosis and treatment, an operation that seems magical, a recovery to health, seeing the devotion of a spouse, a birth. Whether positive or negative, seeing the human condition unfold before you, where you are a participant, where the context is medical, is a deeply emotional experience.

How do medical students deal with these experiences? Variably. All students are different, the circumstances in which they find themselves with each event are different, the input they get from those around them are different. Usually, most of what happens to students is internal, often solitary. They absorb it. Sometimes there is the counsel of a wise and experienced clinician, someone who handles it in their own way, who can give advice, someone who can offer concern and solace. Occasionally, such a person can elicit the students feelings and reactions in a way that not only consoles, but deepens their appreciation. But in most medical schools, I think, this is usually a matter of chance, of who is available when, of who has time and inclination, of who is equipped.

Sometimes, unfortunately, the surrounding atmosphere is not so positive, and reactions are psychological defenses. The gallows humor that develops in medical trainees has been well documented, as senior students and house staff ironically make light of a dying patient. Iconic sarcasm on medical lingo is typified by evocation of the progression from the O sign to the Q sign, and to the Fly sign. The O sign is when the dying patient's mouth forms a circle; the Q sign occurs when the tongue protrudes in the corner of the mouth, and finally the Fly sign is when a fly hovers circling the patient and awaits his or her death. House staff observes the process of dying by asking, how far along is he, and reference made to O, Q, and Fly. Sometimes there is just a flip comment, “That's the way it goes, on to the next.” House staff laugh as they assign the student to evacuating the bowels manually of a terminal patient. Often there is intellectualization as in, “What a fascinoma! Wasn't that an amazing EKG?” It's not so different from soldiers, or police, as they gird themselves against the rigors of their profession and life itself. Defenses against the stark realities of life, disease, and death abound.

You would think that medicine, with its history of beneficence, would have evolved ways of passing on wisdom in the face of these events, and in many ways it certainly has. But in many ways it hasn't. When airline pilots have traumatic events, accidents or near-misses, guidelines call for them to be grounded and counseled for a period of time. When that happens to a surgeon, he or she is expected to proceed to the next case as though nothing had happened, schedule comes first, tough it out. And students and trainees, when faced with these events, are often left to fend on their own. Scientific knowledge is presented and judged and tested constantly, but humanistic knowledge almost never.

If students are to be taught humanistic medicine, it would make sense to recognize the impact of these events, and to view them all as opportunities to deepen the humanity of the student, whatever the student's ultimate career objective. Students could profit enormously by discussing the events, and most importantly their reactions and their feelings and their reflections on the events, with someone wise and understanding and experienced. Doctors have a lot to give in their roles as physicians, but what they can give is predicated on what they have absorbed.

While departments and divisions throughout the university will have resources to provide this reflective counseling, and while there is something to be gained by having a variety of approaches that different disciplines might offer, some centralization would have advantages. A separate service would ensure that effort would not be diluted and derided by those who view humanization as somehow namby-pamby. A centralized service would allow faculty to best learn from each other, and to identify strengths. A centralized service could arrange for constant availability for processing events. A centralized service would bring more attention to the effort to all the students, perhaps even by conferences, classes, and publications. A centralized service would enable tracking of the student body to take place, papers to be written about the experience, statistics to be kept, and progress made in an organized fashion. If it's important, put it in one place, and staff it with those who are wedded to the task.

We propose, then that a MSMEDS be established. There are many ways that one can imagine that this service would be organized and operated. Wherever it is centered, the department of psychiatry should be involved. Senior clinicians noted for their humanity should be involved. Departments notoriously resistant to such considerations – one can think of orthopedics and urology, perhaps – should be involved. Students should be empowered to participate in the shaping of the efforts.

To support this important service, funding should be assured, and yearly reports should be made available on the efforts of MSMEDS. If it's important, give it money, give it personnel, and write about it.

Budd Shenkin

Sunday, April 30, 2023

"Quando?" "Jamais!" Chapter 262 of my French novel

 I thought someone might be interested in this little story, which is a chapter of the book I am writing in French, as I study French with my teacher, Claude Convers, a native of Switzerland.  Here’s our process: Claude gives all her students the same title for whatever they are going to write for their lesson the next week, and it's up to us to work it into our writing.  Early on, I decided that I had always wanted to write a novel, so I would write another chapter each week, as our writing assignment, and that I would make the assigned word the title of that chapter.  I’m now up to chapter 262, although I skipped some numbers, so the total number isn't quite that high.  But still, it seems to have gotten significant.

This week’s title was "Jamais."  In this chapter, the three characters who are professors of sociology are at a southern France city (without a name so far, despite the fact that other locations do have names, and this is the central area where action takes place) where they will be meeting with most of the other characters to discuss what to do about this allegation that they are all just characters in a novel.  Originally, the two women, Laura and Juliette, colleagues  in the department and friends, had attended an annual party given by Morton, the older head of their department.  Morton was a notorious bore, and Laura discovered Morton and Juliette in rapt conversation during the party, and she was appalled that Juliette was the trapped victim.  But it turned out that this was the beginning of a passionate affair that led to their living together and being now engaged.  Laura, for her part, is single and notorious for being seductive and attracting all sorts of men, but not sticking with them.  There is a brief mention of Hortense, an older woman who was active in the May 1968 student revolt, who has her own history with men, which I won't bother you with.

Note that my translation is kind of awkward - as a translator, I don't give myself much freedom to be colloquial.

                                                                262 Jamais

In France, they say that the best strolls end in a cafe, especially when there is a threat of showers.  And in this season, in this town, there is a threat of showers almost every day, even with a clear sky.  As a result, the city’s cafes are prosperous, as are the boot stores and umbrella stores.  It was because of these two things, shelter from the storm, and to continue the conversation with a glass of wine, that the three colleagues from the Department of Sociology at the University of Lille found themselves at a table at the Café de la Chanteuse (the Café of the Singer.)

“Who is this singer that the cafe is named for?”  

Morton set the question to the waitress, a small young brunette with blue green eyes.  “She’s a beauty,” Morton told himself.  “What a body!”

“Oh, Monsieur, there is a special story here in our town.”  The voice of this small woman sounded like honey.

“Well, mademoiselle, we’re not from around here, so we’d like to hear the story.  Do you have the time?  I know the place is full, before the shower comes.”

“I doubt a storm, Monsieur,” said the waitress.  They say there is a threat of showers and everybody thinks is a good time for a glass of wine.  I think if there were too much sun they would say it’s a good time to have a drink to protect us from a sunburn.  It’s a good business, this cafe, don’t you think?”

“Is there a story?” said Laura.

“Oh, yes, the story,” said the waitress.  She sat herself down on the fourth chair at the table, very much at ease.  “Once upon a time, there was a small lady, no taller than I am, and she could sing like Edith Piaf.  Two real sparrows, those two.  And she and her boyfriend wrote songs, about the seasons, about the sea, and especially about love, of course, since they were young and French.  Anyway, at that time there was a very popular song, Quando Quando Quando.  You know, that means When When When in French.  And this one summer there were a load of Italian women here in town — there were courses in French for Italians, and many young Italian women needed to learn French for their work, I suppose.  After class, the Italian ladies usually here to have a drink and to eat something — too much pizza, actually, too much pizza, disgusting pizza, our town is well known for having pizza like a rubber tire.  But anyway, the cafe had its little band, and they were fed up with the requests to play Quando Quando Quando.  All the city residents, especially my mother, who was a waitress here just as I am today, all the French detested that terrible song.

“But what could you do?  The young customers request the song from their country, they pay for their drinks and their disgusting cardboard pizzas, and they wanted their song.”

“Yes, what could you do?” said Juliette.  The customer is always right, no?

“Here in France?  You speak French perfectly, Madame, is it possible that you could really be an American?  That’s an American myth, I think.  Here in France, the waiter are kings, certainly!

“Did the musicians refuse to play it?” asked Morton.

“More amusing than that, Monsieur.  Remember, the singer and her boyfriend were song writers.  So, they could find a creative solution.  In place of Quando Quando Quando, they wrote another song.  They declared that it was a love song, and indeed the words referred to love but the title was a clever answer to the students.  The song was called Jamais Jamais Jamais (Never Never Never).  You understand that?  When When When?  Never Never Never!”

“I remember that song,” said Laura.  “I loved it!  When am I going to get married?  Never Never Never!  A very romantic song.”

“Why is it romantic, Laura?” said Morton.  It says I’m never going to get married.  It’s anti-romantic, isn’t it?”

“Not at all, Morton, the song and the singer doth protest too much!  I will never be in love again, they say.  That’s something Hortense would say.  This is after an affair that had to end badly.  It was too painful at the end, to say see you later, or goodbye.  That doesn’t work, it’s never worth the pain.  Never again!  At least, never again for now.”

“Madam is right,” said the waitress.  It was very romantic.  The song and the singer were like Edith Piaf.  After the first performance, every one requested Jamais Jamais Jamais instead of Quando Quando Quando, even the Italian students, in fact the students more than anyone.  They planned to go back to Italy with their new discovery.  The cafe became famous.  So, they were going to rename the cafe Jamais Jamais Jamais.”

“But that didn’t happen that way?” said Laura.  “What happened?”

“Unfortunately, the singer and her boyfriend separated.”

“Did success spoil their relationship?”

“No, I don’t think so.  I think that at bottom they were first of all partners, and that their love relationship was secondary.  They were together, so why not be a couple, I suppose.  Anyway, the boyfriend left the relationship, the singer stayed, and it seemed that it would be unlucky to name the cafe after a relationship that ended.  So, they gave it the name of the singer, Café de la Chanteuse.”

“And your mother was a waitress here then?”  The young waitress nodded her head.  “And she stayed here after the guy left?”

“Well, in fact, she left at the same time as he did.”

“She did?”

“Yes.  In fact, the two of them became my parents.  But now that the singer is long gone, I took the old place of my mother.”

“Oh, yes.  And what do you do?  Are you a student?”

“Nope, I’m a waitress.  And I’m waiting for my prince someday.”


“Yes.  That’s my family history, that’s what we do.”

And at that, Laura exclaimed, “Me too!  Someday!”

And with that, the two women, one a little tall and a little bit redheaded and a little older, and the other a little short and a little brown haired and a little younger, kissed each other and looked at each other warmly, and them they turned around and scrutinized the crowd to find their prince.

Meanwhile, distractedly. Morton was whistling the melody of Jamais Jamais Jamais, and over the loudspeaker came the sound of Miles’ Davis’s trumpet, One Day My Prince Will Come.  A small shower started.


Et en français, la version originale:

                                     262 Jamais (corrections by Claude Convers)

En France, on dit que les meilleures promenades se terminent dans un café, surtout lorsqu’il y a une menace d’averse.  Et en cette saison, dans cette ville, il y a presque tous les jours une menace d’averse, même lorsque le ciel est clair.  En conséquence, les cafés de la ville sont prospères, comme aussi les magasins de parapluies et de bottes.  C’était donc à cause de ces deux choses, l’abri d’une averse, et pour continuer la conversation avec un verre, que les trois camarades du Département de Sociologie à l’Université de Lille se trouvèrent à table au Café De La Chanteuse.

— Qui est cette chanteuse après qui ce café est nommé ?  Morton posa la question à la serveuse, une petite jeune femme avec des cheveux brun foncé et des yeux bleus-verts.  C’était une beauté, observa-t-il à lui-même.  Quelle silhouette !

— Ohhh, monsieur, il y a une histoire particulière de notre ville.  La voix de cette petite femme résonnait comme du miel.

— Ah, bon, mademoiselle, nous ne sommes pas d’ici, alors on aimerait bien [] entendre l’histoire.  Vous avez le temps ?  Je sais qu’il y a du monde ici, avant [] l’averse.

— Je doute d’une averse, Monsieur ! dit la serveuse.  On dit qu’il y a une menace d’averse et tout le monde pense que c’est un bon moment pour prendre un verre.  Je pense que s’il y avait trop de soleil on dirait que c’est un bon moment pour prendre un verre pour se protéger d’un coup de soleil.  C’est une bonne entreprise, ce café, n’est-ce pas ?

— Il y a une histoire ? dit Laura.

— Ah, oui, l’histoire, dit la serveuse.  Elle s’assit sur la quatrième chaise, à table, très à l’aise. Une fois, il y avait une petite dame/femme, pas plus grande que moi, assez petite, et elle pouvait chanter comme Edith Piaf.  Des vrais moineaux, les deux.  Et elle et son copain écrivaient beaucoup de chansons, sur les saisons, sur la mer, et surtout sur l’amour, bien sûr.  Ils étaient jeunes et ils étaient français.  En tout cas, à l’époque, il y avait une chanson italienne très populaire, [] Quando Quando Quando !  Vous savez, ça veut dire Quand Quand Quand en français.  Et [] cet été il y avait beaucoup d’italiennes, ici dans la ville — il y avait des cours de français ici pour les italiennes, beaucoup de jeunes femmes italiennes [] avaient besoin d’apprendre le français pour le travail, j’imagine.  Après les cours, d’habitude les italiennes venaient ici pour prendre des verres et manger - trop de pizza, en fait, trop de pizza, de pizza dégoutante, notre ville est bien connue pour la pizza qui ressemble à du pneu.  Mais, en tout cas, le café avait son petit groupe qui jouait ici, et ils en avaient marre des demandes pour cette chanson, Quando Quando Quando.  Tous les habitants, surtout ma mère, qui était serveuse ici comme moi aujourd’hui, tous les français détestaient cette chanson épouvantable.

— Mais quoi faire ?  Les jeunes clientes demandaient la chanson de leur pays, elles payaient leurs verres et leurs pizzas en carton dégoutantes, et elles voulaient leur chanson.

— Qu’est-ce qu’on [] fait ? dit Juliette.  Le client a toujours raison, n’est-ce pas ?

— Ici en France ?  Vous parlez le français parfaitement, madame, mais est-ce [] possible que vous puissiez être, en réalité, américaine ?  C’est un mythe américain, je pense.  Ici en France, les serveurs sont les rois, certainement !

— Les musiciens ont refusé de la jouer ? dit Morton.

— Plus drôle que ça, Monsieur.  Rappelez-vous que la chanteuse et son petit ami étaient [] chansonniers.  Donc, ils pouvaient trouver une solution créative.  Au lieu de Quando Quando Quando, ils ont écrit une autre chanson.  Ils ont affirmé que c’était une chanson d’amour, et en effet les mots parlaient d’amour, mais le titre était une réponse maline aux étudiantes.  La chanson s’appelait, Jamais Jamais Jamais.  Vous comprenez ça ?  Quando Quando Quando ?  Jamais Jamais Jamais !

— Je me souviens de cette chanson ! dit Laura.  Je l’aimais beaucoup !  Quand est-ce que je vais me marier ?  Jamais Jamais Jamais !  Une chanson très romantique.

— Pourquoi c’est romantique, Laura ? dit Morton.  Il dit, je ne me marierai jamais, c’est antiromantique, n’est-ce pas ?

— Pas du tout, Morton, la chanson et la chanteuse protestent trop !  Je ne serai jamais plus [] amoureuse, elles disent.  C’est quelque chose qu’Hortense dirait.  C’est après une aventure qui a dû mal se terminer.  C’était trop pénible à la fin, de dire au revoir, ou plutôt adieu.  Ça n’a pas marché.  Ça n’en vaut jamais la peine.  Jamais plus !  Au moins, jamais plus pour le moment.

— Madame a raison, dit la serveuse.  C’était très romantique.  La chanson et la chanteuse ressemblaient à Edith Piaf.  Après la première présentation, tout le monde demandait, Jamais Jamais Jamais au lieu de Quando Quando Quando, même les étudiantes italiennes, en fait, surtout ces étudiantes.  Elles avaient l’intention de rentrer en Italie avec leur nouvelle découverte.  Le café est devenu très connu.  Alors, on a eu l’intention de renommer le café, Jamais Jamais Jamais.

— Mais ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça ? dit Laura.  Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé ?

— Malheureusement, la chanteuse et son copain se sont séparés.

— Le succès a gâché leur relation ?

— Non, je ne [] pense pas.  Je pense qu’ils étaient au fond, en premier, des collègues, et que leur relation amoureuse était en effet secondaire.  Ils étaient ensemble, pourquoi ne pas être un couple, j’imagine.  Quand même, le copain a quitté la relation, la chanteuse est restée, et il semblait que ce serait de la malchance de nommer le café après une relation finie.  Alors, ils ont donné le nom à la chanteuse, Café de la Chanteuse.

— Et votre mère était serveuse ici à l’époque ?  La serveuse hocha la tête.  Est-ce qu’elle est restée ici après que l’homme soit parti ?

— Non, en fait, elle est partie au même temps que l’homme.

— Oui ?

— Oui.  En fait, les deux sont mes parents.  Mais maintenant la chanteuse est partie depuis longtemps, et j’ai pris l’ancienne place de ma mère.

— Oui.  Et que faites-vous ?  Vous êtes étudiante ?

— Non, je suis serveuse.  Et j’attends mon prince d’un jour à l’autre.

— Oui ?

— Oui.  C’est l’histoire de ma famille, c’est ce que nous faisons.

Et avec ça, Laura s’exclama — Moi aussi !  D’un jour à l’autre !

Et avec ça, les deux femmes, une un peu grande et un peu rousse et un peu plus âgée, l’autre un peu petite et un peu brune et un peu moins âgée, s’embrassèrent et se regardèrent chaleureusement, et puis elles se retournèrent et scrutèrent la foule pour trouver leur prince.

Entre-temps, distraitement, Morton sifflait la mélodie de Jamais Jamais Jamais, et par les haut-parleurs arrivait le son de la trompette de Miles Davis, Un Jour Mon Prince Viendra.  Une petite averse commença.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Humanistic Medicine Defined, and Why We Need To Teach It

Humanistic Medicine, and Why We Need To Support Teaching It


This is the age of amazing medical advances – I personally have had my own share of medical gifts of life and limb that former generations could only dream of, and the odds are that you, the reader, have had your own. The touch of modern medicine is everywhere. But in this age of scientific advance, there are unforeseen consequences. Just as the scientific doctor has advanced, so has the role of traditional healer, the practitioner of humanistic medicine, been partially eclipsed.

That is a shame. Because as much as we welcome the newly empowered doctor as scientist with miracle cures in the pocket, we still need the doctor as humanist, a tradition that goes back for millennia in human history. Scientific and humanistic medicine are both necessary; one does not go without the other.

Let's be more specific about what Humanistic Medicine is. “Humanistic medicine” encompasses a lot. It can mean interviewing patients to find out where they're at, how best to reach them, how to be empathetic. It can be befriending patients, even while being a professional. It can refer to adopting the proper stance according to the problem, as indicated by the classic article on the doctor-patient relationship by Szasz and Hollender, a relationship that can go from (a) active-passivity, to (b) guidance-co-operation, and to (c) mutual participation. It is part of the art of medicine to determine which situations and which patients require (a), (b), or (c).

It can mean becoming wise, as old time doctors were reputed to be, rabbi-like. It can be becoming attuned to the cycles of life, from birth to death, knowing when and how to intervene and when to let nature take its course, to acquiesce. It can be giving advice that is not strictly medical. It can be being able to call upon literature, philosophy, art and other forms of wisdom to help patients and give them perspective.

It can mean being part of a team that works with patients when curing is not an option. It can be helping patients navigate so they can do things they really want to do, when it becomes very hard. It can be giving patients and families bad news in a sensitive manner, different for each practitioner and each family. It can be caring for the bedridden, turning and cleaning, cheering up, relating, simply being there. It can be tending sensitively to the dying patient, and the families of the sick and dying patient, in all their variety.

Humanistic Medicine is that part of medicine, the softer side.


If you look at the medical miracles of modern life, it's understandable that an unintended consequence of its rise would be to put the traditional role of caring in the shade. The new possibilities of curing are so exciting as well as demanding. There is so much more science to master. It can be overwhelming in its difficulty and obvious importance. The time for learning to care can be crowded out.

In addition, it's not clear that medical schools and large research institutions were ever very good at teaching the softer side of medicine, the feeling side, the relational side, the empathetic side, the long term supportive side. The role of the scientist has taken over the medical turf, and the humanistic doctors are not the top recruits for medical schools, which think of themselves as research institutions. Curing has crowded out caring.

And that is a shame, because caring for and caring about the patient, and relating intimately to the patient and the family, and caring for the chronically ill, is as important as it ever was. Even when doctors could do very little to cure patients, they still rendered important services by being there. They always coordinated care for patients with ongoing illnesses, and for patients who were dying.

Caring for people, moreover, is not only important for patients, but for the doctors as well. It's hard to be a doctor. It's hard work to tend to patients, it's hard to prepare and learn so much and to keep learning all your life, it's hard just physically to work all that time including nights, and nowadays, of course, it's hard to cope with the corporations that run medicine. It's a very hard job.

But more than in most jobs, medicine can have so much meaning. You are doing so much, you have all the expectations on you, and when you meet them, when you actually do your job and help people in this most important aspect of people's lives, their health – talk about satisfaction in your work, few things match medicine, at least when things go right. So for all the difficulty of the job, there is a lot of upside.

Humanistic medicine is not a frill. Most doctors who have been in practice know how fulfilling it is to both patient and doctor when the softer requirements of medical care are fulfilled. And most doctors who have been practicing for a while realize how hard it has been to achieve that status of the wise and sensitive and caring physician. When you have been at it a while, you realize how important it is that humanistic medicine be taught and emphasized, perhaps more consciously than ever.


And, on a personal note, this all came home to me in spades over the last few years as my wife was afflicted with Alzheimer's. I had tried as best I could in a long career in primary care pediatrics to be that practitioner of humanistic medicine that I've advocated here. It was a long slog, I had a lot to learn, although I tend naturally towards being empathetic, which was a help. In pediatrics, I did have some bad diagnoses to deliver, and I did better at that as time went on. I tended to people's personal lives. I tended to try to put things in perspective. I wasn't a “Just the facts, ma'am” practitioner. But still, it wasn't easy.

And then I sat with my wife as our neurologist delivered the diagnosis, "I'm afraid it's Alzheimer's," a direct and caring face to face encounter, a heartfelt “I'm sorry.” She didn't at all shy away from the direct, personal connection while giving bad news. I was able to tell her, our neurologist, that we liked her very much as a doctor and ask her if she could schedule us for periodic visits a few times a year even if there was little she could do, because she was our doctor. She said yes, and told me later she had learned something from me and that she was scheduling her patients more frequently, just to give them care, if not prescriptions.

I cared for my wife as she needed more and more care, as I had to drive her everywhere, to the hairdresser, to take her shopping for clothes she would never wear and books she would never read, help her in showers, I had to help her in the bathroom, I had to prepare meals on an ever more restricted menu of things she would eat. I had to get care for her, thank God I found our Angelicare agency with professional caregivers, wonderful giving people, based in nearby Vallejo, all from the Philippines, eventually 24/7 care when Ann couldn't get out of bed and they had to keep her clean, which wasn't easy, but they did it so well in a way that I never could have. She never had a bedsore. The nurses came from hospice, as did the aide who washed her body and her hair twice a week as she was in the hospice-supplied hospital bed. We had to give her more and more medicines to control her neurological symptoms, especially when the seizures came. What I didn't see in pediatrics was professionals who take over when they know their patient is going to die, prepared to see that happen and move on to the next dying patient.

And then the final days, the kids assembled, sitting with her when she couldn't eat or drink anymore, I sat by her side and held her arm as she took her last breaths and gradually her heart stopped.

I realized that although primary care pediatrics had prepared me for some of all this, a lot actually, my training had left out a lot. I had never sat with a patient for a long time to see what it was like – I mean, it would take 12 hours of sitting there to really absorb it, and more than that, longitudinally. In med school and in residency I had never learned to give a dreadful diagnosis properly, and as a result I had botched some of those instances in practice. I had never sat with someone as they died – my only direct death encounters were after the fact, although one time at the Mass General ER a patient had coded in the radiology suite and the staff doc had taken me with him and as the patient wasn't responsive he opened the chest and massaged the heart manually and urged me to do the same, which I did. But that wasn't caring for a patient and then being there for the death, the way the movies of old-time doctors show that that's what used to happen.

So, it occurred to me that our training left out a bunch of stuff on the humanistic side. And that's why I'm writing this.


Budd Shenkin

Saturday, March 4, 2023

My Day In Maui


I'm here in Maui, and on viewing a recipe from the NYT, I realized that, for some reason I cannot fathom, we did not have a Dutch oven.  My wife Ann was implacably well supplied with everything.  I set her up in our spare bedroom with a built in wrap around desk and shelves, and in going through them last year, I discovered pens and paper and folders etc. for roughly the next decade or two.   But no Dutch oven.

So I went onto Wirecutter to find the best Dutch oven for a good price, found one, ordered it from Amazon, and it was here in two days.  Then I was ready to make the NYT eggplant chili recipe.  I found the ingredients, had to replace one or two -- couldn't find canned fennel so I used pinto beans instead -- and cooked it up yesterday.  No salt -- I never add salt to recipes, it's unhealthy, maybe too much pepper, made the jalapeño to be added for each portion rather than in the mix.  And guess what -- it's great!  What a triumph of man over ability!

But then, the point.  Who did that make me feel like?  Was it Julia Child, Tony Bourdain?  Hardly.

It made me feel like Steve Kerr.

I often say that great managers and general managers are like landscape artists, who discover how each person, like a plant, fits in; which one needs light and water, which ones shade and sand, and which ones enhance the growth and beauty of the others.  But yesterday, I thought maybe they are also well thought of as great chefs, although in this case the creativity was only in recreating someone else's.

So, with that little snippet, we move on, perhaps to other pastures, perhaps to bramble bushes, but like the now un-PC Br'er Rabbit -- I had to go off-Amazon to get a DVD of Song of the South -- wherever we wind up, let it be a place of familiarity and ease.


But, oh, like Columbo, just one more thing.  After making the chili, I drove to Wailuku to have lunch at Cafe Saigon with two Maui friends, Ryan and Jess.  Ryan used to be my pool guy, now has moved up a bit in the company, but we used to see each other regularly and talk.  We became friends; I was able to encourage him in his give-up-smoking and live-better project.  An interesting, intelligent, introspective and very sweet guy, it turns out.  Then, what happened to him?  Far away in his native North Carolina, his friend of 20 years, Jess, traversing her own briar patch of a life, was in therapy, and discovered that what she wanted to do was to marry Ryan.  So she came to Maui and put it to him and said, we are going to get married.  Which they then did, and they are so happy, and she is so proud of herself, and he feels like he was given a gift.  They are going back to NC next week, after 3 years since she's been there, to get stuff settled, see her lawyer, sell her car, etc.  And, what did Jess want to know, what was eating at her?  She wanted me to narrate the further adventures of Hortense, one of my characters in my French novel, the grandmother-age who still has the hots for guys and doesn't hide it.  Somehow, Hortense tickles Jess, and she thinks she has some older friends at her gym up-country here in Maui who might fit the description of Hortense, I think.

And I was able to tell Ryan and Jess a little bit about my friend Big Bob's odyssey, his quest for and success in wooing Adele, and how I thought it was probably the greatest achievement of his life.  They nodded appreciatively, and recognized themselves in the story.

Anyway, onward and upward?  This is my son Peter's cat here in Maui, a feral cat whom he has befriended and made family, and who comes in and eats and rolls around several times a night.  I finished the day off petting him.  His name is Meatloaf.

Budd Shenkin

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

On Israel, And American Policy Toward Israel


Events clarify your positions, values, interests, opinions, points of view, and so on. Events.

Before getting to Israel, the subject of this post, let me first cite a preliminary example of how events provide clarity. What could be more clarifying than the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Russia was quiescent for years after the USSR breakup. But then, the invasions of Georgia and Crimea should have been clarifying. Three US administrations ignored them, essentially, out of what? Hope that it was not true, disbelief that Russia was changing, or perhaps better said, reverting? But with the Ukraine invasion, the picture became unavoidably clear Russian aggression was back. And then, a year later, events have clarified another truth Russia's conventional military strength is nothing like what was advertised. As these truths have become clear, in response, the US and NATO have changed their policies accordingly. Events clarify.

I think you can say the same thing about Israel, events have been clarifying, even if there has been a delay in recognizing the clarification. When I was a boy in the 1950's, the Israel myth was potent. A long-sought haven in a world that had experienced the Holocaust, which was just the latest and worst manifestation of anti-Semitism in a world long distinguished by its omnipresent existence in word and deed. The restrictions from employment and residence, the national expulsions, the pogroms, Dreyfus, the reluctance of the West to help the victims escape during WW II, the profound injustices against a people. And then, at last, a homeland.

And not just a homeland, a country of liberal Western values carried by Ashkenazi Jews, the only democracy in the Middle East, the industriousness of a people turning desert into farmlands, many educated and English speakers, underdogs, the original people of the book. The sturm und drang of its birth was tossed aside. The terrorism of the fight for existence, the pushing out of Arabs who had lived there, explained by the willingness of the more liberal Jews to live together with them, and explained by the war made by the Arab countries to destroy Israel, their expulsion of Jews who had lived in Arab countries for centuries, the confiscation of their property and goods. All in the throes of birth, we were told, and we accepted it.

And for decades, Israel held fast. Israelis were democratic, they were welcoming, they had a hell of an army and intelligence service, they became prosperous, they were smart. They held their own against outrageous anti-Israeli acts of savagery, like the Munich Olympics and Entebbe. After all, they were modern Jews, Jews at their best.

But then, as Israel matured, it changed. The swing to Likud was at first thought to be the quirk of an election or two, and attempts at peace with the Palestinians were hopeful and often sincere. But the turn to the Right turned out to be permanent, reinforced by the demographics of Russian immigration and increasing Sephardic/Ashkenazi ratio,and the increasing orthodox/secular ratio. Moreover, what immigration doesn't fully provide the religious right, a propensity to large families does. The religious parties and their rabbis show little hesitation in trying to bend all of society to their theological beliefs and practices. The favoritism shown to the ultra religious in policy, at first thought to be simply an artifact of a multiparty parliamentary system where the ultra religious were willing to go to either side simply because of favors granted, now appears to have become a deeply ingrained and accelerating fact of Israeli life. The question of “who is a Jew,” which originally seemed obviously inclusive, with implications of for whom Israel would be a haven of last resort, is at risk of being further narrowed with religious constraints. Israel can no longer be said to be a secular nation. The attitudes of many Israelis toward Arab land and rights, and the connivance of official decisions, are far from the original version. This swing to the theological and the right has proved enduring. The Labor Party is dead, and the Left looks to be a permanent minority.

These are the events. This is not a phase, this is not a test, this is a longstanding trend that is still increasing in its power. In fact, it's clear that the events are accelerating. Abolition of judicial independence (now under serious consideration in the Knesset) is a well-known landmark on the way to illiberal democracy. Truculent and aggressive policies toward Arabs, both citizens and residents of the West Bank and Gaza, are increasing, not decreasing. Only the willfully blind think that all this is temporary. It's true that Arab aggressive extremism and incompetence and corruption in governing have contributed to making peace impossible, but still, by now, the Israeli policies have a momentum of their own.


Assimilated American Jews like me, reflexively supportive of a Jewish homeland, supportive of the important national right to defend yourself, proud of Jewish accomplishments, are put onto the horns of a dilemma by the clarifying events in Israel. How far do you go in defending a country that is becoming less like a Western social democracy, whose government seems on the brink of becoming more similar to Hungary or Turkey, rather than resembling the US?

Being assimilated and secular, I turn to thinking of American national interest. After all, the US is in a dilemma similar to my own. Do you adjust your views in light of clarifying events in Israel? Well, you have to. And as you readjust, you go back to the roots of the basis of your support to date. Why has the US supported Israel so fervently?

Our support is clearly not the result of the so-called Israel Lobby spotlighted by the misbegotten, unsupported, and discredited accusations of “realists” Mearsheimer and Walt 20 years ago. No, there have been firm, self-interested reasons for the US to support Israel.

As a matter of values, Israel is a home to Jews, who need and deserve a home, who have been discriminated and targeted for eons, and were able to achieve a home less than 75 years ago. The US itself bears its share of the guilt of neglect of European Jews as they were slaughtered and neither protected while they were in Europe nor welcomed here.

As a matter of principle, both for morality and for the practical reason of establishing order in the world, the United States supports the sanctity of borders and the preservation of identity of countries.

As a matter of geopolitics, having Israel as an ally in the Middle East is of immense help to the United States for exerting influence in that region.

As a matter of national interest, it is in the interest of the United States to support countries and movements that share the democratic form of government, and the general Western set of values. This has both a moral basis, of wanting all people to have human and political rights, and a self-interested basis, since the more agreement on values we have in the world, the safer are our own values.

As a matter of internal national politics, Jewish Americans and others who wish Jews and Israel well for various reasons, including Christian religious adherents, have formed for many decades a strong source of support for American support of Israel. It is important, valid, and practical for governments to represent the sentiments of significant parts of their population.

So, the question becomes, should the significant changes in Israel make a difference to our preferred policy?

The idea of “Jews should have a homeland” is still a good one, given the historical targeting of Jews, all of this obvious to Westerners. There are many other minorities who lack a homeland – the Kurds, the Rohingas, many others, but they are less visible to Westerners, and none of them have actually achieved the modern establishment of a homeland, so for them it is still a hope to be pursued, while for Jews, a homeland would be a takeaway. There's a difference between defending what is and hoping for what isn't. Don't go backwards.

But, this homeland argument is tarnished by the question, would all Jews be welcomed in this increasingly theological country? Would Jews now in the Diaspora really want to repair to a state that so constricts their freedom to believe and to act? Imagine – would the Iranian-Americans now living in Los Angeles really want to support Iran on the basis that they need a place to decamp to if things got hot for them in the US? It's not a fair argument, Israel is not Iran yet, but that comparison might help to clarify Israel's claim to support as a homeland. Not to mention that, with increasing orthodox power, even conservative and reform Jews could well be excluded from the right of return in the future. Home is where they have to take you in, but sometimes they won't recognize you as part of the family, and sometimes you really can't stomach the prospect yourself.

A more powerful argument for continued US support for Israel are the more prosaic geopolitical issues. Especially with Ukraine as the target of unbridled old-fashioned predation by a stronger power with duplicitous arguments, and as we remember what happened when Kuwait was overrun, we are strongly reminded of the value of recognition of borders for world peace. It is in the interest of international collective security that countries be supported. Israel has a right to exist, not only because it is a refuge for a people, but because it already exists. Israel also has every right to protect itself, and to receive aid from allies to protect itself. (The issue of the occupied territories leaps up at this point, and forms another reason for the US to be wary of undue support of an Israel that makes claims on international support to protect its own borders, yet violates the principle on various practical and Biblical grounds, all fairly bogus.)

Traditional geopolitics also attracts the US to ally itself with Israel. We need allies in the world everywhere, and the Middle East is a crucial area. We have always looked for allies abroad, allying even with states we view with various degrees of distaste. Famously, FDR said about Somoza in Nicaragua, he might be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch. Even in the Middle East itself, few regimes could be more distasteful than that of Saudi Arabia, but here we are. And, what are we going to do about increasingly extreme and recalcitrant Iran, which seeks not only to destroy Israel, but allies itself with Russia and will establish drone production in Russia for their offensive military use? Having a firm ally in the area is a value that speaks for itself.

We were used to supporting Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” the only country there that shares a European-American sensibility. As we see Israel become illiberal in both governance and society, this reason for supporting Israel is increasingly severely attenuated.

Finally, is American sentiment within the country still attuned to supporting Israel? Yes, it seems so, although with the alliance between Netanyahu and the Republican, Trumpist right, liberal and Democratic sentiment has attenuated. Jews at large still support Israel, although many (probably most) would like to see a shift back to the middle in Israel. The BDS-supporting Left is a vocal minority that really hardly counts at present, given the predominant sentiment nationally.

So, as an American and as a very secularized Jew, what do I conclude? I conclude that holding one’s nose as one deals with an ally or votes for a candidate is an ordinary course of action. We make choices among possibilities, not among wishes. I have a sentimental attachment to Israel, although clearly not so strong as many of my more reverent American Jewish friends. But even as my personal ties to Israel attenuate, as an American, I see plenty of reasons to continue to ally with Israel. We will have only limited ability to affect their internal actions, much as with other countries. We can admonish, we can encourage, but our leverage will remain limited. Israel might make some policy alterations as we reduce aid to them considerably, and as we cease protecting them so consistently in the UN Security Council, or they might not. But the US will have to take these and other actions as it distances itself from Israel, according to the distancing that Israel is in the process of establishing with us.

Finally, there is another consideration, which is the widespread existence of anti-Semitism. Internationally and domestically, it's always there, either under the surface as a threat, or even more visible as it is now. Like it or not, Israel and Jews are tied together, and if we encourage anti-Israeli sentiment, we are also pushing the door a little bit open to anti-Semitism. We have to be very measured in our stances, no matter how despicable we find the particular Jews who are becoming predominant in Israel. We can't treat Israel as we would like to treat Hungary or Turkey, as foreign powers with little history of being a target of worldwide hate and repression. We have to be prudent.

So, in the end, we have to let events clarify our thinking. Israel is becoming more theocratic, significantly less liberal and on the brink of becoming an illiberal state, but remains strategically important to the US, and there are vestiges of morality that still accrue to Israel. We need increasingly to hold Israel at a distance, take steps to discourage Israeli alliances with the extreme right wingers in the US, and indicate to Israel that we will help them as a last resort, but the more their values and interests differ from ours, the more removed they will be from our inner circle of friends.

It's an unsatisfying conclusion, but at least it might be based on some clarity.

Budd Shenkin

I am once again indebted to David Levine for excellent suggestions and editing.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Memories of High School - My Friend Arlene

Memories – High School – Arlene Davis and the New, Handsome Young Teacher

I was sitting next to Arlene Davis. Arlene was kind of frizzy haired, as I remember, maybe off-blond, with facial zits she had to use makeup to cover. I felt bad for her about that. She wasn't unattractive, just not so attractive as she wanted to be, I think. She also wanted to be sophisticated, but I think she was just trying to fake it. She wanted to be mature. She wore blouses that an older woman could wear. Of course in those times a lot of girls wanted older guys. With good reason. People like me were eager for something we couldn't name easily, naive, we couldn't keep up with the girls. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Anyway, I can't remember what class it was; maybe something that wasn't a regular class. We were sitting side by side. We really weren't friends, as far as I knew, but I was friendly, a friendly sort was I, I guess you could say. I think I've always been friendly, that's me, pretty much. Anyway, Arlene was looking up at the teacher as he stood talking in the front of the class. He was a young guy, a new teacher I think. Fresh-faced, kind of on the short side, probably with a tie, could even be a bow tie, white shirt, and as he talked, he was the opposite of jaded. He was eager to be accepted, I think he was perky. Very clean shaven, and perky. Trying to make eye contact with the class, trying to charm them.

Me, I thought he was a little dorky, not cool, but engaging, that was a plus. But when I looked over at Arlene, she looked enraptured. Ardent, that would describe her. Ardent Arlene. I was surprised. She looked at me and she said, “I want him.”

That was surprising. But I'm a nice, friendly somewhat naive guy, so I said, “You want him? How do you want him?” I was sincere. I really didn't know. A girl wants the teacher? (Don't forget, these were the days way, way before Porn Hub.)

So she answered my question. She said, “In every way.”

I had stumbled on the fact of female desire. Which I wasn't ready to believe, despite the obvious, even protuberant fact right beside me. I was just amazed. I also didn't think that this new teacher guy deserved that kind of ardent attention from Arlene. I mean, he was actually a little wimpy. OK, kind of good looking, maybe, but definitely not cool, and definitely not sexy.

So that's it, just one of those scenes from the past that gets lodged in the brain. Arlene Davis and feminine desire, directed in a surprising direction. And my inability to confront the obvious, that girls want sex, too. Sometimes ardently.

Years later, when I was a pediatrician doing an adolescent yearly physical with a maybe 14 year old boy, and we were talking about his sexual desire, and I told him that the girls wanted it as much as he did. “They do???” he said, amazed. I guess he could take it from me, I was always truthful with him. I finished the visit and told him I would see him next year. He looked so disappointed. “So long?” he said.

I should have told him about Arlene.

Budd Shenkin

Saturday, January 21, 2023

For A While, I Felt Like King Of The World


King of the World

The time that I might have been happiest was in fourth grade. I was in a public elementary school in West Philadelphia, where my mother had grown up, and we lived just two blocks from the Henry C. Lea Elementary School at 47th and Spruce. I forget who Henry C. Lea was, but I'm afraid to go back and google it, for fear that he will turn out to have been racist. But it didn't make any difference to me what he had been, or what the school was named. I know for sure that my mother had gone to the more felicitously named West Philly High, which was just around the corner, I think. My brother and sisters had all been born by then, and the six of us lived in a three story semi-detached house in a neighborhood that was influenced by the University of Pennsylvania, down at 34th and Spruce, where there was the University, a museum of anthropology called the University Museum, with large cases and smooth and polished concrete floors that we could slide on if we ran and had only our socks on, and where there was a big, round stadium, Franklin Field, where they had football games, which I saw when I was young once or twice, and where every spring they held the Penn Relays, a hugely important track and field event, which I had never gone to, but which I knew about because I read the Philadelphia Bulletin, our evening newspaper.

By fourth grade, I felt like being a senior, and so I felt like a king. Our school assemblies were from kindergarten to fourth grade; when you got to fifth grade, which I never did because that was when we switched to private school, you were thrown in with the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders – no junior high or middle schools then, just the upper section of elementary school – and you were at the bottom again. But in fourth grade, you were at the top. You had been there for five years, you knew the ropes, you knew the games in the big concrete school yard, games like flipping cards and our version of handball against the big, concrete wall that separated the school from the next-door osteopathic college, which I learned from my neurosurgeon father and homemaker mother to hold in some contempt, although I didn't quite know why. We also played running bases, catch, and maybe some touch football. We saw the older kids hanging around, like the Tjerian brothers, Johnny and Pat, Johnny looking like a thug in sixth grade. A mixed crowd, and we held our own.

There were three of us in our grade who were tight, the three musketeers, we called ourselves. Me; Arnold Bernstein, my best friend; and Irving Gerowitz, who told us one day that his family had changed their name to Gerwood, and he gave some sort of explanation that didn't include saying that the new name sounded less Jewish. We also included a fourth, lesser member, a smaller kid named Bruce Leanness, who was fast. I Just found out from my friend Bob that he was also Jewish, and his father was the soccer coach at Temple and is regarded as the Dean of American Collegiate Soccer Coaches. It was all a mixed but white neighborhood, and there were a bunch of neighborhood kids, like Frankie Collissey who lived across the street, who went to Catholic school, at St. Francis de Sales. Frankie told us that we learned for this life but they learned for the afterlife, as though you could believe that shit, but he apparently did. But at Lea School, we musketeers viewed ourselves as cream of the crop, the best athletes, I was probably the smartest in the class, and Arnold was great at math. His father drove a taxicab, and sometimes I would visit him and his little brother Stevie and his mother Faye at their apartment over on Chestnut Street around 48th Street. I was startled to see that it was small and they all lived there, and their father was asleep because he drove a cab at night.

By fourth grade, we had weathered the preliminaries. Fat and jolly and warm Mrs. Huggins for kindergarten. The more popular teacher (among the mothers, anyway) was Mrs. Tufts, who was thin and taller and gray haired, but I liked my teacher best, Mrs. Huggins. I don't think she actually hugged us, but I didn't miss the implication. Then the more angular Mrs. Anderson in probably second grade, who once went around the class and asked a question and someone was standing up and gave the right answer, but Mrs. Anderson challenged him or her, I think it was a girl, and she backed down, and then Mrs. Anderson admonished her, “Stick to your guns!” Wow! How I learned from that!

Later on in fourth grade it was Mrs. Ousey, whom we of course called Mrs. Lousy when she couldn't hear us – we were so clever – and my mother warned me not to say it, because sometime I might forget and say it when she could hear. When there was a parent teacher conference and my mom and dad met with her and she gushed about how smart I was, saying “Definitely college material!” my parents took it as a sign that they couldn't keep me there, if this was a low-bar school where it wasn't assumed that most everyone would go to college. The next year all four of us kids started going to Friends' Central school about 30 or 40 minutes away, out on City Line, along with some neighborhood friends, including Bob Levin, one class behind me, who is now my oldest friend, except for my brother and sisters. Bob remembers that “we didn't like each other,” but I reply to him, “Well, I liked you.”

Needless to say, at Henry C. Lea Elementary School, we were prepubescent. Now they talk about “hormones kicking in,” so prepubescent kids expect that, but I was blissfully and completely unaware of all that. Girls were there, and I liked some of them, even though they couldn't play sports. I was aware that the other kids were different, and I didn't quite know what to make of it. It just registered. John Lewis was thin and light haired and gentle, but mostly, he distinguished himself by being uncoordinated. He ran like a girl, you could say, and maybe we did say that. Couldn't throw. He wasn't manly, the way Arnold and Irving and I were, and Bruce. We were all about sports and manliness, although we were nice and kind and not mean. John was smart enough, but he didn't fit with us. He hung out more with the girls, like Patty, a fat girl who sat upright at her desk with her hands folded in front of her and her lips turned in a little – you know how you do that? Is there a word for that? It's not pursed, I think, pursed is like ready to kiss. But this is when you kind of suck your lips in so they don't show. Anyway, that's what Patty did. And there was Lenore Cooperstein who was smart and who was a little reserved and stern, and nice enough and once we went to a birthday party at her house and Arnold and I tortured her by pulling up her dress and laughing as she got mad at us. I told my mother and she told one of her friends and laughed at it, in a way that understood that this was what boys did. As the oldest kid in the family, everything I did was new for her.

But mostly, when it comes to the other kids in the class beyond the musketeers, there was Connie. Connie, with her blondish hair cut so that it came down around her face and stopped at her jaw line, whose hair was straight, who I thought was the prettiest girl anyone could possibly imagine. If there could be something called a girlfriend in those days, she was my girlfriend, although I can't recall a single thing we did together except stand up and look at each other straight on and smile. Except for one time. That time, we were all at our desks, and we had all been given Dixie Cups – ice cream in a cup, half chocolate and half vanilla, with a little wooden spoon. Ice cream! What could be better than ice cream! But, amazingly, Connie didn't want hers. Why didn't she? Who can imagine why, but she didn't. So she went up to the teacher, it might have been Mrs. Anderson, and said that she didn't want hers, so Mrs. Anderson announced to the class that Connie didn't want hers, and who did? Me!! Me!! It seemed like the whole class was raising their hands toward the front, straining with effort, shouting Me!! Me!! So Connie surveyed the class, and with the sweetest smile anyone has ever had, she walked down the aisle to the middle of the class where I was seated and she reached out and gave me the Dixie Cup. I said, Thanks a lot!!! We looked at each other and smiled. I still remember that smile. She kept her smile and went back to her seat and I ate the best Dixie Cup ice cream I have ever had. Truthfully, I can taste it now. Connie had some complicated last name, I think it was Greek, that I couldn't seem to remember. My God, she was beautiful.

But then, of course, we switched to private school. No more king, no more musketeers, no more class representative to the student council, no more assemblies where we were the oldest and most experienced. Out to Friends Central on City Line, which was beautiful and, to me, bucolic, with a big hill behind the school property, where they constructed Lankenau Hospital a few years later and we saw it go up, with orange steel girders on the green hill. There were some big trees on the Friends' Central property, some playing fields with grass, where we had mandatory sports after school, with uniforms and shoulder pads and spikes for football, and an old gym and a new gym, named after the Linton family, who owned a chain of modest restaurants (called “Linton's,” amazingly enough) that competed more or less with Horn and Hardart's, and whose kids were students there – David in my class, long and lanky and fair and introverted, fast when he got going with thin fists clenched, and soccer fields, and a big wide slide for the lower school kids to use at recess, and some parents who picked their kids up with woodie station wagons, and who my mother later assured me, were anti-Semitic. Some were, I'm sure, and the in-group in my class must have been somewhat, but overall, the biggest difference was that I was no longer king, and we didn't have the musketeers. I was still smart and athletic, but it was different. One time Dave Kirk, our football coach and our history or social studies teacher, took me aside, probably in 7th or 8th grade, and asked me, I forget the words, why was I uptight? I had everything, he said, I was smart and a good athlete, he probably said something about an outgoing personality and pretty good looks, so why did I have a chip on my shoulder? I wonder that to this day. I think that was the same class where he gently and amusedly told me while we were taking a test to stop giving answers to the girls. It must have been eighth grade. Some people come to a new situation and rise to the top, but I just didn't. I was among the smart kids, as always, Jon Gross thought he was smarter but I don't think he was, and I was definitely smarter than Barry Sharpless, who went on to win two Nobel Prizes at Scripps for chemistry, and no one was a better athlete. I played shortstop and was probably the best hitter. But Bob Hall was a good runner and well coordinated, and Bob Long was a good pitcher, so who knows. I had some friends, but no one like Arnold had been.

One time I excelled and was recognized for it, and was surprised. I did well in our public speaking class, and our teacher, Mr. Burgess, a very tall and thin man with close-cropped hair saw some talent, and stooped down in a crouch to ask me if I wanted to be in the high school senior play. I immediately said yes, and he was surprised I answered immediately, and was very pleased and stood up. My mother said that Mr. Burgess was wonderful, and I believe that to be true. The play was Our Town, and my part was Wally Webb, little brother of female lead Emily Webb, and my mother delivered me for many weekends out to rehearsal. I was part of the play, and treated like everybody's little brother, and Mr. Burgess taught us to say, “Break a leg!” I had one memorable line, delivered at the breakfast table when our mother told me to stop reading at the table, and I protested, “Aw, Ma, by 10 o'clock I have to know all about Canada!” That line was duly waited for and savored by every member of my family, all five having packed themselves in the car to see my one line, sitting proudly in the audience. I was in other plays later on, receiving impassioned applause as I exited the stage after declaiming the fate of my patient if he failed to follow my instructions in The Imaginary Invalid. If I had continued with that stage life, I truly believe I could have been a contender. But never a champ. And probably not really a contender. But what an experience it was, the stage.

I kept up with Arnold for a while, he would come to visit us for a week at our Long Beach Island, New Jersey beach house, but then it got too competitive and my father got angry at him for competing too hard with his son and he didn't come any more. A few years later my mother took my brother and me to Frank's Delicatessen on Spruce Street for lunch and Arnold was at a neighboring table with three or four friends and his brother Stevie was flitting around the edges, spied us, and excitedly told Arnold, look who's there, and Arnold sushed him away and didn't look up and we didn't acknowledge each other and that was that. Kind of a bad end, after all those years of close friendship. I still regret it.

So, I had friends in my class at Friends' Central and in other classes (including Brian De Palma who was a year ahead of me,) but no one like Connie, of course. Puberty had arrived, much to my confusion, since I was completely unprepared and no one was about to help me. My parents watched. My mother gave me two books to read, in one of which they misprinted “vagina” as “regina.” I asked my mother about it but she was mostly embarrassed. There were no sex-ed classes in those days. I had kind of a girl friend a year behind us, Carol Carr might have been her name, and my very blond classmate Steve Jess told me excitedly at some event or other, “She really has them!” Which meant breasts. Which was very confusing for me, since I hadn't much noticed. Was that desirable? Who wanted them? Steve was all excited about them, but I was mainly confused. I could see kissing, but that was about it. The only books I read were about sports and history. Then in 7th grade we had an infusion of new kids and one of them was Sally Couthy, who I think was southern, and who wore a flower in her hair, and who wore what I guess I would call flowered exuberant dresses, or sometimes tight ones, and who for some unknown reason took a liking to me. She was very exciting, but I was mostly scared, although I knew she was beautiful and, although I didn't know the word, sexy. We were at a party with girls and someone turned out the lights and there was squealing and I hid under a table, literally. It was a very confusing time.

It was a good thing that my father was a neurosurgeon, because those private school tuitions for four kids weren't easy, I'm sure. It speaks a lot to their values that my parents sprang for those tuitions, because they were careful about money, but spending it on the kids' education was top of the list. But finally, something must have snapped, because they had me apply to go to Central High in Philadelphia for 9th grade, where my father had gone and which was a top quality high school but where I didn't want to go, and then instead of going there, we moved to Wynnewood on the Main Line, named for Sir Thomas Wynn, physician to William Penn, and first speaker of the first Pennsylvania Assembly, or so spake the historical signpost. It was a little split level house in a development that was Jewish, just a few blocks down Montgomery Avenue from Ardmore Junior High and Lower Merion High School, which stood side by side. The schools were top quality, and I think the house cost maybe $35,000. There were four small bedrooms, and mine, at the end of the short hall, was tiny, enough room for a bed and they had Mr. Lopez, a carpenter, make built in shelves and drawers for clothes and a formica surface that would served as both top of the bureau and a desk, with fluorescent bulbs underneath the shelves that made for perfect lighting while I studied. My parents apologized for the small size, but I loved being down the hall and who needed space? I put up National Geographic maps on the wall on the theory if they were there I would gradually absorb all that geographic knowledge without working on it. My theory didn't work, but my sibs remember that “You loved maps.”

The year at Ardmore Junior High as a new kid was the way new schools are for kids, and they school had a tough time interpreting the report card from Friends' Central, that had O for outstanding for the academics but NI for needs improvement for behavior, so Ardmore averaged out the grades and put me not in 9R, the top section, or 9H, number two, but in 9S, third section down. Since I was a little bit ahead of the class in Latin and in math, coming from private school, and since there was no competition to speak of, academics was not a challenge for the year, and in fact the rumor got around that the new kid was smart – He reads Latin like it's English! And I made the football, the basketball, and the baseball teams, although I wasn't at the top the way I had been before. But some of the kids were bigger and more developed than I was.

And I had some balls. I insisted in speaking up in the football team meeting, making sure everyone knew I had been quarterback at Friends' Central, and I was a fierce tackler at linebacker that the coaches had to double team sometimes, but I didn't play much. Everyone and his brother went out for the basketball team, and Mr. Abrams, the coach, divided us into guards, forwards, and centers. I looked at the horde going to the guard side and decided, how will I ever be seen there? So despite my average height I went with the tall guys at forward. Mr. Abrams kind of gulped, but let it go. We worked out, ran the floor, and I got off a great shot in full flight as I flipped it in off the board from about 15 feet on the right side. When Mr. Abrams had seen enough and culled the lot, he said, OK, Shenkin, you can go with the guards now, and I was on the team.

It wasn't bad with my being with the average students for a year. I made friends, although not close ones, and I got to see what it was like. It was a mixed group. I remember Steve McCoy walking down the halls humming the first wave of rock and role music – maybe Tutti-Fruity. There were the Italian kids who made sure that they were the only ones who got to say Fungoo, because that was “their native language.” It was probably later on that one afternoon we were playing basketball just across the street from Ardmore Jr. High's black iron metal stake fence., at the house of the somewhat feckless Alan Greenough. It wasn't too late in the afternoon, but his father came out and said it was time for everyone to go home, and he would drive them. He asked me if I wanted a ride and I said I didn't need one, I'd walk, and then the car with all my friends in it passed me and they all waved. Later on, I found out that Greenough's father had just driven around the block and taken them all back to the house, and the object had been to get rid of the Jew. I felt pretty good when the company he was president of, the Pennsylvania Railroad, went bankrupt. To tell you the truth, it didn't bother me much. I knew I was better at everything than Greenough.

Lower Merion High was a fusion of Ardmore Junior High and Bala Cynwyd Junior High. There were a lot more Jewish kids from Bala Cynwyd, but by this time I was an Ardmore kid, where in the end, people had really been so nice to me, and where I had started to acquire lifelong friends – John Raezer, Bob “DiGi” DiGiovanni, Bill Birkhead, and even a guy named Charlie Newsom from Narberth, home of one of the premier Philadelphia basketball outdoor courts where Guy Rodgers and other pros were known to play, who told me not to give in to comments about my being Jewish, and took me to a Catholic club dance of some sort.

In English class I was with Loretta Siegel, who had fully developed breasts to the admiration of many but still to the ambivalence of me. Loretta would come over at the beginning of class and shake my hand, warmly, with feeling, and she would look into my eyes and say, Budd, don't ever change. It was the 9th or 10th grade equivalent of getting laid, but to me, it was pretty confusing. What was that all about? I wondered. My widowed paternal grandmother, Nana, got ahold of that information and grabbed it – she's Bernie Siegel's daughter, the great Philadelphia lawyer, Bernie Siegel! Like later on in college when I mentioned that one of the guys next door was Sam Saltonstall, a nice, quiet kid who mostly wanted to play the trumpet, and was probably burdened by the famous name. Nana said, stay close to him! Saltonstall!

But I digress. Lower Merion was, looking back on it, an oasis. Our group had a regular weekend poker games, now legendary, where we played the usual games, and famously, introduced by a visitor one time, one Bubble Liedman, Itsy-Bitsy With A Tiddle. Lynn Sherr, my close friend, wrote about it in her reminiscences, how the smartest kids were the best athletes and the most popular, all at once, she said. I don't know if that was true, but I couldn't have been happier and we are still good friends, so many of us, including Jon Gross, who had been my classmate at Friends' Central and had moved over to public school, like me. And we had the best high school class I every had, Special English, with Mrs. Hay, where we sat in a circle, maybe 18 or 20 of us, and read and discussed great literature in four areas, tragedy, freedom and responsibility, and two others – we struggle to remember them – and where Mrs. Hay cautioned us to be very careful using clichés, and where we wrote papers and we all read each others. There is a special part of heaven for Mrs. Hay.

We still have reunions for LM, and we still go. I don't know if we will anymore. After our 60th, they said we probably won't have anymore, but I said, hey, at our age, we shouldn't stick to every five years, time's awasting, we should move it up. So we did, DiGi taking the lead, and we had another one last year, but I couldn't go because my wife Ann was so sick. I was missed, they said, and I believe them.

At the reunions there were people we knew but weren't real close to, but that was great in itself. One of the great things about reunions is that they are an antidote to awkward unacknowledged goodbyes. But for the ones who don't come, the unacknowledgement remains. I did miss seeing some classmates. There was a bunch of kids who were kind of goof offs, or how could I explain it? Who weren't in our group, and I guess whose parents were lower middle class. We had our working class kids, from Manayunk, and our black kids from Ardmore, who still sting from the racism they encountered and which we didn't know what to do with in those pre Civil Rights times, and these other kids, like David Kirby and Hughie O'Neill, the motorcycle kids, had their own group. Maybe they'd go to college, they had parties and there was drinking, I heard. Not that we didn't drink, we did. There were no drugs in those days, that I knew about. These classmates don't come to the reunions. Others do, and I'm thrilled to see them. I introduced my wife Ann to a couple of them, telling Ann that Carol Arzio was the prettiest girl in the class, and Ann said, I can see why, and Vicky Casciatto, who now lives in Marin, and I said that everyone was jealous of her boyfriend and we all daydreamed about her, and she turned away a little, and blushed a little, and it seemed she was just super-pleased. Our friend, our really close friend Ricky Shryock doesn't come. His father ran a local hifi store, but his parents were divorced, and he ran from one to the other in his Kharmann Ghia, and he would stop by our house unannounced and would put a sandwich in our refrigerator and my mother would say, Ricky, you don't have to do that, I'll feed you, and he would go down to the basement with my brother Bobby and they would play cards and Rick would basically clean him out, and later on Rick had the distinction of marrying and divorcing one sister and then marrying the other sister, and the last job I heard he had was selling Snap-On Tools, but we all loved Ricky and he was such a great athlete, boy could he hit a baseball and he went to Lafayette College and I don't know if he graduated, but I think he hit .450 or so, but Rick had such character, he constructed a little golf course in his father's back yard where his Dad lived with Pat, his new wife, which Rick would play alone, and Rick moved back and forth between his mom in Narberth and his dad and Pat in Gladwyn, as I said. Ricky doesn't come to the reunions, although we all loved him so much.

Speaking of divorce, at the last reunion I went to I sat with Lynn and Angela Schrode a long time, and found out that Angela's days with us at LM were tortured, because her parents had a bitter divorce and she had to travel very far to come to school, and she was miserable, and I didn't know about it but Lynn did, because she explained it was Schrode and Sherr, so seating made them friends, and Angela became a professor of French literature at Sarah Lawrence, and just sitting and talking made that night just wonderful, we could hardly stop. I hadn't known, I think, that her mother had married Claude Rains, who Angela said was a difficult man.

And Hughie's girlfriend doesn't come. She was an extroverted girl, with a nice full chest, with kind of short, straight dark hair, who I thought was just so unobtainable and we ran in very different circles, she certainly seemed, as we say, much more advanced socially, and we didn't have any classes together, but I kind of looked at her, and sometimes, is it my imagination, or did she sometimes look at me? Maybe once or twice, maybe. Probably not. We never spoke. I sure wish she had come to some of our reunions. I'd like to see her again. Maybe she did, but I don't think so.

Her name was Connie Petropolis, I think.

Budd Shenkin