Monday, September 29, 1997

A Violation of Rights

  The white-robed Hari Krishna person approaching her could not have been more than eighteen or nineteen.  His smile was sweet, but she pressed against the back of her chair to avoid him.  "Don't touch me!" she said.

"But all I want to do is pin a pretty flower on a pretty lady," he said.

"Don't touch me," she repeated.  "If you do, I'll call security!"

Without a word, still smiling, he turned deftly on his heel and stooped to pin a flower on a young man in army uniform seated nearby.  The soldier, accepting the cheap paper flower, reached into his pocket for a donation, and she felt somehow stingy and uncomfortable.   It was then she noticed a distinguished, turbaned Indian gentleman to her right.  "I'm sorry," she told him.  "I guess the original Hari Krishna was Indian, and I apologize for my rudeness.  It's just that they make me so angry!"

The Indian gentleman smiled.  "I thought  you were absolutely magnificent!" he said.  "I have no respect for the Hari Krishnas.  But why do the authorities permit them to harass airport travelers so?"

"Oh, they were banned from the airport," she said, "but they took it to court and the law said they had to be allowed to solicit here.  It was a violation of their religious rights, or something like that."

The Indian gentleman nodded.  "I see," he said.  "You know, you Americans have a marvelous country, full of wonderful rights, but take care that your rights do not someday destroy you."

Over the P.A. system, the arrival of Dave's plane was announced.   Taking leave of the gentleman, she arose and positioned herself opposite the door to the gate.  She could hardly wait to see his handsome face again!   In four days they would be married.  

That was fifteen years ago.


Dave was already home from the office and waiting for her when she returned from her appointment.  "The doctor said no," she said.  "He won't advise it another time.  He refuses to refer me.  She threw her purse across the room and slumped onto the couch.

"Why?" Dave asked, coming to sit beside her.  He put his arms around her.

"He said I wasn't successful in carrying the last two in-vitros to term, and he 

thinks that, besides being expensive, another unsuccessful try would be psychologically and physically damaging to me.   Like wanting a child so badly and not being able to have one is NOT psychologically and physically damaging, I suppose?"

He held her closer.  "I'm sorry, sweetheart," he said.


The lady from the agency was optimistic.  "The mother says her boyfriend won't marry her, so she wants to put the baby up for adoption.  You would pay her expenses, of course, and you could be there at the birth.  That way, you two will be able to bond with the baby right away.  She and her doctor want to meet with you."

"Oh, Dave!" Carrie said.   She turned to the agency lady.  "I never dared hope we'd be chosen for adoption!"

"Well," the lady said, "the fact that you are both in your forties usually presents a problem as far as adoption is concerned, but everything else checks out great..... character references, education, housing, income.  I don't anticipate any difficulty.  Besides, the baby will be bi-racial; the boyfriend is black.  These babies are harder to place.  The mother says that if she and the father were married, she would keep the child, but that it would be too hard for her as a single white parent to raise a black child."

"It's okay for a white woman to sleep with a black man," Dave asked, "but not okay to raise a black child?"

Fearful that he would jeopardize the deal, Carrie put a restraining hand on his arm.  "Dave, please!


He was a beautiful, healthy boy, and Carrie loved him even before he was placed in her arms.  At the birth mother's request, they agreed to name him Emmanuel, after his Muslim father.  "We'll call him Manny," Carrie said happily.  "Oh, Dave, isn't he wonderful!"

At first Carrie had been afraid to give herself over to complete happiness, being uneasy until their first year as a threesome would be over and the adoption final, but as day tumbled after day, she began to relax and enjoy motherhood.  It doesn't get any better than this! she thought.

One morning, when Manny was almost a month old, the phone rang.  Carrie shifted him from her arms and balanced him expertly on her hip and picked up the receiver.  "Hello?"

It was the lady from the agency. "Hello, dear," she said gently.  "I have just received terribly distressing news."  Carrie's heart skipped a beat.  "It's so hard for me to have to tell you, but Emmanuel's father has decided he will marry the birth mother after all.  She wants her baby back."

"No!" Carrie shouted.  "She can't have him back!  He's MY baby!"

The lady's voice was low and sad.  "I'm afraid we have no choice, Carrie, dear.  It's the birth mother's right to change her mind any time within the first year.  Carrie, I'm truly, truly sorry, but I can do nothing."

"But it's not fair!" Carrie screamed into the receiver.  "He's MY baby!"


One person's Right is often another person's Wrong.  The Indian gentleman had called it like it is.  

Monday, September 22, 1997

Tess and the Newscaster

Bob Branden was dead.  The announcement came over the eleven o'clock news.  Before his retirement,  we saw his handsome face every evening on television, as he anchored the news.  Long before that, his voice at noon greeted us over the radio.

I hadn't thought of him for years.  I hadn't thought of Tess for years, either.

"Tess, what's a married woman like you doing with Bob Branden's picture plastered on your refrigerator?" I asked.

"Ain't he the handsomest damned thing you ever saw?" she said.  "And his voice!  Wow!  He can put his shoes under my bed any old time!"


"Aw, you college-graduate prudes frost my ass!" she said.

We were all young then -- Tess, her husband, my husband, me -- even Bob Branden.   It was when my husband and I lived in that big old triangular-shaped building, in a cramped, three-room apartment.  We thought it was heaven.  It was close enough to heaven; we were on the top floor.  Our living room window, positioned right at the point of the building, looked far down to the street, where every thirty minutes in the daytime, and every hour-on-the-hour at night, a city trolley screeched around the corner.

There were just two apartments on that third floor -- ours and Tess and Don's.  For the first ten months, it was Don who befriended us.  We met him the first week, on the narrow old stairs.  "We're in the other apartment," he said.  "It'll be good for Tess to have someone next door."  I looked forward to making friends with her, but when she and I passed on the stairs, or in the old hallway on the second floor, or even outside on the busy corner, she turned her back.  Wounded and puzzled, I stopped saying hello.

Her mother Thelma visited them week-days after work and left right after dinner.  One day, as she and I entered the building together, I asked, "Why, Thelma?  Did I do something?"

"She's funny," Thelma said.  "A good person, but funny.  She's been trying for a kid for ten years.  Don has a good job, but he gambles.  They can't even adopt.  They never can hold onto money long enough to put a down-payment on a house, or even to move into a bigger place.  If you want to adopt, you have to have a separate bedroom for the kid.  It's a pretty shitty deal.  Don't worry, though, if you live here long enough, she'll come around."

I wanted to say that other people were unable to have children, but didn't go through life snubbing their neighbors, but I held my tongue.  I really didn't care if she came around or not, or so I told myself.

Two days after our new-born and I came  home from the hospital, and just as I was preparing for her first bath at the kitchen sink, I heard a loud rapping at the door.

"It's me, Tessie next door.  Let me in.  I gotta see that baby!"

"Jesus!" she said when she saw our daughter's plentiful hair.  "You're gonna need me alright!  Lucky you, I used to be a beautician.  I'll save you plenty on the kid's haircuts!"

Forgetting all the months of hurt, I hugged her.  "I'm so happy you came over!" I said.  "But watch the language around the baby, okay, Tess?"

"Aw, poop!  She's not even a month yet, you prude!" she said, "but yeah, I'll try."

And she did.  She really did.  Sometimes she slipped, and then would apologize to the baby.  "I'm sorry, Moose," she would say.  "Don't you use bad words, though, honey, or it'll  piss your mother off."  Why she called her Moose is a long story, which will be told another time perhaps.  

My baby and I loved Tess, but it was as nothing to the love Tess had for my baby.  It was almost sad to see, and I could have cried for Tess.  Sometimes, when talking to my husband about it, I did.

We stayed there three years, through my husband's last two school years and through his internship.  The baby and Tess and I spent most of our days together.  They were fun days, because of Tess.  She showed me a side of life I had not known, and the audacity of her language both shocked and delighted me.  Upstairs on that top floor, in our private little haven, our doors were seldom locked, and during the day, the two apartments were almost one residence.

"You know, Tess," I said that last year together, "we are going to have to move away soon.  You do know that, don't you, dear?"

"Don't you 'dear' me!" she said.  "Just shut your damn mouth!   Hey, Moose, baby, come on over to Aunt Tessie's place.  Uncle Don brought home some nice candy.  Want some?"

"No candy, please, Tess," I said.

"I told you to shut your damn mouth!" Tess said.  "Sorry, Moose, honey!"

"He really was handsome, wasn't he?" I said as my husband and I prepared for bed.

"Who was?" he asked.

"Bob Branden."

"I guess so.  What brought that on?"

"Oh, " I said, "I was just remembering."

Monday, September 15, 1997

The Man from Prague

The ship Antonin was on had almost cleared Piraeus, Athen's harbor, when it struck a mine.  Now, although the night was moonless, he was able to see in the water all around him, evidence of the ship's wreckage.  A sack of flour bobbed near.  He grabbed hold of it and hung on.  

As black blended into grey, he looked for rosy sign of the sun's presence below the horizon.  "It will be up soon," he thought, and someone will save us."  He did not doubt his survival;  it was not in his nature to anticipate defeat.  Already, his thoughts wandered from his present plight to the time, two months earlier at home in Prague, when he had received notification from an oil refinery in America that they had accepted him for their head chemist position.  His happiness had been shortly thereafter marred by the upheaval caused by the Archduke of Austria's assassination.  Antonin had set off immediately on his journey to America, hoping to get out of Europe before the world fell apart.  By train, he had traveled through Austria without incident and was nearing Montenegro when he learned that Kaiser Wilhelm had declared war.  Yet, as a Czech, he held a valid Austrian passport, and with his wits to rely on,  he had continued on.  After many set-backs and numerous changes in plan, he had finally arrived in Athens and booked passage to Boston. 

Now,  in the first light of day, the harbor was coming alive with the shouts and activity of rescue.  "So," he thought as he was pulled from the water, "here I am, stranded in Athens.  What now?"

The next day he visited the Greek authorities.  "It was in your harbor that I lost everything," he said, "money, passport, clothes....everything.  It is Greece's duty to give me some drachmas so that I may continue my journey.  One or two hundred will do nicely."

The Greek official was indignant.  "Indeed?" he said.  "Just who do you think you are?  The King of Albania?  We will give you ten, and that is final!"

Antonin smiled his charming smile and accepted the drachmas.  "Thank you very much," he said.  "I shall always think of Greece with great affection."

He went then to the Russian consulate.  "I am an honest Montenegrin citizen," he said.  "I was a passenger on the ship that was struck by a mine yesterday.  I have lost everything, including my passport.   I humbly thank God that Mother Russia is the great and generous protectorate of Montenegro, for I am sure she will advance me three-hundred drachmas or so, until I am able to recoup my losses."

"You are crazy!" the Russian official said.  "Get out of here!"

Somehow, Antonin managed to book passage to Boston on another ship, but the ship was stopped and searched on the high seas by the British.  Because he had managed to acquire a camera and because he spoke perfect German, they thought he was a German spy.  He spent a year as prisoner of war on Gibralter.  

"If you MUST be taken prisoner," Antonin years later advised his American children, "be sure to be taken by the British.  They expect you to exercise every day and they meticulously inspect how you make up your cot, but they do give you orange marmalade at breakfast, and a beer allowance of two liters per day."

Almost three years after the Gibralter episode, Antonin finally arrived in New York and travelled to Boston by train.   Before taking up his new life, he posted a letter to the British government.  The letter read:

"Honorable Sirs:

 My original booking was for Athens to Boston.  Due to

 your government's wrongful imprisonment of me as a

 spy, I ended instead in New York.   I respectfully therefore

 request reimbursement from you in such an amount as to 

 cover the cost of my train fare from New York to Boston.

 Thank you."


"What did they say?"  his son asked many years later when he told him the story.  

"They never answered my letter," he said.