Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Opinion: We must repair the environment

I wonder if our family cross-country road-trip in 1965 inspired my dad to write about the environment. The shots above show Yosemite, Yellowstone and The Badlands. In the photo below, Harry (right) and his nephew examine the beach during our stop in Carmel, CA.

If we changed a few numbers, Harry's opinion piece on our growing population and the environment would be just as relevant today. I believe he wrote it in the 1960s. 

There is a great deal of concern being expressed these days about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the inevitability, in a nuclear-armed world, of a catastrophic war. Whether it is triggered deliberately or accidentally, such a war, it is argued, could conceivably end man’s tenure on this planet and even, perhaps, make the earth inimical to all forms of life forever. I do not mean to derogate this danger, although I do think it is highly exaggerated, but I submit that there is a far greater danger to mankind present – one about which there seems to be too little concern expressed. I refer to the proliferation of man himself.

It has been calculated that 90 percent of all the people who ever lived are alive today, but if you think we’re crowded now, just wait another generation. By the year 2,000, the population of this planet will have doubled and the drain on the world’s natural resources will be incalculable. And though we are marginally conscious that many species of life – including fish, fowl, animal and insect – are endangered, we do not seem to realize that man himself may be threatened with extinction. Indeed, the problems posed by our exploding population are not limited to laying waste our soil, leveling our forests, or upsetting the ecological balance. Pollution, the most urgent of all our problems, is causing the two vital elements to man’s existence – water and air – to become major health hazards.

Man and man alone is responsible for the systematic destruction of his environment. In our frenzied and ill-conceived efforts to cope with the growing population, we are tampering with our environment and redirecting the forces of nature, with almost no regard for the future consequences. In our efforts to create more facilities for human habitation, we are rendering more and more of our planet uninhabitable.

I do not know if it is yet too late to correct the evils we are perpetrating on our environment, but we must certainly try. The decisions we must take, the actions we must take, will not be easy, but we must try. We must move in the direction of repairing that damage which is still reparable. Above all, we must plan, now, on how to make the wisest use of our natural resources without destroying them – and ourselves – in the process.

I'll post one more opinion piece next week.  

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Opinion: We're being invaded

Here's my dad on Thanksgiving in 2008. At family dinners, he entertained us with his theories and opinions. Little did we know, he had some good ones stashed in old files. 

Harry had no shortage of opinions and theories. Recently I discovered several essays titled, simply, "An Opinion." I assume he submitted them for publication. Do you suppose he wrote this one in the 1960s? A few details give us clues.

Have you ever stopped to wonder where all the people come from who fill all the new apartment houses being built throughout the country these days? Every major city, for example, is in the throes of an apartment boom, with modern high-rise monstrosities coming to dominate the skyline from coast to coast. These apartments aren’t inexpensive, either, with rentals ranging from over $100 a month for efficiencies to several hundred a month for multiple bedroom units.

Frankly, I find it hard to believe that there are enough people around to fill these buildings. And I find it doubly hard to believe that there are enough people around who can afford these prices. So where do they all come from? Well, I have a theory about that.

The fact is, I don’t think they’re people at all. Have you been reading all the reports about flying saucers lately? Well, judging by the frequency of these reports, it seems to me that somebody “up there” is running a shuttle service to Earth – that there’s a mass immigration taking place right under our noses. To those of you who would scoff at this suggestion, I ask you to consider these statistics.

The astronomers estimate that there are about 6,000 million galaxies, like our own Milky Way, within range of our 200-inch telescopes. (There are probably millions more that we haven’t seen yet.) They also estimate that our galaxy contains about 30,000 million stars, most of them bigger than our Sun and each of them with its own family of planets. If each of the galaxies contains approximately the same number of stars, and the truth is, most of the galaxies are considerably bigger than our own, then we can conservatively guess that there are something like 180 million million stars out there. Multiply that figure by ten and you get a rough idea of how many planets there are.

Now with all those billions and billions of planets, literally more numerous than the grains of sand on all the beaches of all our oceans, there must be at least a few on which life similar to ours has evolved. And if they’re anything like us, they must think the grass is greener here, and maybe it is, at that. Anyway, I think they’re coming here, probably from many different places, landing secretly on dark nights, printing their own money (which accounts for the inflation that’s taking place) and setting themselves up in residence. Maybe they look upon the Earth as a vacation capital of the universe. After all, viewed through their eyes, we’re probably good for a lot of laughs the way we behave towards each other. Or maybe they look upon us as a horrible example and are trying to figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes themselves.

To be sure, I know they’re studying us and our culture. If you want to get a close-up look at them, just visit any of our major university campuses. Oh, there are some superficial similarities between them and human beings, but if you look closely, you’ll see that many of them can’t possibly be products of this planet.

Anyway, I think it makes more sense to believe that we’re being “invaded” by extraterrestrials than to believe that we’re filling up all those apartment buildings and colleges ourselves. If you find that too hard to take, though, I have another theory, too. It has to do with time travel, but I’ll tell you about it another time.

View from Harry's grandson's 12th-floor apartment in Harlem. We're pretty sure he's an Earthling.

I used to ask my dad if he knew secrets of flying saucers and government cover-ups because he had Top Secret Pentagon clearance; he claimed he didn't. In retrospect, certain conversations suggested otherwise. I’ll post two more of Harry’s “opinion” pieces in the coming weeks. 

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

He didn't get fame from 'The Alphabet Game'

Harry and Jeanette posed during their 25th wedding anniversary party at home, August 1968. Two months later, Harry submitted the "verse-story" below for publication. I wonder what (or who) inspired him.

We’ve seen many examples of Harry's creative poems, as well as why he wrote them -- to tell stories both real and fiction, to persuade others, to stir imaginations, and just for fun. But did you know he wrote at least one for children? Neither did I, until I saw it in a stack of short stories in a musty old box. Harry sent "The Alphabet Game" to at least two publishers: Authors and Publishers’ Service in Flushing, NY, and Harper & Row in New York City. Here's his submission to the latter.

October 24, 1968

Dear Miss Nordstrom:

Enclosed is a short Verse-Story for your consideration and possible publication. I have tried it on several pre-school children and they were delighted with it. Suitably illustrated, I believe it would be quite appealing. Though I cannot provide the artwork myself, I have several ideas about illustrations.

Please let me know if you think it worth pursuing, or if you would be interested in receiving more such material for a juvenile audience.


Harry M. Zubkoff

The Alphabet Game

Thousands and thousands of years ago,
Before you were born and started to grow,
When people lived in caves and hunted,
No one talked; they only grunted.

No one could read or write at all,
They just painted pictures upon the wall,
Until some people whose names we forget,
Invented a brand new alphabet.

First they invented the sounds, you see,
Like the sound of A and sound of E.
And three more sounds are I, O, U,
They call them letters, and vowels, too.

These five little letters you learn today,
Make every sound that you can say,
Just try them out, make sounds for a while,
But quietly please, soft sounds with a smile.

Then they had to shape each sound,
To make it flat or broad or round,
To make each sound into a word,
To understand it when it’s heard.

As they invented every letter,
Each sound got a little better.
And finally, when they were done,
They added up to twenty-one.

Now let’s review, for just a minute,
How many letters are there in it?
The total number’s twenty-six,
And they do all the sound-word tricks.

Repeat these letters after me,
B, C, D and F and G.
H, I, J, and then there’s K,
Now that’s enough for you today.

After K comes L and M,
Drop one leg and there’s the N,
Then P, Q, R, and S, T, and V,
W, and X, Y, Z.

We call those letters consonants,
Because they sit there on a fence,
They’re silent, they cannot be heard,
They only help to shape each word.

They wrap each vowel in a shell,
We call it learning how to spell,
So when you know them all by sight,
You, too, can learn to read and write.

So practice them and play some games,
With sounds and words and even names,
And maybe, when you have some time,
You might compose a little rhyme.

Like A, B, C, D, E, F, G,
H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P,
Q, R, S, T, U, and V,
W, and X, Y, Z.

Or, A, K, J, and W,
M, and N, and U, and Q.
Or maybe C, D, E, P, T,
Go on, it’s fun, just try and see.

I didn't see a rejection letter, but it looks like "The Alphabet Game" ended up in the soup.

Stay tuned; next week I'll post a writing that surprised me more than this one.

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Harry recalls the 'life of the party' (plus '50s photos of a community's labor of love)

Harry outlived many of his friends, and now I appreciate the stories he wrote in their memory. We've seen several on this blog -- each eulogy features the very heart of the person Harry remembered, and together they tell stories of a bygone generation of friends. Below you'll see another tribute for a man he befriended in Greenbelt, MD, the planned city built by President Roosevelt's New Deal. It's where Harry and Jerry Pines were among the founders of the Jewish Community Center -- built not by the government, but the residents themselves -- in the early 1950s. Below the tribute, I posted a few of the photos Harry saved from their do-it-yourself construction project.

Harry and Jerry Pines posed with friends on a trip in the 1970s. All were part of a large community of activists who remained friends for life, even though most moved out of Greenbelt in the '60s.

Those of us who have known Jerry Pines through a good part of our adult lives don’t have to be told what kind of man he was. But every person is viewed differently by the people he knows – his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his colleagues at work, his friends and his neighbors – each of them views a person from his own perspectives. I want to say a few words about him today from the perspective of a couple of his friends, Jack Sanders and myself, to show you how we looked at Jerry and to add a little understanding of that view to the storehouse of memories that his family will cherish in the years to come.

Whenever I think of Jerry Pines, one thing immediately comes to mind. He was always the life of the party. We’ve had a lot of parties over the past thirty-five or forty years in our circle of friends, and at every one of them, without fail, Jerry would sooner or later take center stage. When we needed a master of ceremonies, we’d call on Jerry. When we needed someone to say a few words about this or that, about almost anything, we’d call on Jerry. Not only did he have a sort of stage presence, as real as that of a professional entertainer, he also had the most delightful sense of humor.

He knew how to take the most ordinary incidents, the most routine of daily circumstances, and tell about them in such a way as to transform them into the most hilarious misadventures. The mishaps that befell him were unbelievable and, the way he told about them, unimaginable, as well. If you ever heard him tell about the things that happened to him when, for example, he would take a new car back to the dealer to get some simple little things fixed, you’ll know what I mean. Whenever he told a story like that, he would have us gasping for breath because we laughed so hard.

In these more recent years, he had more than his share of physical discomfort and pain, but even when talking was a great effort for him, he never lost that sense of humor and that knack for bringing out the bizarre aspects of any situation. I recall vividly when a few of us were all together last year, not long after he got that new gadget that made it possible for him to talk. Boy, did he talk! The effort required for him to talk didn’t faze him or inhibit him at all. He had us all in stitches.

There are a lot of other things we remember about Jerry Pines – his kindness, his generosity, his willingness to share, his genuine interest in others – these qualities are legendary among his friends. He had a great many virtues. He had an unwavering morality. He knew what was morally right and practiced it throughout his life. You could say that all of us know the difference between right and wrong, but we frequently look the other way when someone does something wrong. Not Jerry. He could not abide duplicity or dishonesty in others, and never hesitated to point it out when he encountered it. He played it straight all his life and he expected others to do the same, but he was not so na├»ve as to believe that they always would. One of the last things he told Jack Sanders, who saw him just before he went in for surgery last month, was that his wish for his grandchildren was that they would grow up to be honest, forthright citizens of high moral character. Jerry talked that way, and he meant it.

He was a keen observer of the world around him and deplored injustice wherever he saw it. He could never understand, for example, how in this great country of ours there was so much poverty and disadvantage, despite all of our national wealth and resources, and he championed the cause of the ill-fed, the ill-housed and the underprivileged. He wanted everyone to have a better life, not just here, but everywhere. Maybe that’s why he liked so much to travel, to visit other countries and to see other lifestyles, not just to say that he had been there, but to see things for himself and to gain a better understanding of other peoples and other cultures. Every trip he took was a learning experience for him and he always came back with some very cogent observations about the things he had seen.

Jerry Pines led his life with grace and style, with humor and wit, always looking at the bright side, never giving in to despair. He was a friend, and his friendship brightened our lives.

A complicated labor of love

The Washington Star news clipping (above) from March 20, 1955, and construction photos (below)
The project to build a Jewish Community Center in Greenbelt was an icon of community spirit among neighbors and friends. But it wasn't easy. In an article in The Washington Star Pictorial Magazine on March 20, 1955, Harry described several barriers:

"Often we had the heartbreaking job of tearing down work that took us weeks because a construction expert would tell us it wouldn't do." 

"Most of our people didn't know the front end of a trowel from the back of a wheel-barrow when we started." 

"One of our problems was the old saying, 'A little learning is a dangerous thing'. Too often we had 15 self-elected foremen all telling one another what they had learned from books and how to do the job."

I'd recognize my dad's jacket anywhere. Is he inspecting the wall?
Harry, Jerry and the others attended the building dedication on March 20, 1955 (above and below).

I was thrilled to find these '50s photos. (I have to wonder how long they could sit in those chairs.)