Morrie’s Stories

Some of my happiest moments of childhood came when my father told stories. Sometimes he spoke about his childhood in Losie in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. More often he retold bible stories, making one of my uncles a villain or relating the characters to contemporary events. After he retired, in the 1970’s he wrote a memoir and also wrote and illustrated his bible stories. He was a trained draftsman and architect; you can clearly see this in his writing and drawings.

Unfortunately he chose a cheap, children’s copy book for this effort. The paper has become brown and brittle. I scanned each page and worked on them in Photoshop. IMG_0571Note the tape on the left edge. The book had already begun to deteriorate while he was still alive; he repaired everything with tape.

The book I made is 8.75″wide by 7.5″ high, covered in olive green book cloth that refuses to photograph, and bound with a link stitch top and bottom and long stitches between.


I still have the disintegrating composition book. Can’t bring myself to throw it out.

Altered Book

I took a class about altered books at the Center for the Arts here in Pittsburgh. The book I chose to alter was a rare book catalog I had picked up somewhere in New York. It became the first book I made using posts from my first blog: Moving Music.


Moving Music was about my move from New Jersey to Pittsburgh. I decided to use fatunderscoreoldunderscoreartist as my user name and continued using it for a couple of years until I realized there were porn sites showing fat women and my blog was listed on one of them. You never know what attracts people.


I printed out everything in the blog and pasted it onto the book and using various techniques, covered all of the text and some of the printed pictures.



I’m not proud of this book, keeping it only because it has the blog. If the blog is still online, I could do a better job. Somehow it’s not that important.

This is book #11.



Amazing what can be found on the Internet

My writing class finished with me writing only two stories in the five weeks. The first was a revised version of my 9/11 story. The second needs lots of revisions. If I ever go back to it, I’ll post it. One of the suggestions from the class was to create a timeline, which I have started. Simultaneously I began going through two of the boxes I never finished unpacking. One of them contains calendars from as far back as 40 years ago. I have almost thrown them out several times, but can’t seem to do it. Now I am using them to fill out my timeline and then throwing them out. Enough already.

I’m happy to have some of the information. Unfortunately, I never thought I would refer to them and so used lots of abbreviations and cryptic numbers. In 1990 I frequently noted something called Iflp, or maybe Lflp. I suspect it was an exercise facility, but who knows. Another abbreviation I used frequently, OCWW, appears online: Off-campus writer’s workshop. So I’ve been attempting to write for a long time.

Another wonderful thing I found on the net, thanks to a member of the Pittsburgh Book Arts Collective, is this great video using an altered book.

There are more great videos on their website: All of the videos are short, perfect for my attention span. Some of them are interesting enough to make me want to see the entire piece. I don’t find much in video form that makes me feel that way.

Eleven years ago

September 11, 2001, was also a Tuesday, a beautiful autumn day. My brother, Arvin, and sister-in-law, Carol, were visiting from Florida and I took a few days off to be with them. They were staying in a hotel about a mile from my apartment, which overlooked the George Washington bridge. We were supposed to take the boat trip around Manhattan, but went on Monday instead, also a beautiful day and not the predicted rainy mess.

I woke up my usual 5:30 but stayed in bed another hour or so, enjoying my leisure and looking forward to spending more time with Arvin and Carol. My constant early morning companion, the New York Public Radio station, was speaking calmly to me as I drank my tea and ate my breakfast. It seemed like a perfect day–until just before 9 when the announcer said in a calm voice, that a plane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I don’t remember exactly what he said. I think he expressed some confusion, but no panic, not until the second plane crashed into the other tower.

I don’t remember the exact chain of events. Traffic backed up on the highway crossing the bridge. Somehow, immediately, Manhattan was closed, isolated, no one could move and the congestion remained all day and into the night. I called my brother and found they didn’t know what happened, only knew the highway outside of the hotel was filled with noisy, horn-blowing vehicles. They packed up and left, only to spend most of the day trying to leave New Jersey in the other direction. No one went anywhere that day.

I was alone in my apartment, horrified and grief stricken–almost feeling paralyzed. From my terrace I could see all the backed up traffic, and in the other direction, the smoke clouding the towers twenty miles away. Later I could see the smoke and no towers, smell the terrible, chemical, electrical odor I have never experienced before or after. Much later, when people spoke about their fears of further attacks I realized my mind never went there. I dealt only with the moment, never thought about what else might happen. Finally, late in the afternoon, I got in the car and drove 5 miles west to be with my grandchildren. It took only 15 minutes to get to them. It took an hour and a half to get home; I lived too close to Manhattan.

This was my year to think about fear, or maybe lack of imagination. I don’t anticipate fear; I certainly feel it when I am confronted with danger. After the attack one of my Chicago cousins asked me if I was afraid of living so close to Manhattan. I thought about it for a long time and realized my only fear was of being hit by a truck as I made my daily trip across the bridge.

Last month I took that same boat trip. Here are some pictures of New York Harbor with the Freedom Tower rising where the World Trade Center towers had so dominated the skyline.

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The Wedding

I had a terrible foreboding of us three elders ancients, Richard, Robert and I, bringing our 58 years of memories together and being overwhelmed. I haven't seen Robert for 21 years and that was OK. But it didn't work that way. He didn't recognize me, or Robin. He was unusually quiet; his normal demeanor being loud voice and bad jokes. I only saw him smile once at this very joyous occasion of his son's marriage. I don't know what was wrong. 

Then I got very lucky, again. When we first sat down Robert and his other  sons weren't there; the empty chairs were next to me. I got up and went to the ladies room. When I returned I found the people who originally sat next to Richard had moved next to me. Robert sat next to Richard and across the table from me. My seat partner was the groom's stepfather, a lovely man I had met several times before. Memories abounded, but they were not unpleasant. Of course, none of us recognized each other. Time had clearly done its terrible work.

I had a chance to talk to Robert's other two sons, whom I hadn't seen since they were toddlers. One was particularly charming; I was pleased.

As for the wedding: the bride was beautiful (I think she is probably always beautiful); the ambiance was lovely; food was good; drinks abundant; music too loud; everyone had a good time. 

Looking back

Just finished Barbara Kingsolver's newest, The Lacuna. Her fictionalized protagonist interacts with the real history of the early twentieth century: Russian revolution, Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and finally, the anti-communist witch hunters in Washington. I don't know much about Russian history, but the witch hunters had a profound affect on me. I was 16 years old and started college in 1950 at the height of all the madness. The college seemed to be noted for its communist sympathies (the chancellor was one of the few who stood up early on to the various investigations), and my father was worried about what this would do to me. He made me promise not to get involved and not to sign any petitions. Did I know any Communists? Maybe. Was I afraid? Absolutely!

I obeyed him until I finished school, after all he was paying the bills. Then I decided I would never act out of fear again. I sign any petitions that sound reasonable. I write my Congress people often, and tell them exactly what I think. But I have given up marching. After months of marching against the Vietnam war, and being photographed (by the FBI) so often I have no soul left, I decided the whole thing was useless. 

All during the Bush administration I felt we were headed back to the same mentality that made Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover into heroes. I still feel like we're going there when I hear Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, etc. expounding on patriotism, being an American and denigrating Obama and the Democratic Party.

Going over the Constitution with my Somali refugee I realized we have diluted the power of that amazing document. How about the first amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

We have made religion a major concern of government, freedom of speech and freedom of the press into a mockery of rational thinking and reasonable ideas. And here in Pittsburgh we have more than a few questions about the right of the people to peaceably assemble. My student has many questions about our right to bear arms. He's afraid of his neighbors and their guns.

Have you read the preamble:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect
union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the
common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings
of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America.

Sometimes I think it should read: We the lobbyists of the United States, in order to pursue more perfect profits, …And how do you insure domestic tranquility when you don't know who is carrying the submachine gun? Explaining all this to him was not easy. I'm glad he passed the test and we can go on to something easier.

Hanukkah bush

Alice, the bush, as I promised, and aren't I terrific not to take the day off.

Once upon a time (my favorite story opener), when everyone
wanted to melt into the pot, when Hollywood stars had no ethnicity and being a
wasp was the ultimate goal, when Christmas meant color and lights and not so
much commercial frenzy, Jewish children wanted the same kind of celebration,
lights and color and trees with beautiful ornaments and presents.

Many Jews wanted to forget the war, forget the holocaust,
melt into the blond, blue eyed, Christian melting pot so they said, “The
Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. We can have a Christmas tree and we
will call it a Hanukkah bush.”

Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday celebrating the victory
of an army of religious Jews against their Greek rulers, 2200 years ago, who
wanted them to adopt Greek culture.

After three years of fighting, in
the year 3597, or about 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees victoriously reclaimed the
temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah. Next they prepared the temple for
rededication — in Hebrew, Hanukkah means "dedication." In the temple
they found only enough purified oil to kindle the temple light for a single
day. But miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days. 

Because of its gift giving tradition and proximity to
Christmas, Hanukkah has become an important Jewish holiday in the US. As
awareness of the Holocaust grew, and people like Steven Spielberg and Mel
Brooks took pride in their Jewishness and didn’t become
WASPS, I think we have become more conscious of our Jewish culture and less
likely to have Hanukkah bushes with their mixed messages.You can find more information about the Hanukkah bush at

Me and Ayn Rand

This is the story I'm writing for my memoir class. I'm having fun with this after all.

I am embarrassed to confess the influence Ayn Rand has had
on my life, so I haven’t told this story often. I prefer to think it was all
because of Gary Cooper as Howard Roark.

Saturday afternoon was always movie time. There were five
theaters in walking distance, but we usually went to the Terminal, a Balaban
& Katz 1920’s picture palace, named after the elevated train terminus just
down the block. It was the best theater with almost first run features.
day we were seeing The Fountainhead,
taken from Ayn Rand’s book of the same name, about an individualistic Frank
Lloyd Wright type architect who refuses to compromise his work or his ideals,
regardless of the money involved.

Sitting in the dark, totally enchanted by awesome Gary
Cooper and beautiful Patricia Neal, my unhappy, depressed 15 year old self, certain high school was a terrible compromise, totally bought into the idea
of taking action to be true to herself. By the time the movie finished I was so
excited and so convinced I had found a solution to my misery I couldn’t sit
through the second feature. I did not want to think about anything else as I
waited for my friends in the lobby.

Wanting desperately to be an artist, maybe even an
architect, the movie affected me deeply. I was convinced my life until then had
been a terrible compromise; I had to change things. I thought about all my
alternatives and realized there was only one that was acceptable: I could go on
to college after one more year of high school.

My friend Eva, whom I met in classes at the Art Institute,
went to U high, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago. From her I
learned U High was only two years and then students could go on to college at the university. Also, the university would accept students from any high school
after two years. Robert Maynard Hutchins, Chancellor of the university,
believed students didn’t learn anything in the last two years of high school. I felt I was a living
embodiment of his belief.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. First, I had to
convince my parents, who thought I was too young to go to college. Then, of
course I had to be accepted at the university. My high school teachers and
principal hated the university; I had trouble getting recommendations; Hutchins
arrows had hit their mark. Adding another layer of angst, Hutchins went before
one of the communist witch-hunting committees and defended his faculty,
assuring the committee that being a communist would not be grounds for the dismissal
of his professors. It was a very difficult year, but I prevailed. Three months
after my sixteenth birthday I went to college. I learned how to read critically and how to think. I did not become a communist. I met my husband there, our
daughter met her husband there and now both of my grandchildren are going
there. You can see that Ayn Rand and Gary Cooper certainly influenced my life.

Nostalgia time, again

Sometimes when I fly somewhere I feel like I've entered an altered reality. That's how I spent my weekend. Friday morning, too early, Steve, Robin and I flew to Chicago where we met Renee, who flew in from NYC, and went out to the university for parent's weekend. I spent most of the weekend thinking "it used to be this way" or "I was here when." I really don't like thinking this way, but the university was one of the good places from my past. It's easy for me to go there even though I had to keep telling myself to forget it.

We flew into Midway Airport, Chicago's first airport, unused for many years, now busy, bustling and unrecognizable for me. The first time I flew, in 1953, was from Midway. Those were the days when for entertainment you would park on 55th Street and watch the planes land. I flew to Los Angeles and spent 21 days with Aunt Flo and many other relatives, among them two of my mother's brothers. But that's another story.

Renee and I stayed downtown. There is almost no decent accommodation near the university. We got on a bus to go to the south side; again there was that sense of altered reality. I remember much of the south side of the city as a barren wasteland, destroyed by the urban renewal craze and further devastated by the riots after Martin Luther King's assassination. There are still some blighted areas, but much has been rebuilt. Not for the first time I was awed by new, good-looking buildings.

The bus ride added to my sense of altered reality. Chicago is still a segregated city. We had the only white faces on the bus, and the only white faces we saw until we arrived at the university. Although the bus was not crowded that anonymous, recorded voice kept telling the nonexistent people to move to the back of the bus. I don't want to give the impression Chicago is completely segregated. I think it's possible for African Americans to live where they want and where they can afford. At least I hope so. It seems like it's us, white people (Chicagoans) who don't want to live with them. Pittsburgh is supposed to be equally segregated, but I live in an integrated neighborhood and I enjoy it.

We went to a reception in Charna's dorm at the resident master's apartment. Both the dorm and the apartment were much better than any place either Robin or I lived. My only perk was maid service; Robin had no perks that I could see. We all went out for dinner at a Mexican vegetarian restaurant in another Chicago ghetto neighborhood. Saturday, more disorienting bus riding, then Humanities Day with a full schedule of classes we could attend (keep us out of the kids' hair). Saturday night dinner at Cedars, a Mediterranean place in a shopping center that replaced the building (and many others) R and I lived in when we were first married. I told this to Charna, then realized how silly I was. She couldn't possibly care about something that probably hasn't existed for forty years.

Sunday, Renee and I went to dim sum in Chinatown with Betty, another nostalgia trip; Betty and I, and our spouses did this often. We went back to the university and hung out until it was time to go to the airport. Now it's like it never happened.

Shopping, again

Everything changes, but still it remains the same. I'm staying with a cousin, about a half mile from the Old Orchard Shopping Center. For seventeen years, while Robin was growing up, we lived about a mile from Old Orchard. It's a much different place today, more shops, less class, but well within my comfort zone. I went there this morning and bought three more pairs of pants, size 16. Whoopee!

I always feel like I should know people when I walk around here. After all, I lived in and around Chicago for 61 years. I search the faces of all the old women knowing full well recognition is unlikely, but always hoping for the magic of a familiar face. It was not to be.

My cousin's wife is related to a man who briefly worked for Richard thirty  plus years ago. He happened to be in Chicago and came here tonight. So that was today's nostalgia.