September 11

It was just a little warmer that morning 20 years ago. But the same blue sky. I’m flooded with emotions – remembering the horror and fear, the thunderstorm the next night when I found myself standing by the bed screaming, having been awakened by thunder in the middle of the night.

But I also remember how uncomfortable I felt as everyone trotted out the flag and vowed revenge. I had just interviewed a ton of scientists about climate change. The IPCC had just convened and issued its report; the National Science Foundation had just issued a report on global warming. The first sentence referred to clear, compelling evidence of anthropomorphic climate change. But Bush wasn’t interested. He pushed it aside. Then the US pulled out of talks on racism in Durban, South Africa. Israel objected to Palestinians having been invited. They were boycotting. So we were too. (Sounds an awful lot like cancel culture, btw.) The US seemed tone deaf and utterly out of step with science and the rest of the world.

Then came that day. Max, my nephew wasn’t quite two years old. I was out in the garden, so proud of myself for having earned my first chunk of money as a consultant. I think it was $12,000 for 120 hours of work. I felt rich. I was lazing in the garden, doing the crossword puzzle and listening to NPR. When the alert came about a fire at the World Trade Center, I ran inside and turned on the TV. My (at the time) brother was a report for CBS and lived a block from the World Trade Center, so I figured he’d be covering it.

The picture was crazy – someone running with a camera. Rubble and sky and dust and street. I flipped channels to NBC and saw the picture of the first tower on fire. I called my brother’s apartment. My sister-in-law answered. She was terrified. Come uptown now, I suggested. But she said she needed to wait for my brother to call. I hung up and watched the TV. The fire seemed to jump from one tower to the next. How could that happen? They’re not that close to each other…then Janice Huff, the weather person, called her own station. Her voice sounded sleepy, like this was the first sentence she uttered. She told the anchors to look at the tape. It was a second plane.

I called Elizabeth again. She was understandably panicked. What if the buildings fall down? She asked. That’s not going to happen, I said. But still I told her she needed to get out of there and come uptown. She said she couldn’t leave. I had heard that the C train was still running. I’m coming to get you, I told her. I hung up and debated – I could ride my bike or take the train. Train seemed more plausible. I ran to the 86th Street station. There were several of us waiting. The C train came; we got on. We stopped at 81st Street, 72nd Street and then, as we neared 59th Street, the train stopped. No announcement. Just stopped. Minutes went by, and in the lengthening fluorescence I began to think how stupid I had been getting into a train, underground. Only a few months before there had been a sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. And we knew we were in the middle of a terrorist attack.

Seemed that almost everyone in the train car had some moment of wondering if this we were going to die together. We all began to chat, asking questions about each others’ work and families, about what we had seen on television, about the plans for the day that had just been interrupted.

A woman sitting next to me was from Romania and needed directions to someplace. I don’t remember where. I said I would help her when we got off the train.

An hour and a half went by. Finally the train inched into the 59th Street station and an announcer told us that was it. Trains weren’t going further. Above ground, already there was a silent march of white soot covered people with briefcases walking back uptown. Eyes fixed forward. I tried to call Elizabeth, but I couldn’t get a cell signal. I wasn’t going to be able to get her on foot, so I turned and walked back uptown, this time up the West Drive in Central Park.

What a strangely untouched world in the park. Runners, skaters, bikers, sun dappled trees. How could they? Did they know? Were they oblivious? I walked home and tried calling from a landline, but still couldn’t get through.

I called my brother. He had spoken to Elizabeth. She had gotten out and was on her way to a friend’s house on the Upper East Side. They were ok, Max and Elizabeth. The buildings were gone.

I had to do something. Something to combat terrorism. I needed to bridge gaps in understanding. But I had no skills. No economics, no biochemical engineering. I couldn’t build a water system or an electric grid. I looked on the UN website. No jobs I was qualified for. I began looking for not-for-profits where I could volunteer. I entered my criteria: global, dialogue, empowerment. A few options came up. I wrote them all.

One option, the one that would change my life, was American Jewish World Services. I sent them an email then walked down to the Red Cross with my neighbor to donate blood.

The lines were long at the Red Cross. I was right ahead of a woman who was there with a few younger people. Strangely familiar woman. Finally, realizing that I was staring, I apologized and said, it’s just that you look so much like Ruth Messenger. Good thing, she said. Because I am.

We laughed. That was it. Eventually someone sent us away. The blood supply wasn’t an issue. There were too many of us and, well, very few injuries. Just death. We walked home.

Curmudgeon POV: First World Annoyances

A random list of aggravations that spoil the ticking of time in pandemic New York.

1. Noisy, incessant helicopters carrying rich tourists to look at Central Park, spoiling the peace of a quiet weekend.

2. Runners and cyclists in the park blaring music instead of wearing headphones.

3. Dogs off leash on the bridle path, where signs are posted indicating that dogs are to be leashed at all times there (not just after 9 am). I love dogs, and they seem to sense it, so as I run by, I’m a target. I’ve been tripped and tackled by playful dogs. The dogs get a pass. They’re dogs. Their owners, not so much. They’re mostly privileged assholes.

4. Electric bikes going way too fast in the park, cyclists going the wrong way or riding in the pedestrian lanes or on the paths. When nine million people share a park, it helps if people respect the rules.

5. Runners jutting out into the bike lanes – which is every bit as dangerous as cyclists on the paths. Don’t do it.

6. People who reject science – refusing to get the SARS-COV2 vaccine because “it’s my body” – especially while reserving the right to tell women what they can and cannot do with their uteri. You allow yourself to become a biohazard, you should be treated as such.

7. Knowing that I’ve become an old curmudgeon, stressed and angry and stewing in my gorgeous oasis of a garden.

Vaccination Bias

I heard from a colleague that the new area of workplace discrimination will be bias against the unvaccinated. Seriously.

I find the notion absurd and even dangerous, as it sets up the idea that any choice, however foolish, should be socially protected. Should I be able to go to work with Ebola? Would you want to sit next to a colleague with a highly communicable deadly disease? Of course not.

Race, gender, sexual orientation, dis/ability: these are immutable facts. They’re core to our being. The choice to expose yourself and, in turn, your neighbors, to a pandemic, is a public act. You become a biohazard.

It’s hard to be patient with conspiracy theorists. I love the idea that Bill Gates is using the vaccine to put microchips into people. Seriously? Who would want a running account of the stream of idiocy that runs through their minds?

In Memorium

We survived COVID. We kept to our running and biking and friendships. I skipped the Tuesday night Zooms because my days at work are filled up with Zoom calls and I didn’t have the patience for the one-at-a-time report-outs that Zoom requires and the inevitable lags and echos that disrupt the normal banter and cross-talk of our F2F conversations.

Finally, only a few weeks ago, we resumed our in person runs in the park. Our first Saturday run and coffee and the first Tuesday night run and pizza (although this time on a Monday night) since the pandemic began. I rarely stay awake past 8:30 and always run in the morning, but I made an exception to celebrate – and did a couple of miles with my running friends.

Jerry was my anchor. A wise, warm and generous man. We talked of business, books, politics and fitness. He had decades of successful entrepreneurial experience, which he shared freely. I could always count on him for wise advice on a knotty work challenge or client issue.

And although I don’t know them as well, his family is every bit as wise and warm as he is.

Not so long ago, I confided in Jerry that I was afraid to ride my bike outside. I want to. I used to love long bike rides, but now I’m afraid of an accident or a fall. No particular reason. Except maybe my Peleton obsession, which began on October 30, 2020, when my new Peleton bike arrived. I’m so strong and fast on the Peleton, but worry about the clipping and unclipping on a bike outdoors. I’m not graceful. What if my feet get stuck? What if I’m on a hill and a pack of racers comes from behind and swells past me?

Jerry said he’d take me on a ride. We’d go up Riverside Drive, across the GW bridge. We had a planned afternoon ride – just in the park on a weekday. I blocked it out on my calendar. But something came up.

Then, the accident. Jerry fell after a 63-mile bike trip, only blocks from his home. Fell. They put him in an induced coma. The Pizza Runners kept in touch with updates. When he gets out of the coma, I think we may have to wait months before going on that bike ride. He’ll need to recover.

Then, this morning I woke up to the devastating note from Ross. He’s not getting out of the coma. Too much bleeding; too much swelling. The brain is such an amazing organ. His especially. So far ranging, so perceptive. Such a truly good person.

Jerry, you brought joy, camaraderie and wisdom to our band of aging runners. Peace be with you and all those who loved you.

The Tyranny of the Past

Yesterday I spent a little time logging into what seems to have been an all-day conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Clubhouse. The discussion was, of course, prompted by the recent Hamas rocket attacks and the Israeli bombings that murdered hundreds of civilians. But it was really a lot of venting about the endless history of grievances. It seems there is no statute of limitations on any sentence that begins “What about…”

I was too unsure of myself to speak up in that forum. I’m hardly an expert on the situation. I had no Jewish education; in fact, I didn’t know our family’s proper last name until I was in my late teens or early twenties. Kutisker. Not Browde, which was an Ellis Island misspelling of Braude, my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. Kutisker was my father’s last name. It was also the name on Nazi propaganda posters. “The Jew Kutisker…” with a photo of my great grandfather, who had been accused of financial crimes.

My family history is the classic Jewish Diaspora story. Flight from oppression and genocide; many dead, many others, like my father, who went through life with what I suppose might have been PTSD, which left him sometimes tone deaf to the suffering he inflicted on others.

But here we are now. Yesterday‘s conversation was frustrating to listen to. It’s not as if the state of Israel was founded on uninhabited territory. People lived there. People lost homes and communities. People who had had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

And here we are now, almost 75 years later, arguing on Clubhouse. One Palestinian woman protested that any time she criticized Israel, she was called “anti-Semitic.” “I’m Semitic too,” she said, her frustration mounting. Someone else corrected her, saying the term has now become widely understood to mean anti Jewish. Another woman kept bringing up 7 million. Yes 7 million Jews, And Armenians. And Cambodians. And the native tribes of North America. The history of our species is pretty abysmal when it comes to the sanctity of life.

But haven’t we evolved, learned the futility of hatred? Why not look forward? Why not ask what vision Palestinians and Israelis have for the future (taking the annihilation of each other off the table). What if you had to imagine an outcome that would enable every person to have equal human rights, equal self determination, equal access to resources and opportunities?

David Rock, who founded the Neuroleadership Institute, developed a great heuristic to explain core human needs. He calls it the SCARF model. Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. If we made the elements of the SCARF model our core values, wouldn’t we be able to come up with a humanistic solution?

Is this America?

My grandfather was 4’11” tall. From a shtetl someplace in Belarus. When he came to the United States, he worked as a Hebrew teacher, a milkman, a factory worker. He joined Workers of the World. He and his brother moved to Cleveland and got jobs in a plumbing supply company. And when World War 1 began, Grandpa refused to register for the draft. Not because he wasn’t willing to take on the danger, but because he believed he had more in common with fellow workers across the world than he had with those leaders who wanted to enlist young men to kill each other. He didn’t buy into the morality of fighting to the death against other working men, regardless of their nationality.

It was only a symbolic act. He was too short and wouldn’t have been accepted into military service anyway. But he wanted to make the point. He wanted to reject the war rather than wait for the war to reject him. The infraction landed him in jail for a year. He was fine with the jail sentence; he knew it was a consequence of his own actions and he was willing to pay the price. In prison he learned English and, at the suggestion of Emma Goldman, became a lawyer. He attended Fordham Law School as a special student, having never gone to high school or university. He graduated, passed the New York bar on his first try and set up his law practice.

He has always been my favorite member of my family; he was my hero, my teacher and my safe haven. He set the standard for courage.

So when I look at the sleazy lack of courage in the Senate today, I’m ashamed and disgusted. Who cares if you lose an election? Are you really willing to lie? Are you so corrupted by your privilege that you would abandon any pretense of a moral compass?

Being a senator isn’t the only job in the world. Surely you know how to do other things. And it’s hard to respect people who put their temp jobs ahead of principles.


Here are some of the many things about other people I don’t understand:

1. I hear people – mostly Christians, from what I can tell – talking about religious freedom. But as far as I can tell, they are the only ones who want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. What’s the rationale? Wasn’t the separation of church and state a principle designed to protect people from different philosophical orientations from being dominated by any nationally ordained philosophy?

2. Why do the same people who believe that abortion is murder support unrestricted gun ownership, including assault weapons, and the death penalty? I can understand an objection to abortion, although I don’t see how small government claims the right to regulate what goes on inside a woman’s body. But I can’t understand people who believe in the sanctity of life believing that they should be armed to the teeth against those with whom they disagree.

3. Why do smokers not seem to recognize that throwing cigarette butts on the street is littering? And why don’t they get tickets for it?

4. Why do progressives not understand the alarm bells (irrational as they may be) that go off in conservatives’ heads when they hear the word “socialist?”

5. And why are those anti-socialist conservatives unable to distinguish between socialism, which is really about mutual interdependence, with fascist communism, where an autocratic leader controls all the mechanisms of production and is not accountable to the people? Churches are socialist – they pool money for the good of their communities. Medicare is socialist. The construction of roads; investments in research to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, and military support are all socialist inasmuch as they’re collective investments in what has been deemed the good of the broader community.

When the retaining wall crumbles

The flood waters are rising. I’m flailing around in the decades of repressed feelings about the many creepy, experiences I had as a child, a student and a young woman. One incident in particular troubles me. I was in my early teens. I went to Omaha to visit Kathy, one of my best friends from summer camp. I spent several days with her family between Christmas and New Year’s. They lived in a comfortable 3-bedroom house with a finished basement, on an old, tree-lined street. At the top of the stairs to the second floor, there were four doors. Starting from the left, going clockwise were her brother’s room, her room, her parent’s room and – on the right, the bathroom. One night I was heading back from the bathroom to Kathy’s bedroom when her father kind of accosted me. Didn’t say anything, just hugged me way too tight for no reason, kind of pulling me towards him, mashing me into his body. I slipped out of his grasp and into the safety of Kathy’s room.

The next day, I was in the study, just off the living room, calling my parents, when he came up behind me and again mashed himself into me. He was just so creepy, I couldn’t stand to be near him. Shortly after the second incident, I joined Kathy and her mother in the kitchen, where they were making a lemon jello cake. Her mother asked me to run down to the basement pantry to get another can of something. I was about to go downstairs, when her father came into the kitchen and volunteered to help me find it. I had no words for the wave of aversion that came over me, but I knew I was going downstairs with him. I said I had to go to the bathroom really bad, and ran upstairs.

It was decades later before I said anything. I had called Kathy for her birthday. Turned out she was I bad shape, seemingly in the midst of a breakdown. In the course of the conversation, I asked her if her father had ever molested her. “Why do you ask?” she replied. “I didn’t want to relate my experience, so I just said I didn’t know why exactly, but something she had said made me wonder. “My therapist just asked me the same thing,” she said, but she went on to dismiss the theory, insisting nothing had ever happened.

That was it. I never mentioned my experience to her, although I had spoken of it to a mutual friend. Kathy and I never discussed her father again. In fact, we haven’t spoken for years, and to this day, she says she insists I made the whole thing up. But no. I didn’t. Her father was a perv. And if he did it to me, I’m guessing he did it to other girls too.


The flood of people speaking up about sexual assault and sexual harassment has been troubling me. I grew up with so much of it. I was such a trusting, naive child. Even into young adulthood. It was a joke. I was a classical guitarist – more or less accidentally. I was singing in coffee houses when I was in college and heard there was a guitar teacher at Mount Holyoke College. It was classical – and I had just started learning to play folk and blue grass. But what the hell, I signed up.

Something clicked. Having to practice the guitar was a perfect excuse for getting out of awkward social encounters, for blocking out my mother’s suicide threats. It was safe. Two hours of scales and arpeggios every day. So I got good at it fast (for someone who began an instrument at age 18).

It was a win-win for my two paradoxical needs: applause and isolation. So, 18 months after I started to study, I headed to the Aspen Music Festival. It was scary: I only knew about 4 short pieces on the guitar and the place was teeming with world class musicians among both the students and the faculty.

The classical guitar maestro was named Oscar Ghiglia – and we all worshiped him. It seemed the norm within classical music: Great teachers had utterly devoted students.

One afternoon, the third summer I was in Oscar Ghiglia’s master class, I was sick in bed and the entire class came to the place I was renting in Aspen Square. We hung out for a while, and when people left, Oscar stayed behind and literally jumped me. I was shocked, confused. I resisted at first but eventually gave in. But after that, when he would come banging on my door, I would bolt the door, lock myself in the bathroom and wait for him to go away.

Why didn’t I stop studying with him? Reasonable question. I wanted to get good. I wanted the approval. I went to Italy for another master class and competition. We had fist fights when I refused him, so he took away my scholarship.

Finally, the last straw came when he burst into my little room in Gargnano and forcibly raped me. “There, don’t you feel better?” he smirked as he rolled off me. It was September, 1980. My mother was dying of cancer – and his wife was visiting my mother. I told him if he ever touched me again, I would tell his wife, and I left town the next day.

I never talked about it with the other women who studied with him, but I can’t imagine that my experience was unique.