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I n fifth grade, we are asked to sacrifice: our prized possessions must be inventoried and surrendered to the state. This is, mercifully, an exercise. I am a sheltered ten-year-old boy in an upscale bedroom suburb of New York City, a community so flush that its grade school teachers must simulate hardship for their students. We have already suffered through a sugarless week in solidarity with the over-taxed colonists of eighteenth century New England; we have wandered the classroom blindfolded, rendered sightless by a barrage of Confederate bullets. Now we are studying the immigrant experience—or possibly the Holocaust—and each of us has been ordered to bring from home a personal treasure that our teacher-turned-jailor, Mr. G., intends to “confiscate” as the price for our freedom. This crash course in palm-greasing takes place several years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, before the Challenger explo- sion, before the death of my beloved grandmother—and I confess the details are misty in my memory. (It is also an age of laxer classroom mores, when Mr. G. can still have his young charges massage his shoulders, not because he harbors ulterior designs on children, but because he enjoys having his muscles loosened.) What I Two Cats, Fat and Thin By JacobM. Appel

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do recall vividly is Mr. G. as Kafkaesque bu- reaucrat, shuffling between our tiny desks on his reconstructed knees, inspecting one boy’s meticulously-labeled coin collection and another girl’s sepia photograph of her great- grandparents in fin-de-siècle Vienna. When he leans down to demand my offering, I gaze intensely into the Formica desktop. I have brought him nothing. I have not even told my parents that he’d asked. “I don’t have any favorite things,” I mutter. “I’m sorry.” “Well, well,” says Mr. G. “Nothing will come of nothing.” How can I know he’s quoting Lear ? I want to sink my teeth into his fleshy hand. “Surely, you must have something worth sacrificing,” says Mr. G, sporting the perpetu- ally bemused smile that defines his benevolent, leonine face. “Maybe you could bring in some- thing for us later this week.” “All of my prized possessions have been tak- en!” I snap. “You’re too late.” This earns me yet another afternoon with the school’s psychologist. T HE PRIZED POSSESSIONS that I no longer possessed were two miniature rubber cats, one fat, one thin, given to me by my grand- mother’s eldest sister. The thin cat appeared hungry and scheming—a synthetic, feline Cassius. The fat cat looked as though he’d just swallowed an obese goldfish. They were not a matching pair, manufactured as companions, but two independent creatures forced into unsought friendship. Neither of them had names. Merely Fat Cat and Thin Cat. Al- though they’d once been the most treasured objects of my brief existence—at the age of six, I had carried them everywhere, even the bathtub—they lacked any other social or economic value. Unfortunately, our school’s psychologist, a tense, hyper-analytic fussbud- get, got hung up on determining whether Aunt Emma was an aunt or a grandaunt. We never came around to discussing Fat and Thin, so my unspoken anxiety continued to slosh around inside me like battery acid. Even now, I shiver when I recall my private apocalypse. It was the final autumn of the Carter Presi- dency. My family was driving through north- ern Florida en route to New York, because, to my mother, every commercial jet was an airborne coffin. She’d been arguing with my father, insisting that a presidential vote for

John Anderson would throw the 1980 Elec- tion to Reagan and usher in nuclear winter. We’d just visited my grandaunt in Miami Beach, the last time we would ever see her. I had my two travel companions, Fat and Thin, securely buckled into the back seat of my mother’s foul-tempered Dodge Dart. I sup- pose my brother was also in the vehicle—he must have been about two years old—but I cannot be certain. I was too busy making sure that Fat and Thin didn’t grow carsick, and later, that they were tucked under the covers in the gloomy motel room outside St. Augustine, where we’d all spend the night. We’d only entered the room long enough to inspect it—we hadn’t even emptied our lug- gage from the trunk—but my cats decided to enjoy a nap, a fleeting, indolent snooze while the rest of the family ducked out for breakfast at the local Waffle House or Den- ny’s. Who was I to insist otherwise? Maybe we also collected seashells and pink coral on the public beach. Or we scaled the ramparts of the historic Spanish fort. I have no reason to remember that breakfast, any more than I recall the events of the day, two months later, on which my father drew me aside, following dinner, to reveal that my grandaunt had suc- cumbed to stomach cancer. It was a morning without omens, all prologue to an unforeseen horror. How could I anticipate that, when we returned, joyful and sun-drunk, to our other- wise undisturbed motel room, both Fat and Thin would be gone? As in any self-respecting whodunit, suspicion immediately fell upon the servants—in this case, any of the depleted, middle-aged African-Amer- ican maids who vacuumed and scrubbed toilets while the Caucasian guests scaled the Spanish bat- tlements and collected pink coral on the beaches. These women had opportunity. They hadmotive. Who else would pilfer a pair of worthless rubber cats except a mother or grandmother too impov- erished to purchase her brood feline companions of their own? That’s how my father explained it to me. I had lots of toys. Most likely, the poor Black child who’d been given Fat and Thin had

none. Nor did my parents believe there was mal- ice involved in the catnapping. Rather, entering an empty motel room that contained only two rubber cats, the well-intentioned maid probably believed the creatures had been abandoned. So my parents would buy me new cats, they pledged. Better cats. But to hope that Fat and Thin might return home was simply unrealistic. If we pursued the matter doggedly, a blameless working mother might lose her job. What good would that accom- plish? Besides, even if it were possible, did I really want to yank these cheap, well-worn toys from the hands of a deprived little boy? So we continued our journey up the sea- board. Past unmarked police cars scanning for Yankee plates, through palmetto thickets blanketed with Spanish moss. We drove by the hospital where, the previous winter, my mother had undergone emergency surgery after dropping a can of tomato soup on her left big toe. Soon the air turned crisp and we crossed the endless brooks and runs of Virginia. Then Delaware, where I was bun- dled into a windbreaker and rewarded with a sour gumball. And New Jersey, an endless colonnade of chemical drums that looked like giant toadstools. Finally, we were back in New York, passing the playing fields where I would soon master the arts of lollygagging and wearing a baseball mitt on my head. We parked opposite the neighbor’s stone wall— the wall that my brother would later reshape with the bumper of his first car. But there were now only four of us in the vehicle, not six. I stared out the windshield at our over-lit house, the carefully timed lamps blazing in the upstairs windows, thinking of that needy boy back in Florida whose toilet-scrubbing mother couldn’t afford to take vacations. Did I really want to yank Fat and Thin from his deprived little hands? Yes, I did. Yes, I did! YES, I DID! T WENTY YEARS AFTER the crime of my centu- ry—for Fat and Thin are my Great Train Rob- bery and Lindbergh baby and Manson family



murders all rolled into one—I was hired to teach an introductory course in applied eth- ics at Brown University. Whether by coin- cidence or subconscious design, much of my syllabus focused on the countless moral ques- tions surrounding property rights: Should my neighbor have to compensate me if she builds a house that obstructs my view? Why shouldn’t private business owners be permit- ted to discriminate on the basis of race or reli- gion? Who has the most convincing claim to a stolen painting that is subsequently sold and purchased in good faith by an unsuspecting third party? These are the conundrums that try eighteen year olds’ souls, during those ephemeral salad days before they start amass- ing property of their own. When you ask them: Is it ethical for a poor maid to steal a cheap toy for her son from the motel room of a wealthy family, they grapple with the mat- ter quite intensely. On the whole, they tend to be surprisingly forgiving of the well-inten- tioned and indigent cat burglar. Some even defend the working-class bandit who actually knows that the well-heeled family will return for the toy, yet steals it anyway, comparing the theft to pilfering apples for starving chil- dren or swallowing a phone company error in your favor. In contrast, my thirty-something friends—professional, civic-minded couples raising overindulged children of their own— see no ambiguity in the situation. Stealing is stealing. To the last, they are surprisingly lacking in sympathy for the imaginary servant who, in my concocted scenario, makes off with a pair of hypothetical rubber cats. Why are my Brown students so lenient? I often suspect it is because they have never before considered the injustice of a social sys- tem that allows some children to amass toys while others have none. Sure, they are aware of poverty: kwashiorkor and marasmus in the starving, dust-clad villages of the Sahel; hemorrhagic fevers ravaging war-torn swaths of the Congo. The more socially-conscious among them feel guilty that they have the leisure to study Gramsci and feminist the- ory, while millions of their chronological peers work fast food counters in urban ghet- tos and raise toddlers on food stamps. My

lessness. They side with the maid because, accustomed to an arsenal of Xboxes and mul- tiethnic Barbie dolls whose shoe collections rival that of Imelda Marcos, they do not see much cost in losing a single toy. When I de- scribe to them the vanished immigrant world in which my grandmother and Aunt Emma grew up, where one home-fashioned rag-doll was handed down like a cache of jewels from sister to sister, they listen with tolerant incre- dulity. I might as easily be telling them that when I was their age, I hiked fifty miles to school every morning—uphill, both ways— through drifts of year-round snow. Occasionally, of course, a student will take the side of the wealthy family. I recall one par- ticular girl—a sharp-thinking beauty, well on her way toward professional school and civic- minded childrearing—who had already learned


students find these inequities fundamentally unsettling, even unjust—though, in all fair- ness, few will devote their lives to eradicat- ing poverty, and even fewer, if any, would voluntarily exchange places with their less fortunate brothers and sisters. What my students have never done, however, is reflect upon a life without toys. In a society where mass-produced plastic action figures cost ten dollars a piece, and every middle-class family has a closet well-stocked with such whole- some board games as Monopoly and Risk, my students find “toylessness” as alien as home-


not to tinker with the rules of social organiza- tion. What about the boy whose toys were sto- len? she wanted to know. What if those were his most beloved possessions? What if they’d been given to him by his grandparents on their deathbeds? I admired her eloquence, but I also sensed her passion was not personal—that she had never actually lost anything of value. Think about what being victimized like that could do to somebody, particularly a small child, she urged her skeptical classmates. For all you know, that kid will never get over his missing cats. For all you know, taking those cats away ruined his entire life. I WON ’ T CLAIM that the loss of Fat and Thin ruined my life, but their disappearance cer- tainly changed it. Even today, I am a far more cautious—even suspicious—person than I might have been if not for that episode. I am

particularly careful not to leave shopping bags in my car while I run a few additional errands or an attaché case at a restaurant table when I visit the rest room. I never loan out my door keys, not even to a close friend or relative for a matter of seconds. When I travel, I phone my home answering machine at least once a day—not principally to check my messages, but to assure myself that my apartment build- ing hasn’t burned down. And every morning, if I’m staying at a hotel, I pack up all of my belongings and stash them inside the trunk of my car. So while I give generously to charity and even to panhandlers, no slippery-fingered room cleaner’s toddler will ever acquire a stray sock or a ballpoint pen at my expense. Of course, even without the St. Augustine mas- sacre, I might have grown into a thoroughly maladjusted adult. Hitler and Stalin could still have proven butchers, notwithstanding

loving childhoods. What I can say with con- fidence is that not a day passes during which I don’t actively fear being robbed of what I care about most deeply: not tangible objects, but friendships and loved ones. I imagine psychiatry has a label for this walking dread. That is why I don’t see a psychiatrist. Another consequence of this traumatic incident has been my longstanding discom- fort with the housekeeping staff at hotels and motor lodges. The winter after Fat and Thin disappeared, I slammed the door in the face of another African-American mo- tel maid—this time on the resort island of Sanibel—and nearly shattered her nose. The woman, a plump battleaxe with a soli- tary gold tooth, accused me of racism. My prejudice, of course, was of a different sort. Alas, my parents, who had long since moved beyond the previous autumn’s horrors, forced me to apologize. Later that week, my father drove our rental car through the shanty towns where the cleaning staff lived, so that I might witness the corrugated zinc roofs and the un- dergarments drying in the open air. Yet what most interested me were the dozens of young children, scampering among the chickens and guinea fowl. I scrutinized them care- fully, wondering if one of these boys might somehow have acquired Fat or Thin from a cousin who lived further upstate. I had long ago given up hope of recovering both of my cats. My deal with the cosmos was that if one of them returned home, I would behave irre- proachably forever. Many nights, I lay awake in bed, trying to determine whether I would prefer the jovial, fun-loving Fat or the wise, worldly Thin. I was trapped forever in my own micro-version of Sophie’s Choice . What- ever the outcome of my fantasies, I ended up sobbing myself to sleep. I am self-aware enough to recognize that while stealing may be stealing, the loss of the rubber cats was far more than merely the loss of the rubber cats. My aunt had died, after all—or my grandaunt, to please the sticklers. Even at the age of six, I understood that this was the ultimate of all calamities, a disaster so unspeakably horrific that we pretend the suffering is bearable and struggle on with our lives. Many people close to me have died since that evening when my father explained that we wouldn’t be visiting Miami Beach anymore, but I’ll never shake the genuine terror I felt when he revealed the true course of human events. I’d been introduced to the


ghastly secret that separated the adults from the children : Homo sapiens were like rubber cats. You could return to your motel room one night to find them gone forever. M Y AUNT WAS one of six siblings, all deceased, only two of whom produced biological chil- dren. One brother, Harry, eloped with a non- Jewish woman and was banished from the life of the family forever. A second brother, Mor- ris, traveled by train to California at the end of World War II—and his children, in perpetual exile, are prosperous restaurateurs in Los An- geles. While I think of Emma’s sister, Ida, as my grandmother, she is technically my moth- er’s stepmother. (My biological grandmother discovered a lump in her breast in 1953 and was sent home from the hospital to die.) The comedian Jerry Lewis is a distant cousin, as was the stage actor, Bert Lahr, but neither Lewis nor Lahr’s son, John, have answered my multiple letters. I mention all of this to emphasize how few visitors come to Aunt Emma’s gravesite at Mount Ararat, in Queens, where she is buried alongside her parents and thousands of unfor- tunate strangers. When I visit, on a warm au- tumn afternoon nearly twenty-five years after her death, the markers are overrun with desic- cated vines and thorny creepers. It is amazing how little I know of my aunt. She was born in 1898 and worked her entire adult life as an executive secretary at the Al- lied Chemical & Dye Corporation. She never married. As far as my surviving cousins recall, she never dated. Most of her time was spent in the company of another single woman named Alice McCarthy, but whether they were merely friends, or romantically involved, is a mystery lost to the ages. What I do re- member are visits to her single-occupancy apartment in the old Sherry Netherland Ho- tel, and how she showed me a paperweight made from glass-encased butterfly wings, and one time she called me on the telephone and I innocently nodded my head to answer her questions. And I remember vividly the eve- ning she gave me Fat Cat and Thin Cat, after a quiet afternoon in which I downed numer- ous glasses of chocolate milk and she nibbled fruit-flavored baby food, the only meal her esophageal strictures permitted. That is all I remember of my grandmother’s eldest sister. Yet I still love this octogenarian spinster, who is now but a smattering of flashbulb memories in my consciousness, an image of a perpetu- ally impish woman with dimpled cheeks and

appropriated toothbrush. I was thinking of my long lost friends. My plan was to scour the city, making in- quiries of desk clerks. Yet what could I possibly ask? Do you recall if I left a pair of rubber cats here thirty-two years ago? Would you mind if I asked your housekeeping staff if they’d stolen my toys? As I drove past the Pelican Island Wild- life Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center, the absurdity of my scheme grew increasingly clear to me. The woman who had made off with my prized possessions would be long-since re- tired. Or worse. Her son might well have a six- year-old boy of his own. Most likely, the motel itself had been purchased by a national chain and then sold off again in a series of complex transactions that might well have concluded with a wrecking ball. The bottom line was that any sane motel clerk would have laughed me out of his lobby before I made it within shout- ing distance of a housekeeper. I would have had as much luck convincing Dellwood to put the cats’ photographs on its milk cartons. So I turned my car around and drove back—to my bare motel room, to the life I lead without my childhood toys. The irony, I realize, is that if I could find the grown man who’d been that deprived child, I would let him keep the cats. Gladly. I can’t say I would have at the age of fifteen or even at twen- ty-five—but as a thirty-four-year-old university professor, I’ve finally found enough peace in life to forgive the misguided motel maid who did me a small injustice a quarter of a century ago. Honestly, I don’t even want to see the cats again. Fat and Thin are far more vivid in my memory than they could ever be on a stranger’s shelf—or even, for all I know, on his pillow. So what do I want from this man whom I will never meet— this man who probably doesn’t even know that I exist—this man who has never even once asked himself where his mother or grandmother found the toys she brought home from work? All I want is to see who he is—to discover what became of the boy whose mother gave him a pair of rubber cats, one fat, one thin, on a fateful au- tumn night in 1980. That’s what I want to ask him: Did they change his life as much as they changed mine? Jacob M. Appel’s most recent books are a collection of essays, “Phoning Home,” and a short story collection, “Scouting for the Reaper.” He is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at theMount Sinai School of Medicine, where he teaches medical ethics and creative writing. *

a penchant for turquoise hats. I remember loving her and I remember her loving me. I still own the butterfly paperweight, one of the few possessions I carry with me from apart- ment to apartment. Alongside this heirloom, there is always an empty space on the shelf, a final resting place perpetually waiting for Fat or Thin. I am like a war mother, keeping free a chair for her missing son. At some point reason eclipses hope, but the opening must remain as a tribute to the long departed. T WO MONTHS AFTER I visited my aunt’s gravesite, I found myself once again on the east coast of Florida for the wedding of a childhood friend. I made the terrible mistake of staying in the Best Western at 1505 Belve- dere Road in West Palm Beach—an error I wish to encourage all readers of this essay to avoid. The motel appeared a suitable enough lodging at first glance—not too pricey—al- though the soda machines didn’t work and assorted household debris floated atop the pool. Lulled into lowering my guard by the lush, subtropical air and the swaying palms, I took the risk of packing only my computer into my trunk and leaving my other belong- ings inside the motel room while I attended the nuptials wearing a tuxedo. How could I ever have anticipated that the housekeeping staff would confuse the day of my departure? When I returned at two a.m., feeling festive but fatigued to the bone, I discovered that the maid had turned over the room in my ab- sence. She’d taken with her my beach clothes, my toiletries, even the prescription medica- tion that I take before traveling on airborne coffins. To this day, despite my repeated pleas, the motel has proven unable to track down my missing belongings. I will not keep an open space of my shelf for them. Of course, as a result of this screw up, I found myself with a day to kill on the Florida coast, lacking so much as a bathing suit to wear or a paperback novel to read. Seized with an irratio- nal impulse, I immediately phoned my mother in New York and asked her for the name of the motel where the rubber cats had disappeared. Which rubber cats? she asked. When she final- ly understood what I wanted to know, it be- came clear that she possessed only the faintest memory of the entire episode. My father didn’t remember the rubber cats at all. That left me no choice but to drive up the seaboard toward St. Augustine—intend on stopping at each roadside motel. I didn’t care about my recently


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the local scene


State of Mind by Greg O’Brien Rye recollections From the Sidelines by Natalie Axton The Ardsley Curling Club The Next Chapter by Amy Ferris Causing a scene at the 36 38

Jet Blue terminal Acts of Kindness by RichMonetti Tommie Cares Foundation School Road Spotlight on High School Theatre Arts Area performances and exhibits Westchester Remembered A gift of gardens for the Jay Heritage House Gallery Celebrations for a cause 41 42 45 46 48

state of mind


W ESTCHESTER COUNTY WAS A MERICAN PIE IN THE ‘60 S . You could drink whiskey in Rye when I was young. Growing up here, just four exits up Route 95 from the Bronx, yet time zones away in culture, one could order the best brand of Bushmills on an 18th birthday. I did, and paid the price at the Five Points on Midland Avenue, now Kelly’s Sea Level bar, owned today by a childhood buddy, Jerry Maguire, and his fam- ily—hardly the alter ego of Tom Cruise. By all measure, Rye is more than a bar stop. It’s a storied place on Long Island Sound at the mouth of New York Harbor, the locus of Rye Beach and Playland where movie scenes from Fatal Attraction with

and potty talk at times. On some days, it’s the only peace I know. Al- zheimer’s brings one home to long-term memory—in my case, to a time when doctors made house calls, nuns wore black sweaty wool 19th cen- tury habits, baseball was king, and a McDonald’s hamburger, fries, and a Coke cost just 25 cents. The memories keep me whole, and serve to stitch a patchwork quilt of experiences that leave indelible images of life that cannot be forgotten. Rye was the quintessence of American Pie . The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and Ritchie Valens were icons in my town, and the night a single engine Beechcraft Bonanza, model 35, serial #D-1019, wing number N3794N, crashed in a Clear Lake, Iowa cornfield on Feb-

Glen Close and Big with Tom Hanks were filmed. I will always remember the scene in Big with Zoltar the Magnificent, the fortune telling machine that trans- ported a young Hanks, the character of Josh Baskin, from childhood to adulthood and back. Where is Zoltar when I need him? Rye is a place of long-term memories for me, a shoring up of a past that can never be forgotten— memories that offer great solace at tangents of a change in life. In Alzheimer’s, brain cells in charge of short-term memory are losing the war. But long- term memory is still safely tucked away in a rela- tively peaceful neighborhood. Those memories are like a loyal, trustworthy friend, an ally to spend time with, at least for now. The significance and yet illusiveness of memory for those with Alzheimer’s is edifying. We all need memories; they define us. Saul Bellow, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner,

ruary 3, 1959 was the day the music died here. I was in the third grade when the plane went down, and even Sister Timothy, a plump, stern, but benevolent Sister of Charity, took note of the loss. We called her the “Big Bopper.” The day the music died was the first communal trag- edy Boomers experienced, a shared loss of innocence to be followed in four years by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and three decades later by the death of Mick- ey Mantle, the “last boy.” No doubt, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost of a generation took the last train to the coast. But we Baby Boomers survived, a bit tougher, more cerebral, and always idealistic. Perhaps we should have seen a flood of disasters and dementias coming, like the rise of high tide on a foggy Long Island Sound. But instead, we chose to clip priceless Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Willie Mays baseball cards

once observed, “They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.” Rye, in so many ways, defines my mother and me, and a legion of ethnic transplants, in its simplicity, idealism, and in the everyday ordi- nary that delineated a time and space, silhouetted by the demographics of a generation—long-term memories to hold tight. Rye was everyone’s town. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was a Norman Rockwell community from central casting, a mix of Stockbridge and Mayberry, R.F.D .—bleached, white picket fences, flannel shirts and faded jeans, Oxford button downs from the Prep Shop on Purchase Street, and some Sax Fifth Avenue suits for the city folk. I’ve never left my childhood; I exist there today, to every extent pos- sible, moments frozen in time of great joy, peace, security, immaturity,

with wooden clothespins to the spokes of our bicycles to mimic the roar of a motorcycle. Made us feel childishly reckless. In street value today, we shredded the collective investment of college tuitions and retirement. And we think we’re so smart. Rye—a place where George Washington slept, Ogden Nash and Ame- lia Earhart lived, and once the seaside retreat of the Manhattan elite— was inhabited decades ago by ethnic, fist-generation working stiffs. To- day, some of the wealthiest, most successful in the nation live here. But to me, Rye simply is home, a place to remember, a patchwork quilt of hometowns across the country. Everyone needs a memory of home, real or imagined; mine is more real than imagined. Innocence, as it was elsewhere, was the coin of Rye in the ’50s and ’60s—a town where first-,


second-, and third-generation Irish and Italian Americans bonded with Jews, connecting on ball fields and sandlots here and in neighboring Port Chester. Young Italians from “the Port,” as we called it in button-down Rye, often cruised Milton Road on Friday nights, beating the shit out of us Irish guys in madras shorts, pink shirts, and deck shoes. I don’t blame them now. I grew up with an ethnic mix in Rye and Port Chester, regular guys like Tommy Casey, Jimmy Fitzpatrick, Vinny Dempsey, Jimmy Dianni, Billy St. John, Tony Keating, Ritchie O’Connell, Al Wilson, Brian Keefe, Chuck Drago, Dino Garr, Carlo Castallano, Rocco LaFaro, Tancredi Abnavoli, Dante Salvate, Ronald Carducci, Ritchie Breese, Micky Di- Carlo, and yes, Ricky Blank, one of the most gifted Jewish shortstops I’ve ever known. Many of us played organized baseball on the In Alzheimer’s, brain cells in charge of short-termmemory are losing the war. But long-term memory is still safely tucked away in a relatively peaceful neighborhood. same teams together after we realized that an in- field rundown was more fun than a slap down— later communally on a hold-your-breath, mix- and-match Rye/Port Chester All-Star Team that twice won the New York State Senior Babe Ruth League Championship with two trips to the Se- nior Babe Ruth League World Series regional tournament—a non sequitur of young jocks if there ever was one. In time, we all became best of friends. Six of our starters signed major league contracts. I was among those who didn’t, but as a catcher, faithfully wore the tools of igno- rance, first presented in the third grade at a Pony League practice. Rye was a melting pot, boiled to perfec- tion by the nuns. The town was predomi- nately WASP—a hornet’s nest, in fact, with three Presbyterian churches and one Catholic church, as well as a synagogue. But you could have fooled us fraternal Catholics, who repro-

duced like rabbits. We were tokens, often looked down upon in social circles, at the country clubs, and in line for groceries at the A&P, but we thought we owned the damn place. And in spirit, we did. Excerpted with permission from ON PLUTO: Inside the Mind of Alzheim- er’s (Codfish Press; September 2014; $15.99). *

Greg O’Brien has more than 35 years of news- paper and magazine experience as a writer, editor, investigative reporter, and publisher. In 2009, he was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. In his memoir, ON PLUTO: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s, he speaks freely about what it is like to lose your mind and to see slices of your very identity slipping away piece by piece.


from the sidelines


ONE OF THE MOST important rules of curling is that the winners console the losers by buying them a round of drinks. Tonight, still winded after my first match at the Ardsley Curling Club, I see how important this rule really is. My team lost, and I’m not sure how or by how many points. I’ve spent the past two hours running up and down a sheet of ice with a broom trying not to fall. Despite my best attempts at getting acclimated to the space – a kind of cold white bowling alley – my eyes are still whiteblinded and my feet are still sliding. Once we stopped “playing” I realized I was starved. Dutifully, gentlemanly, my equivalent on the opposing team, George, asks me what I want to drink. I have no idea. “I’ll take a beer, any beer,” I mumble. I started curling this year on a whim and I didn’t know what to expect. Curling isn’t as high profile in the United States as it is in Canada and references to it draw

blank stares or worse. “You’re doing what?” my mother asked me after I told her I had decided to try it. A coworker said nothing, just looked at me askance and then confessed she and her friends made fun of the curlers during the Winter Olym- pics. She wasn’t alone. Curling gets the most exposure in the United States during the Olympics. It’s been an event in the Winter Olym- pic Games since 1998. And so every four years viewers and journalists “discover” curling. Isn’t it funny? Doesn’t it look strange? Who are these silly people who call themselves athletes? Curling, however, has a long history in the United States and much of that history is centered around New York. The game is a Scottish import that first came to Detroit, then spread to and flourished in New York City. (In philosophy, curling is very much like that other Scottish sporting in- vention, golf.) Early clubs included the St. Andrew’s, the New York Curl- ing Club, the Yonkers, the Thistles, and the Caledonians, and many of them met on the frozen ponds of Central Park for matches or ‘bonspiels.’





According to the New York Historical Society, there was a large enough body of curlers in the United States by 1867 to establish a Grand Na- tional Curling Club of America with headquarters in New York City. In 1869 a founding member of the St. Andrew Curling Club created a gold medal to be awarded to the best curling club in the nation. Still played today, the Gordon Grand National Bonspiel is one of the oldest sporting events in the country. (It’s preceded by the America’s Cup yacht race and a summer bonspiel called the Bell Quoit Silver Medal.) The Ardsley Curling Club, (ACC), located on the grounds of the Ard- sley Country Club, is a legacy of this early curling history. The club was founded by a member of the St. Andrews Club in 1932. The clubhouse at the Ardsley Country Club opened in 1967. The New York Caledo- nians relocated to Westchester in order to share space with ACC. The other original clubs are gone. George has gone into the warm room, the club’s cozy living room that


overlooks the ice, to get my drink, and I’m watching Dino and Jim clean the ice after our game. The ACC has three sheets. We’ve been playing on the far right sheet and are the last curlers to finish. The two men tell me they’ve been curling together for five years and that explains the repartee they had during the game. Dino’s been telling me to sweep the ice hard on Jim’s throws so that “he’ll feel better about them” not making it to the house, the scoring section of the ice sheet. Jim has explained to me where to stand during the game and how to follow the strategy. I was playing lead, the first person to deliver the rock. Part of my job was preparing the rocks for the skip, who has to travel the length of the ice to get to the hack, a kind of starting block. I came to the club during a post-Winter Olympics open house. ACC has two open houses a year. Anyone curious about the sport can register for a 30-minute slot on the ice and learn from members how to safely

working. When he was free, George would come to the club to watch. Eventually, he decided to try it. James, another married curler at the table, asks, “Why is it so much fun? My wife and I couldn’t figure it out.” Driving home from curling in their first year they made a list of all the ways curling was fun. Meeting new people topped the list. So did making your shot. In addition to married couples, there are lots of Canadians. (Perhaps Jane’s strategy isn’t so crazy.) We have at least three sitting at my table dur- ing dinner, causing one curler to launch into the old joke, “Did you hear how many Canadians it takes to form a world curling league?” His tone is light but his point is serious: Canadians dominate the world circuit. In Canada it’s possible to be a professional curler. Here in the United States, even the Olympic team is fielded by very talented amateurs. The Ardsley Club has its fair share of elite curlers and has hosted qualifying rounds

get on and off the ice, how to throw the rocks, and how to sweep. In a non-Olym- pic year the open house might attract 30 people, according to George. In the open house held after the 2014 Sochi games, 900 people showed up. About a third of those, including myself, signed up for Learn to Curl, a package of more in-depth lessons that include membership and en- rollment in a league. (The club also offers open house rentals for corporate events and private parties.) That was in the spring. In the fall I signed up for the Saturday afternoon league, which pairs new curlers with more experienced team members and includes dinner. This league demonstrates what ACC president Jeff Casper wrote to all of us new members: curlers are incredibly social. After the game the curlers retreat to the warm room for dinner. Tonight, dinner has been prepared by Jon and Judith, a married couple who have been curling for a few years. It’s a pork and cabbage dish and it’s been warming in the downstairs kitchen. Those of us who want to have

for the US Olympic trials. The near wall along the ice is lined with banners con- gratulating the club’s more accomplished members, including Bill Stopera, a U.S. men’s national champion in 2012. Dur- ing dinner people come by and tell me to watch Joyance Meechai, the 2014 US mixed doubles champion who is practic- ing on the ice while we eat. The form, the control, the focus are all exact. “They’re playing a different game,” says George of the club’s elite curlers. What he says makes curling so enjoyable is that “Almost anyone can learn to curl in an hour or so.” But this statement is greeted with rounds of disagreement. Ev- eryone acknowledges that it’s easy to pick up the basics, but mastery takes much more dedication. League organizer, Lau- ra Hill, explains that like anything else, you’ll get more out of curling with lots of practice and better fitness. But still the naysayers at the table insist, “You can be old and fat and still curl!” This is pointed to as one of the pluses of curling. And so I have to ask: do

dinner donate $6 to the pot. The members who made dinner are re- imbursed. The rest goes to the bartender. (The bar is managed by the Ardsley Country Club.) During dinner I ask my fellow league members what brought them to the sport. “I curl because I’m looking to meet a big, hot Canadian,” jokes Jane, a thirty-something woman from New Jersey. Jane, the most stylish curler in our league, has short dark hair with green streaks through it and wears Van high top sneakers she had customized into curling shoes. Armen, a middle-aged curler and film buff originally from the Bronx, says he looked up curling years ago in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. “I wanted to know, who brings brooms to a sporting event?” he laughs. Once he tried it, he was hooked. Many of the curlers joined because of their wives. This is the case for George, a retired lobbyist. George’s wife started curling when he was still

the social curlers consider curling a sport, or a game? “It’s a sport! It’s in the Olympics, so it’s a sport,” insists one member. “But what, really, is a sport?” asks another. Dino pipes up: “I got into an argument with a woman about whether curling was a sport. I told her that anything that requires physical dexter- ity and is scored is a sport. Running is not a sport. It’s an activity.” The woman was a triathlete, and she took umbrage. “So by that definition, golf is a sport?” asks one man who questions the dexterity required of golfers. “I was watching sport fishing on television the other day,” says John. “They catch the fish, measure them, then throw them back in.” “Sport fishing is de facto SPORT fishing!” The beer tastes very good.


Natalie Axton is a writer in North Salem, New York.


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