2006.04.12 Letting the clowns out

Written by David Green.


When my daughter Maddie and I returned from last week’s trip to New York, my husband asked if I did anything new. We had talked every day, but our conversations were always rushed or cut off when the train went underground, so he hadn’t heard all the details of our travels.

I paused before answering, thinking about the places we’d gone.

“The United Nations?” he suggested.

“Yeah, but that wasn’t really new,” I said. “I went there in fifth grade with my class.”

It was a horrible experience. I was Mr. Grossman’s star pupil in fifth grade. In a class of all the rejects—kids who weren’t good enough for band, orchestra or chorus—I stood out. Generally, at P.S. 102 in the Bronx, kids who weren’t musically adept weren’t hitting so high on the academic scale either. But, even though I couldn’t carry a tune and had no rhythm, I was pretty smart—at least in comparison to my peers.

So when our class went to the United Nations on a field trip and the tour guide asked questions as we stood in front of the swinging pendulum, Mr. Grossman was counting on me. And I didn’t remember a thing he’d taught us about that pendulum. I could tell Mr. Grossman was disappointed in me. It was one of those major moments in life, one that had such a profound impact I had no desire to enter the UN building ever again.

I still don’t know anything about that pendulum, but I did learn some new family information and experience a few new things on this trip to New York.

We stayed with my friend Adrienne who lives north of the city along the Hudson River in Tarrytown, in a little enclave called Sleepy Hollow Gardens. It’s comprised of dozens of apartments in three story buildings sprinkled around the grassy compound. There’s lots of parking in front of the buildings—if you can find it. Spaces aren’t assigned—it’s just a first come, first parked arrangement. During the day, there are several empty spots. But at night when people come home from work, everything fills up fast. When we arrived Monday night around 10 p.m. Adrienne guided us by phone to her apartment building and as we got closer, she told us to snap up the first spot we saw.

When I saw an open spot and then said, “Oh, there’s a dumpster there,” she told us to grab it. It’s OK to park in front of a dumpster except for the days garbage is picked up. We unloaded some of our stuff in the rain and later I went back by myself for more. As I approached the car, I noticed a man standing by his car directly across the street from mine. I was a little wary because he seemed to be watching me intently. As I put the key in the lock, he said, “You going out?”

I was momentarily confused. Going out with whom? Going out where? Why would he care? Then I remembered a book I read a few years ago, “Tepper Isn’t Going Out” by Calvin Trillin, about a man who cruises around New York, finds a parking spot and just sits there, reading the paper until the meter runs out. I realized the guy, parked illegally, only wanted to know if I would be vacating my parking spot. New experience: I felt like a character in a book.

And then there was all the new information I learned, most of it while eating dinner with Aunt Mary and Uncle Ronnie.

• Aunt Mary didn’t graduate from high school. She never went back for her diploma and never got a GED. She’s smart and perceptive and could easily be a psychologist or psychiatrist—she can figure people out so well and always has good advice.

• Uncle Ronnie’s mother was Jewish. Uncle Ronnie’s last name is Muscarella and he looks, talks and acts 100 percent Italian. He’s the guy famous for his malapropisms, the best of which he recounted when he was talking about his Jewish mother. He was in the doctor’s office and the doctor, checking his family history of diseases, asked how his mother died.

“She died of a cerebral hemorrhoid,” Ronnie answered.

• My grandfather jumped ship to stay in the United States. I had mentioned to Aunt Mary that we hoped to go to Ellis Island while in New York.

“Well, I don’t think you’ll find your granddaddy there,” she said.

Apparently, my grandfather left England by working on a ship. When they docked in New York, he never got back on the ship. A regular illegal alien.

• My niece Vicky, who will be 21 in August, is afraid of clowns.

“People say I have to face my fears so I go to the circus once a year,” she said.

It doesn’t help. She still gets pale and feels faint when the clowns come out.

I can empathize—that’s about how I felt when I saw that pendulum again.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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