I’m Too Young to Be This Old

I’ve been crawling around in cemeteries like a worm lately, and delving into the history of my temple’s cemetery committees; their records, doings, procedures.


City historian Mary McTamaney took me on a walk last weekend around Crystal Lake, a largely unknown, well-hidden dammed pond that would make a great starting point for a hike up Snake Hill. She told me to get the Record to investigate some Hasidim and Masons (now, there’s an unholy alliance!) who are trying to get the city to sell them the lake and the area around it for “affordable housing.”

Next day, I went back and took photos.


Because about 5 minutes from the “trailhead” (a little parking area on Temple Avenue; you walk past some concrete barriers, and there’s the lake), off to the left, on a steep, overgrown hill, there is a hundred-year-old, abandoned Jewish cemetery. The most recent stone had the person’s year of death as 1916. Most of the stones that I could read (they were all at least partly in Hebrew; some have some English also) were from the mid- to late-1800s. One, I believe, is the headstone of “Broadway” Sam Levinson’s mother. Broadway Sam Levinson was a merchant on Newburgh’s Broadway for several decades; I remember his thriving store and how he attended all the city council meetings when he headed up the Broadway Businessmen’s Association in the 1950s, when my dad was city manager.


I wanted pictures so I could study the Hebrew on these stones and puzzle out the names. I wanted to pull the prickly plants away from the headstones, yank the weeds and remove the beer bottles and the graffiti from the stone wall surrounding the cemetery. I’ve got to find out how to do that, maybe from the monument company in NewWindsor that Temple Beth Jacob uses to clean graffiti off the headstones at its Big Rock Cemetery.


The question is: Who’s responsible for maintaining an abandoned cemetery in the city? The law in New York state says towns are responsible for abandoned public cemeteries within their borders; but Newburgh is a city, not a town. Also, this is a religious, not a public, cemetery. It may be that my own temple is responsible under the law, or Agudas Achim, the other temple in Newburgh; or maybe even both, if it was a “joint” cemetery.


In my opinion, I’m responsible. Here’s why: there are Jewish graves untended, overgrown, and headstones broken, overturned, and so covered in lichen and moss that the names are barely readable.


And I’m 59 now, and it’s almost Rosh HaShanah.


I called a bunch of people, including the city corporation counsel, three folks from our temple and Mary again, and I visited with our new rabbi. I also alerted my pals Allan Gaul from the Mid-Hudson Times and Doyle Murphy from the Record, hoping they’ll bulldog this til they find some answers.


They say that, to be happy, you need self-respect, someone to love and a project to be working on. If that last bit is true, then I should be practically delirious.

Now I Can Die in Peace

On Monday, Sept. 8, 2008 (you can look it up), thanks to moi, the Times Herald-Record used the word “nifty” in a Page One cutline. Here in the Hudson Valley, we occasionally are so low on news on Sundays (no government offices are open, you can’t reach anyone; sometimes people even forget to have accidents or fires) that we have to steal a Page One photo from Sports for our Monday editions. That’s what happened on Sunday, Sept. 7, when i had to write the caption for a huge Page One photo of two white-helmeted, white-suited motorcyclists — they looked like they’d come straight from the microchip-manufacturing room at Intel — zooming neck-and-neck around a local track.

Having no information except what the photographer had provided — the names of the two riders and the fact that one, who went on to win, was in the act of passing the other, who’d been the leader — i led with the sentence, “It was a nifty inside move.”

Don’t wince. At 10:30 p.m., i was glad to think of anything. i tried to imagine what the track announcers might say if they were describing that scene as it was happening, and for some reason the word “nifty” came to mind. (No, not the National Federation of Temple Youth; the other “nifty.” My dictionary says it’s an Americanism from the Civil War era, “of obscure origin.” It has a 1950s-ish ring, doesn’t it? Something Beaver would say to Wally. But i was a kid in the 1950s, and, believe me, we never said, “nifty.”

Anyway, having dragged “nifty” out of retirement for a curtain call, i can now only hope it will return to obscurity.

And the Winners Are…

… All of you! There are no losers in this blog: It’s like 7th-grade gym class in the suburbs.

I must, however, award extra credit for creativity to Ali, for “Skanker” (why didn’t i think of that?) and to VABaby for “Herpe.” And now, let us all pray that the little tyke, whatever its name may be, will be raised by a stay-at-home grandmother with nothing else to do.

Name Sarah Palin’s New Grandchild!

I know, i know: All the good names are already taken. Sarah Palin already has kids named, and i’m not making this up: Tracker, Trigger, Piper, Bristol, and Willow.

Here’s YOUR chance to name her grandchild by her 17-year-old, unmarried daughter, Bristol, pregnant by a boy whom one wag calls “Sex on Skates.”

Simply choose from among the list below, and reply by posting a comment. I’ll tally the results and let Sarah know what We, the People have decided her daughter should call her kid. Here are your 5 choices in each gender category:

If a boy: Trapper, Trasher, Trailer, Sluggo, Sailor.

If a girl: Easy, Flake, Polar, Poplar, Prudence. I was going to add, “Buttermilk,” since she apparently likes Horses of Famous Cowboys as names, but “Trigger” may have been an aberration, as she’d already had a chance, 18 years ago, to have a “Silver,” and instead went with the always-safe “Tracker.”

As Albany’s Mayor Corning used to say: Vote early and often!

Sarah Palin

My first thoughts on old Sarah: Just because you’ve got breasts, that doesn’t make you a woman. A woman is a person who relates more to people than to things; who puts other people, and her relationships with other people, above herself. Yet the governor of Alaska has sacrificed the quality of life of generations of Alaskans to cozy up to Big Oil, by championing drilling in the National Wildlife Refuge.

Sarah Palin isn’t a woman; she’s a Republican with breasts.

The Verizon Monologues: How I Got Through

 “Your call is very important to us.”

I’m sure it is. I’m sure it is the very sun in your goddam sky.


“Please stay on the line and our next available representative will be with you shortly.”

This can’t be good for my karma. On-hold messages make me sarcastic, and my therapist says sarcasm is a form of aggression. He says it shows that I’m angry. (Angry? Why should I be angry? Just because I have bitten through my lower lip again, that doesn’t mean I’m fucking angry!)


“Please continue to hold while our representatives serve other customers. Meanwhile, please enjoy the music.”

Enjoy this, you … . No. Sorry; sorry. What I mean is, I’m curious about who might have told you you could call this crap “music.” It makes me anxious. It makes my hair itch. What is it, anyway? It sounds like Lawrence Welk’s band mangling early Beatles tunes. Paul McCartney should sue your synthesizers off. Why should callers have to be assaulted like this, while we’re already being tortured by your phone system? Haven’t you punished me enough, by interrupting my Internet service? Isn’t it enough for you to know that I’ve had to listen to a recorded inanity every 18 seconds for 15 minutes straight? Do I have to hear electronic “music,” now, too?


“We’re sorry; all available representatives are still busy helping other customers.”

Then why do you call them “available”? I bet this is how they’re “helping”: By making callers put their lives on hold and wander like the Israelites through your voice-mail system, which they all know will end with their giving up a day’s pay to wait for a surly repairman. I can just hear that cheerful, awful recorded voice: “Press or say ‘1’ if you want your repairman to arrive 5 hours earlier than scheduled; press or say ‘2’ if you want him 5 hours later than scheduled.” Those will be the only options. And meanwhile, will you deliver refunds for the lack of service? Gee, no.


“We apologize for the wait.”

OK, here’s what an apology is: It’s a statement you make to someone after you feel sorry about something, and know why. Example: If your kid hits his sister he might apologize by saying, “I’m sorry, because I know how that feels and I don’t like it when someone does that to me.” If she doesn’t believe him, by the way, the apology has not been accepted, which means their relationship will not resume as it was.


“While you’re waiting, would you like to hear about an opportunity to save hundreds of dollars on your annual phone bill?”

Would you like to hear about an opportunity to call 911 while i scream and die of apoplexy with the phone in my hand? Because if not, I’m going to need to speak to a real person, real soon. “Transferring,” you say? Hey, terrific! Thanks so much! You have a great day, OK?

A Labor-Day lament for a fine pejorative: “Rat Fink”

This Labor Day, i have been thinking about the sad decline of the phrase, “rat fink.” Every Mad Magazine reader (is Mad still around?) over age 50 knows the phrase well, and many of us used it, or its little brother, “fink,” quite frequently throughout the 1950s and ’60s. And then, like the crumbling U.S. labor movement, it fell into disuse until, today, almost no one under 50 knows what it means.

Just like no one knows what “union” means.

A fink is a traitor; an informer. He’s the guy who, when you come back 5 minutes late from your break, yells so the bosses can hear him, “Hey! You’re late!” He’s the dude who tells on you when you send around a sarcastic e-mail about a manager’s decision. (Everybody else is laughing; he’s in the manager’s office, squealing.) More to the point, he’s the guy who gladly uses all the holidays, sick leave, personal leave, overtime, bereavement days, vacation and health insurance the union has negotiated, but grouses about paying dues (or the equivalent) and then, when a strike has to be called, crosses the picket-line so he can keep on cashing paychecks while everyone else is sacrificing theirs for the good of all.

In the 1950s, more than a third of the workers in the U.S. were organized and represented by unions. Sure, the hourly pay was low compared with today’s, but in 1958, we had to work a lot fewer hours to buy a car than we do today. We also had to work a lot fewer hours to buy the gas to make that car go. And when unions were strong, a company’s chief executive typically didn’t earn hundreds or thousands times more than the firm’s average worker.

In the 1970s, driven by greed, companies started moving their operations south, and overseas. Now they could rake in big profits and not share them with their employees. Without unions, they didn’t have to provide either decent pay or health insurance. They could violate workers’ human rights, punish those who spoke out, and reward the rat finks.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Say what you will about this quaintly out-of-date expression, but we’ll know things are better in the U.S. when workers once again unite to fight for justice and dignity, and the term “rat fink” is a well-known epithet of shame.