Archive for December, 2013

Feature Writer Karen Crowder – A New Year’s Gathering When the Unexpected Happens

As one year glides towards another, we expect New Year’s Day will run smoothly, but this is not always the case.

New Year’s Eve of 1990 was festive. I was a new bride, living in what would become our home for almost twelve years. It was on Marden Street, in Fitchburg, surrounded with woods and trees, secluded from downtown noise and traffic. Almost every year we would have New Year’s Eve parties. New Year’s Eve 1990 was my first time hosting a party with my new husband Marshall.

In late November after Thanksgiving, we began discussing and preparing for this event. It would be the height of every holiday season while living at Marden Street. Even before Christmas, we knew who was coming. I made a delicious and decadent chocolate mousse. As New Year’s Eve approached, my excitement about hosting this party overshadowed my shortcomings in cooking and kitchen skills.

Monday, December 31, ushered in a cold New Year’s Eve. At eight PM five guests were ensconced in comfortable chairs and a couch in our cozy, warm, carpeted living room. The new CD player was softly playing, and the new Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments and had gifts waiting to be opened below.

Two blind couples from the Boston area and our friend visiting her home in Lunenburg were conversing and catching up on each other’s lives. With assistance, I served everyone crackers and chips with delicious store bought dips. While enjoying drinks, especially the citrus sparklers, we finally opened gifts. Everyone was pleased about the thoughtful gifts of fragrance from Bermuda and house wares bought from a new store. Everyone again congratulated us about our new marriage and our lovely home.

Before midnight, we took orders for pizzas, which were delivered from a pizza house in Leominster. Two surprise guests came to celebrate the beginning of 1991. Soon after they left, we retired. Our plan for New Year’s Day was to relax and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

However, while enjoying breakfast, the motor to our heating and cooling vents died. Marshall and I could not believe this had happened for the second time in a week. We called our local heating company, praying they would be open on New Year’s Day. After patiently explaining our situation of having eight disabled guests at our home, we hoped someone would come out on this on this bitterly cold January day. A sympathetic repairperson was at Marden Street in half an hour. He took one look at our furnace and was able to diagnose the problem. The motor running the vents was a rebuilt one. He promptly installed a new motor. We were grateful the company was open on New Year’s Day. It was wonderful to have heat again on this brisk, cold January afternoon.

My husband had digestive problems and was in no mood to go to one of our favorite local restaurants. He encouraged us to go out, but I said, “honey, we are staying right here with you.”

Despite this small change in plans, we had a wonderful and memorable day. We ordered fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits and coleslaw from Popeye’s, a chain which then had a takeout restaurant in Leominster. With Marshall’s instructions, I began operating the CD player. We all listened to classical movie scores, Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

That evening, we also listened to a Steven King movie, “It,” which Marshall had recorded from TV. We ended this day by having chocolate mousse and coffee. Everyone loved the rich textured chocolate mousse and wished the day did not have to end.

The next day, after a large breakfast, our guests reluctantly left our cozy home to go back to their apartments in the Boston area.

Over the next 11 years, I would become an accomplished cook and hostess. We would have many summer, birthday and holiday gatherings at our home. It is a good thing we do not know the future. Of all the guests at the 1990 New Year’s Eve party only three of us are still alive.

I hope all Ziegler writers and readers have a joyous, healthy and successful 2014.

Feature Writer Jane Kronheim – The Cat Who Liked Sargento Cheese and Crab Rangoon

This time of year when people are rushing around, crowding each other at the various department stores in search of that desired object or masses of “stuff”, I think fondly of one particular gift that I had the good fortune to embrace almost 20 years ago. This happened when a friend had to vacate her apartment, find various homes for all of her “critters” and then move on to some unknown location.

I was visiting her when all of her “stuff” was strewn around the apartment, when I noticed this mischievous black cat, “Twinkle Toes”, standing on top of the box spring of her bed which had been leaning against a hallway wall. I took one look at this feline character who was flirting with me as he rubbed his nose against the padding, and I suddenly heard myself saying: “I’ll take him!!” I had never had a cat before and while I was growing up we only had dogs: one beloved Irish Setter named Maeve and another smaller pooch named Heidi, a schnauzer. We never had cats.

I don’t know why. Most people will tell you that a house is not a home until there is a cat present somewhere in the environment. I can tell you now, after nearly 18 years with the “Twinks,” it is true. This little guy, who had been abandoned somewhere on Beacon Hill in Boston, was discovered by my friend’s daughter who heard the wee kitty meowing in an alley way. She gathered him up and brought him north to New Hampshire where my friend took him in, along with her loving kitty Mousy, a strange Iguana named Sweet Pea and two ferrets whose names I can’t recall anymore.

But “Twinkle Toes” stole my heart and for many years he was my constant companion. As an artist, I was entranced by this little black kitty who became the muse for many of my paintings and drawings. I even penned a children’s story about the cat who loved to wander in the woods with me as I collected branches for my woodstove. I took numerous photos of the “Twinks” and came up with so many different names for him that I often wondered if my friends thought me mad. He became the Twinkmeister, the poopacatta, Mr.Pussywillows, kitty literature and jaws and claws or prickly paws. The list went on and on.

Along with the unusual nicknames, my special kitty had some favorite foods. They included Sargento Swiss cheese, crab Rangoon, and Kate’s Real Butter. After I would butter the toast in the morning, I let “Twinkie” enjoy a breakfast meal by allowing him to gently lick my “butter fingers.” I think you can just imagine how sweet that was. Over time, a wonderful man returned to my life and Twinkle Toes became a “jelly cat” or very jealous of this gentleman’s presence.
When Twinks and I were on the sofa and this boyfriend would approach, Mr. Twinks would make a scoffing sound or a low grunt at this man’s presence. I had never heard this before so I was shocked at how possessive this cat had become.

Later on my friend and I would laugh with glee remembering those moments as the kitty would come to my rescue on the sofa, curling around on my upper torso in total possessive stance. Eventually Twinkle Toes made friends with my boyfriend and learned to accept him as his own.
Of course it would never be the same, but this gorgeous black cat remained with us till the bitter end when one night Twinkie could no longer breath and met his demise on the basement stairs.

Heartsick I ran to his aid, only to realize that my 19 year old kitty was gone. In tears and sadness I was able to get the kitty to the proper animal hospital where they prepared a special cremation for my Twinkle Toes.

Within a week, I had received a letter from this place, featuring a card with a little purple ribbon, a small poem and the kitty’s paw print emblazoned on the card. I was a total wreck, emerging from the post office, unable to stop the tears from streaming down my face.

This special kitty was indeed a long standing gift I gave to myself, allowing him to come into my small quiet rural world, up on a hill in New Hampshire. Who says that small animals have no meaning or place in our lives? They are the best gift that can possibly exist for all of us.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – The Year of the Book

Access to the written word is a fundamental right, but if you have a print disability, this is not the case. This statement was very true a year ago. We certainly have not reached full access, but we’re making great progress. Over the past year, a group of mobile apps and a UN treaty have changed the lives of those who struggle to read print.

Getting access to the over one million titles in the Amazon Kindle library has been a rocky road. First Amazon decided to allow the publishers to turn off the text to speech on any book. Then, they only provided minimal accessibility on the Kindle and made no moves to make their third party apps accessible. Thankfully though, in just over six months, accessibility has come to the Kindle iOS app, they’ve designed a new Kindle Fire that is accessible out of the box, and the Kindle Android app is becoming more usable.

Being able to buy and read books from the Kindle library is amazing, but just as amazing is finally getting access to NLS books on the iOS platform. Even though this doesn’t add to the number of books available, it greatly increases the likelihood that people can access all of their books on one device. The developers of the app also made sure to make the interface very similar to the free NLS player, making the transition to the app smooth for users.

The final app that deserves a mention for helping improve access to the written word is Voice Dream Reader. This app, which now supports all DAISY formats as well as many other text formats, is one of the best reading apps available. Not only can users read files from multiple sources, they can also listen to the files with a number of high quality text to speech voices.

All of these apps have greatly increased the number of published works that are accessible, but, in many cases, the works are only available to those of us in the US. This is where the UN treaty comes in. The WIPO treaty was signed earlier this year aiming to make the printed word more accessible around the world. When the treaty is ratified, countries will legally be allowed to make published work available in alternative formats such as braille or DAISY without being punished for copyright infringement.

It is my hope that this year was just the beginning of what is to come for those with print disabilities and that one day soon, we’ll be able to say that we have full access to the written word. It is also my hope that the mobile platform increases the use of braille in the US and around the world. Being able to read anything we choose is within our reach.

Letter from the Editor – Week of December 30, 2013

Hello Everyone,

If you celebrated Christmas last week I hope you had a very merry one. I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays and I wish you a very happy and safe New Year’s.

This week we have an article from contributor James Campbell about the evolution of his views on some technologies.

Thanks for reading and to those who wrote in to the Reader’s Forum.

Have a great week and an even better 2014!

Sincerely,
Editor

Reader’s Forum – Week of December 23, 2013

For your convenience, all Reader’s Forum submissions are separated by the ## symbol.

Karen Crowder wrote:

I liked Jane Kronheim’s article on the validity of audio literacy. I also appreciated Roger Cicchese’s article about how Christmas gifts can change our lives.

I frowned on using Talking Book machines until I was seventeen. Depending on Talking books was an inferior substitute to turning pages of novels or textbooks in Braille. However, at seventeen, when registering for services at the Commission for the Blind in Boston, I was pleased when I was offered a Talking book machine. I listened to all its simple instructions read by the wonderful Talking book narrator Robert Donley. I immediately ordered the literary classic Wuthering Heights hoping it would capture my imagination, as Jane Eyre had. It did not, it was disappointingly different, and lacked the engaging plot Jane Eyre had.

Throughout the summers of my sophomore and junior years I read literary classics, such as Gone with the Wind, Up the Down Staircase, Blackboard Jungle and Ray Bradbury’s short story collections Machineries of Joy, The Illustrated Man and the October Country. The terrific narrators for these texts engaged my attention. I also used Talking books for term papers or schoolbook reports.

When cassette books began appearing in Talking book topics in the early seventies, I began reading them. Unfortunately, a few early cassette books were of varying quality. My copy of Brave New World was of poor audio quality. The recordings kept on fading in and out. However, this was the exception. I enjoyed reading The Patch of Blue and Door into Summer, both on one and seven eighths cassettes. When15/16 speed two and four track books appeared in the mid and late seventies they were popular with many blind children and adults. I did the majority of my reading for college and pleasure with audio books.

A wider variety of material was available on cassette and talking books, and cassette players and recorders were portable. I did not abandon Braille, but discovered that I could be literate with audio books

Roger’s article about receiving his reel-to-reel recorder brought back memories of Christmas gifts which changed my life forever.

At eleven, I was elated to receive a Perkins Brailler as my big gift Christmas morning gift in 1960. It was one of the last gifts I would open, and I have the wooden case it came in. Throughout these past fifty-three years it has enriched my life and has been of invaluable importance throughout my academic and personal life. I wrote my first lines of poetry, drafts for term papers and stories on it. I still have this sturdy machine; I am grateful my parents made sacrifices to buy it.

His article made me reflect on how gifts change our lives. Until the next Reader’s Forum, may all Ziegler readers have blessed holidays.

##

Lucia wrote:

I wish to comment on a particular incident that transpired on Tuesday, December 17, 2013. A gentleman, Cecil Williams, of the Bensonhearst section of Brooklyn, NewYork, actually fell from the subway platform onto the tracks, along with his guide dog.

Mr. Williams is recovering at St. Luke’s Hospital, Manhattan, New York. He sounds weak and in pain, but thankfully, he is able to speak, understand speech, and function. I am happy that Mr. Williams will be well.

But there is a problem. It was reported over the radio, and in our local paper, that Mr. Williams “fainted” and that he is diabetic. This may be true, but, the way I see it, there is more to the story.

I have vestibular paroxysmal positional vertigo. Often, I have stumbled on the subway platform, but I have never fallen from the platform onto the tracks. (Forget about Access-a-ride, the Para-transit service, they never showed up and then called me a “no-show”). I have one question! Why ever was Mr. Williams that close to the edge of the platform? Why was his dog so close to the edge of the platform?

Newspapers and radio reports focus on the donations the school that “trained” this dog will receive, and on how Mr. Williams will get a new dog, and will retain his present dog, who was with him at the time of this tragic accident.

Nobody focuses on the quality of the training of the dogs at the schools that train dogs to work as guides. Evidently, the dog had never received subway training. The question is, when was the dog first exposed to the subway platform? And not just the subway platform either: the double-edged subway platform!

You can bet that the school I will be attending trains the dogs on double-edged subway platforms even before the dogs are assigned to us at the school!

I have a problem! Vision-impaired and blind people better start complaining about the “services” they receive from organizations that claim to “serve the blind,” or nothing will get better in the way of quality of life of blind and vision-impaired people.

##

David wrote:

As regards Tim Bowers, I am glad he could make his own decision, but I was saddened that there is little hope or seemingly little hope for such a spinal injury. Christopher Reeves chose life, but even he did not walk and I so thought he would walk again one day. Maybe stem cells can help. Ann Chiapetta summed it up well, as did Stanley. The item certainly was very thought provoking as seen by the number of responses.

As to comparing blindness with this severe injury, most sighted fear blindness above everything, even AIDS and cancer, or so a counselor once told me. I think quality of life regarding blindness depends on several factors; geography, health, ability to work in a supportive or challenging job, and family life. Not all have these things and not all consumer organizations are supportive. There should be more to life than learning a mobility route. Resources vary and Rehab services vary greatly among the states. I really do not feel Louisiana, at or near the bottom of every list you can imagine, is a good place for blind people.

I found the article about the tape player interesting but wondered if the author knew how his parents managed to get him a tape player after they had said they could not. I have an acquaintance who records everything. He really annoyed me once. He apparently recorded me saying something, not quite flattering, about a past teacher, and reminded me of it years later. I wonder how liability works in this instance. I think this fetish of his to record anything and everything in a sort of reality-show mentality is creepy, a bit vampiric, an audio thief.

##

Lucia wrote:

I agree wholeheartedly with Danni, and all of us should agree with Danni! Blindness or visual impairment, while a disability, are not tragedies, and do not justify a decision to end one’s life. Rehabilitation is great! I loved it! Yes, Tim Bowers’ sister was a nurse, and, too often, nurses and other medical “professionals” make the wrong assumption about visual impairment and blindness. Danni is right: blindness or visual impairment, while a disability, cannot compare with the disability of being on life support, nor can it compare with some of the other disabilities. We are disabled, but less so than some of the people with other disabilities.

Ziegler readers! If you don’t have your healthcare proxy, your living will, or as it is called “advanced directives” get it quick! Designate two people as your healthcare proxies, so if you are ever unconscious, in trouble or seriously injured, unable to render a decision about your life and its quality, the healthcare proxies you designate will respect your wishes, and tell the Medical “professionals” that they are legally obligated to implement your wishes as to your quality of life. This is critical! There is a form to fill out to create a living will, but really, get legal assistance if possible, since this is more valid and more binding than a simple form. Whatever your wishes are concerning quality of life, make your wishes known! Living wills go like this: some of the questions are; Do you want, in the event you are unconscious; nutrition, hydration, ventilation, resuscitation? Do you want abortion? Do you want psychosurgery, sterilization, or ECT? (Electro Convulsive “Therapy” or “shock treatments”)?

I say this since many medical “professionals” assume that blind people should receive either no treatment, or less treatment, and professors of bioethics want to kill disabled persons. One is Peter Singer, of Princeton University.

I know this sounds a little paranoid, but this does not mean that what I am saying is untrue. So get your healthcare proxies and your living will, or “advanced directives” in order and on your person. Sign it and date it with witnesses present. It will do you no good in your drawer.

##

Regina wrote:

In response to Bob’s Op Ed: How the Blind and Sighted are Perceived: this issue is similar with most visually impaired persons in the world at large. I have always differed with a lot of people here at home, the sighted, who have perceived me in the same manner just because I can’t see. You can imagine, even your children or sisters or brothers take it just the same; they don’t believe you even if you feel that you have done the right thing, they will always remain on the contrary side. Each time you make a mistake, they will take it this has happened because you are blind; but when a sighted person acts the same, it will be an accident like you mentioned in that topic. If a blind person looks untidy, sighted persons will always take it because he or she is blind. This has made me to look tidier than a sighted person should. Each time I’m called upon to read in Church on Sunday, people will always remain astonished as if they have seen something very strange. Let’s continue educating the sighted world that despite our disability, we are all human beings carrying about everything in a very human form.

I would like to comment on the Gift of Literacy by Jane Kronheim. Literacy really counts in someone’s life. Like here at home in Zambia, Africa, only a person who is able to read and write is considered to be literate. Now, coming to myself as a blind person, who is able to read and write by the use of Braille skill, surely, I’m literate so to say; because with my Braille skill, I can read just as many books as possible, making me proud of my Braille which has allowed me to match with the sighted so-called literate world. Yes, with the advanced technology giving audio access to the visually impaired people for instance, enabling them reading many books as well is applauded. However, I still feel that both audio and printed Braille material should be utilized; otherwise, literacy for us blind persons will remain half-baked. Thanks to Louis Braille for making me, a blind person, be counted in Society.

##

Robert wrote:
I was very moved by James R. Campbell’s article about his friend who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. There is a great deal of mental illness in my family. I have three cousins who are mentally ill, and two of them took their own lives.

I work with a helper via phone on the Internet. He is Schizophrenic. But his medication keeps him doing fairly well. He is extremely bright, and excellent at helping me. If he has an off day (which doesn’t happen often) I call him when he is feeling better.

I pay him for his help, and he appreciates the stipend, and I appreciate his help.

Thank you, James, for a moving, kind, thoughtful piece.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – We Can’t Even Show Affection

Recently, in a Colorado school system, a 6 year old boy was suspended from school because he kissed a little girl’s hand. At first, they wanted to charge the boy with sexual harassment, but later they downgraded it to inappropriate behavior. Imagine that; a poor little boy charged with sexual harassment.

Even if a 6 year old knows that his behavior is inappropriate, he is supposed to have parents who can talk with him about it. In this case, I don’t think that this child behaved inappropriately at all. I think he kissed the girl’s hand because it was a friendly, affectionate act of kindness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being kind and showing affection. In fact, I think this world needs more of it.

There are times when I don’t understand school suspensions. Is school a privilege that should be taken away? I thought punishment meant that you couldn’t watch television, play sports or hang around with your friends. Since when is taking away your education a form of punishment when a principal punishes kids for skipping school on purpose?

To get back to the original subject, I have witnessed several incidents in my life where people kissed someone else’s hand. Sometimes it happens in hospitals or during religious events. This does not constitute sexual harassment. These are affectionate gestures. In a hospital, a loved one may be trying to nurture a patient back to health spiritually by kissing his hand.

In second grade, I kissed a little girl on the cheek once. I don’t know; it might have been her birthday or the beginning of a long vacation when I wouldn’t be seeing her for a while. I knew why I did it; she knew why I did it; my teacher knew why I did it and my mother knew why I did it. It was a form of affection, not sexual harassment. If I did something wrong in school, and if my teacher told my parents about it, my parents would talk to me, and the matter would be done with.

Today, I sometimes hug little children because they need a hug or because it makes them happy. There is no underlying reason for this; it is something I was brought up to do, and I know my parents always had the best of intentions when raising me to do the right thing. So as a result of some individuals who practice bad sexual behavior, we, the moral ones, have to be deprived of our character. School principals, psychologists, the police, and other authority figures have enough to worry about where the bad behavior is concerned without looking for it in people who don’t intend to do it, especially little, innocent boys who can’t even comprehend what I just wrote about.

Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Happiness is Baking

One of the best parts of the holiday season is all of the tasty treats. I am not a fan of cooking, but hand me a recipe that calls for baking and I will present you with something delicious. My new favorite thing to bake for the holidays is gingerbread. It is so simple, yet such an amazing flavor that just says Christmas to me. This year I am making multiple batches of my gingerbread. I made some for gifts and am planning to make more for Christmas day. For those who have never made gingerbread, here are the ingredients you’ll need: butter, white sugar, an egg, molasses, flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and water. That’s it. Here is the recipe that I use. Ingredients: 1 Stick Butter 1/2 cup white sugar 1 egg 1 cup molasses 2 1/2 cups flour 1 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 1 tsp ginger 1 tsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp cloves 1 cup hot water Directions: 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 X 9 pan. Make sure to pour off any excess flour. 2. Mix together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat well. 3. Add the molasses to the mixture. 4. In a separate bowl mix together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. 5. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture and beat well. 6. Finally, add the hot water and mix until all the ingredients are well blended. 7. Pour batter into the pan and bake for one hour. I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday season filled with delicious homemade treats.

Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – A Tribute To An Old Friend

When I was in the third grade, I became interested in the piano. I liked the wide range of sounds you could make by pressing the various keys on it. We went into our local mall one day, where they had opened up a piano store. My parents signed me up for piano lessons with the teacher they had on staff. After a few lessons, the teacher told me that they had replaced her with a new teacher. We decided to continue to work with her and she moved to a new studio. After a few months, things didn’t work out.

My mother did some research and found a new teacher for me. She spoke with him at length on the phone and explained that I was legally blind and she also explained what happened with the former teacher. A week or so later, I met Craig, my new teacher. He was an animated man with a good sense of humor. He lived in a 3 family home on the third floor with his roommate, Lewis.

They had a black upright piano and a house full of clocks. During our first lesson, Craig did some exploration with me to see how I had been learning to read music and also spent time getting to understand the nature of my vision. We moved through lots of little exercises in learning to read music and he assigned some homework for me to complete by our next lesson.

Our lessons were to take place at his home at 11:00 AM on Saturdays, for one hour. As we worked through our first lesson, I had brought my music with me that the former teacher had given to me. He informed us that this woman was not a good teacher. I recall that he was quite upset with the fact that she had done such a poor job with me, but he didn’t want to say too much and come off as unprofessional.

As our lessons went along, Craig became a good friend to my family and me. He encouraged me to practice each week and he always reminded me that I could do anything I wanted, as long as I put my mind to it. We not only had our weekly lessons, but, many times, we would all chat and laugh together and the lessons would run longer than expected. As we worked through the piano books, he would also look for songs that interested me as a special project. I was allowed to work on the special project, as long as I kept up on the other music and scale exercises that were in the regular piano books.

A few years later, Craig moved into a huge Victorian house up on a hill. The house was very old and he took it upon himself to fix it all up and make it livable. He also bought a baby grand piano to replace the upright that we had been using for several years. It was a lot of fun to play on his grand piano and sometimes we would attempt to play a duet piece together. This actually always resulted in both of us making lots of mistakes and laughing for several moments before we ever got to the end of a song. I don’t think we ever actually were able to complete one of those pieces together, but it sure was a fun experience.

Whenever he would assign a new piece to me he would always play it so that I knew how it was supposed to sound as a finished piece. Sometimes he would point out places where there were new notes and special timing that I needed to be aware of as I learned the new piece. One day, I had asked if I could learn “We Are the World”. So Craig did some research and found a version of the song that happened to match my skill level. He gave it to me under the condition that if my other work suffered, he would take it away until I continued my usual pieces in the regular books. After a few weeks, he asked me to play what I had learned. As I played, he suddenly ripped the music away from the piano stand and I continued to play the rest of the song from memory. He was astounded that I had memorized the entire piece. He didn’t mind that I had memorized the piece, but he wanted to make sure that if I were to memorize pieces that I did it correctly. Sometimes, I would get something wrong and he would take a red pen and circle the part that needed work. Many times, I would ignore the red pen and do it wrong for a few weeks. I recall an occasion when I had deliberately missed a few notes for several weeks. He took the red pen and circled the notes so many times that it made a huge imprint in the page. Needless to say, I learned the correct notes after that incident.

At some point in 1988, Craig found out that he had cancer. He began to take treatment for the cancer. Things went well for the most part. The treatments made him very sick and quite tired. We continued our lessons and he seemed to be doing ok through the treatments. One Monday, we went for my usual lesson at 5:00 PM and he wasn’t home. Later that evening, my mother spoke to him and he told her that he had started a new medication which had made him sleep for several hours. He asked us to call him the following Monday before we left to go for my lesson. Since we had missed the lesson from the week prior, Craig said that he would give me this lesson at no charge.

I called his home the following Monday before we left and thought I had dialed the wrong number because an unfamiliar voice answered. I hung up and dialed again. The same voice answered. I told the person that I was supposed to have my piano lesson at 5:00 PM. She asked me if she could speak to my parents. My mother took the phone and spoke to the woman. She quietly hung up the phone and told us that Craig had died in a car crash. I was shocked and sad. I cried for hours, it was unbelievable and so sudden. There was an article about the crash in the newspaper and there was no funeral or calling hours.

It took many years before I would touch a piano again. I didn’t want to have a new teacher because I knew it wouldn’t be the same as when Craig was my teacher. This was one of the first times as an adolescent that I had to deal with losing someone important to my family.

When I attended college I had to complete some common core courses. In 1994, I decided to take Piano Class to fill this requirement. Even though the class was for beginners, I figured that I would start over again and see what I could learn from the beginning, since it had been several years since I had read music, or played the piano.

I did all of this in tribute to Craig. The course was amazing. The instructor was a world renowned pianist who had played at the White House for several of our Presidents. When he played on location, he had his personal grand piano flown in to use. I learned a lot of new things in his course and it was a lot of fun to work with him. He could play anything at anytime, without even having a piece of music present. My final project was to pick a piece and play it from beginning to end. This piece was supposed to be challenging, but not too difficult. As we searched for pieces, he came around and approved our choices. My choice was to play “Silent Night”, in honor of Craig. I practiced it for weeks. There was a rough spot in the middle where I always messed up. Finally, I got through it with no problems. The day came for my final exam and I played it for the instructor and it went perfectly. I got an A on the piece and an A in the course. Since it was December, I went home for the semester break and played the piece for my family on our piano. It was a nice way to have some closure from the passing of Craig.

Feature Writer Roger Cicchese – Fools Rush In

Sounds in the subway station at Park Street in downtown Boston, Massachusetts are extremely loud. The trains rushing to and fro roar like huge lions. When the drivers apply the air brakes it sounds as if a large dragon is releasing hot, ozone-scented, rancid breath.

Even though this all happened nearly twenty years ago, I recall every detail as if it happened just yesterday. On that day, the crowds of travelers were somewhat lighter than usual. I was in the station because I was returning to visit a friend down in southern Massachusetts which required me to transfer trains so that I could get to the commuter rail at another station. All of this explanation is necessary because of what occurred at the transfer point.

I used to use the subways a lot for years. As time passed however, I felt less safe in the trains and stations, and so, I found other means to get where I wanted to go. On this particular day, I had no choice. I really wanted to visit my friend and the subway and commuter rails were the only option.

As I moved through the station I must have appeared to have been unsure of where I was going. A nice young woman came up to me and asked if she could assist me in any way. I was glad for her offer. She was also quite appealing in her own way and so her company would not be hard to take. I explained where I wanted to go and she informed me that she was going in the same general direction. I gently took her arm and we began to walk toward our destination. There are several sets of up and down stairways in this station which must be navigated depending on where one intends to travel. It would be such a set of stairs we would have to traverse soon going down.

I was totally engaged in conversation with my very feminine guide. She told me her name was
Lisa and she was traveling in a similar direction. I thought to myself, “nice woman, but she’s too young for me. Besides, there’s something sort of distant about her.” Even while she seems very present with our conversation, her manner was somehow distracted or as if she was paying attention to other things as we walked and talked.

As we advanced toward our goal, I became totally enthralled with our back and forth chatter. It was due to my complete inattention that I didn’t recognize that we were entering what was the landing at the top of a long stone staircase going down. I didn’t realize that we were at the stairs until my foot suddenly was no longer touching solid ground. All at once, neither foot was on the floor. I was now airborne. Instantly, I knew this was my ending. Falling down a long flight of stone stairs through the air would spell certain disaster. I also realized that, amazingly, my fingertips were still in contact with Lisa’s arm. I managed to keep them there, I know not how.

Everything seemed to go into slow motion. I was falling. No part of my body was touching any part of the stairs. It felt as if I was floating more than falling. I guessed that my life was probably coming to an end and that’s why everything seemed to be floating in slow motion.

Finally, it seemed like several long minutes later, we landed. The first thing I discovered was that I was on my feet. I had no pain or twisted limbs. Lisa was there too. She began to cry softly. She asked me if I was okay. I was shaken up, but no other injury of any kind. I inquired of her well being. She said: “Oh, I’m fine and wow did we have a ride.” I also recognized that we had both fallen straight down the long stairway without ever touching railings, or stairs. Not even a bump or scratch. We had dropped straight down. What were the chances of that? Lisa asked once again if I was okay and when I indicated everything was fine she said: “well I really have to go now or I’ll be late for my next appointment.”

I felt a little bit guilty about the whole incident and wanted to do something to reassure her and to thank her for her kindness and help. It was my total negligence that had caused this dangerous situation. When I turned to thank her once again, she was gone. People are sometimes like that so I just wrote it off to a stranger not wanting to hang around or get more involved. I just stood there, at the foot of the stairs reviewing the series of events that had just happened.

As I stood there a man walked over to me and inquired if I was all right. He told me that he worked for the Transit System. He said: “I was taking a break and suddenly I looked over at those stairs and saw you falling. It startled me so much that all I could do was watch the disaster unfold.” He informed me that he expected that at any minute I’d smash my skull or something on those stairs. Or, perhaps I would do a somersault, over the railing, as I was falling, drop and crash to the cement floor far below to a horrible death. When he saw me land on both feet at the bottom of that long stairway he, too, was in shock. Neither he nor I could believe my good fortune.

I then asked him: “what can you tell me about the woman who was falling down those stairs with me? What happened to her? What did she look like?”

There was a very long pause from the subway worker. He said:”What woman?” I said: “you know, the one I was hanging onto as I was falling.”

He responded quickly: “Buddy, you feeling alright? I have been standing here for the past ten minutes even before you came down those stairs. There was nobody man or woman, with you before, during or after you fell, or should I say floated, down those stairs.”

I said: “Her name is Lisa and I’d been walking through the station for several minutes prior to our adventure on the stairs.”

He was vehement! “Nobody with you, you were alone friend.”

So I asked what happened to Lisa? He told me I must really be more injured than we thought because no one was there, except him, watching the disaster unfold. I concluded that Lisa probably slipped away in the usual passing of human traffic in the station.

The Transit Worker quickly set me straight on that one: “Nobody down here for quite a while now. I’ve been standing here and the place has been eerily empty. So there’s no way anybody could have been here and gone without me seeing them.”

It was time to go and I got the next train. As it pulled out I wondered, “Who was Lisa? Where did she come from? Where did she go? What was her next appointment?”

I think I know who she was! What do you think?

It is said “Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread.” If I was a fool on that fateful day, then who do you suppose Lisa was?

Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – Our First Holiday Cabaret

How could we forget that the streets of New York City during the holiday season are absolutely crammed with shoppers and tourists? As the bus inched its way down Fifth Avenue, I thanked everything that we were on a bus that makes limited stops. First stop — an ATM. I’ve scoped out several in that part of Midtown. As we weaved through the crowds, I fervently wished I could have taken to the skies like Mary Poppins.

From the bank we walked briskly to the famous makeup artists of M.A.C Cosmetics. Maria and I are a great team. I navigated us to the general area and she suggested we enter the brightly-lit establishment, which happened to be the correct entrance. Foolishly, I’d made our appointments too close to the time we’d need to be at the club for a tech run-through. I hoped that two makeup artists would do our faces at the same time — and that is indeed what happened. I was pleased that we’d requested the basic application, because it kept the cost to the reasonable price of $50.00. The compliments we received were a testament to their artistry.

Had I remembered that I could have used a special app to hail a cab for people with disabilities, we wouldn’t have had to fight our way through the even denser holiday crowds when we left M.A.C. I sighed in relief as we approached a waiting bus. Even though it also had limited stops, it still seemed to take forever to get from 56th Street to 46th Street. Then there was the long schlep from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. My shoes were comfortable, but Maria had counted on us being able to catch a cab and hers were not made for long walks. Ever the trooper, she gingerly made her way. Be warned: the huge, brightly-lit billboards extend from 42nd to 46th Streets. With my double-vision and glare, this is an unwelcome light show and I kept my eyes lowered as much as I dared. The milling throngs can also cause one to become completely disoriented. There at last, a few tunes were rehearsed for our tech engineer while our videographer set up the angles for her shots. I didn’t know that I’d have so much trouble finding the microphone. It became a running joke during the show.

Did the show go off without a hitch? No, but all reports suggest that a fun time was had by all. Maria and I have a naturally funny patter and we really do enjoy ourselves when performing. Our audience seemed pleased with our mix of traditional standards and humorous tunes, and we plan to stick with that formula. The fact that we’ve been invited back by the booking manager is thrilling. We ended the evening by savoring a delicious dinner in the club’s restaurant.

Happy Holidays to all the fantastic readers and writers of this wonderful newsletter.