Time for more random updates and personal revelations out of date to everyone but me
January 30, 2013: Someone stole Goya’s head. (The fact that his happened in the 19th Century is irrelevant.)
“On a November morning of 1888 in the cemetery of the Grande Chartreuse, Bordeaux, the Spanish counsel resident in that opulent city received the shock of his life. Hastening to the nearest telegraph he dispatched a wire to Madrid: GOYA SKELETON HEADLESS.
”In a less agitated condition and able to recall the master’s whimsical etching of a seated corpse pushing up the lid of a tomb bearing the one word Nada (‘Nothing’), the counsel might pardonably begun his telegram TYPICAL GOYAESQUE SITUATION….
“Dying in self-chosen exile in 1828, at the age of eighty-two, Francisco Joseph Goya y Luciente had been buried in the tomb of a close friend and fellow-expatriate, Miguel Martin Goicoichea, deceased three years previously, the memorial tablet accurately proclaimed him Hispaniensis Peritisimus Pictor. His skull, stolen at some time unknown, has not been seen or heard of since. The exhumation duly proceeded, and Goya’s truncated remains were returned with honour to his native land after an absence of sixty-six years.”
—The World of Goya by D.B. Wyndham Lewis
It reminded me of the night when on the George Washington Bridge, bound for Manhattan, I encountered a raccoon determinedly padding his way back to the New Jersey shore. –A. J. Liebling
Designing a trip and a way of life
On Wednesday, I will take the longest trip since I first arrived in State College, PA about six years ago. I will be attending my daughter Amelia Altalena Solkoff’s graduation ceremony at the University of North Carolina in Ashville. Amelia has already earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and while the ceremony may be a mere formality, it is not a formality I can miss. Many of the people I love most in the world will be there, including Amelia’s older sister Joanna who received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is currently completing nursing school.
The last time I was in Ashville was 19 years ago before I lost the ability to walk as a result of a spinal cord injury. Both my daughters have visited me here in State College, but while I have driven to other places, the 900 mile drive has eluded me to the place where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.”
My trip to Ashville marks a new feature for the joelsolkoff.com site. Here I will finally take my best friend David Phillips’ advice and begin a consumer book on scooters, power chairs, and peripheral devices. Al Thieme, who invented the power operated vehicle (POV) scooter and the chief executive officer of Amigo Mobility has supplied me with his latest travel scooter, which I will be evaluating on the trip. Other manufacturers are invited to supply equipment for evaluation.
The fact that this feature begins with equipment for disability travel is especially appropriate. I have been writing about disability travel for a while now and this trip to Amelia’s ceremony provides the opportunity to focus on the importance of people with disabilities being able to visit loved ones, obtain employment, and function in this mobile society. Each of my daughters has extensive experience over the past 18 years of my paraplegia riding mobility devices, figuring out inventive ways of providing me with access to the world, and indeed helping me put out a fire when an electrician installed a wheel chair lift to my car using faulty wiring and burning down my red Buick.
The word “design” is actually the primary theme of this website, of my career, and indeed of my personal life. As anyone who knows me will testify, I am by nature an impulsive person, but impulsivity can lead to danger for those of us who are disabled. We need to put aside basic parts of our personality (as I have done and failed to do to my regret) in order to consider the consequences and redesign ourselves for a world that is not built for the elderly and disabled.
–Joel Solkoff, April 28, 2012, State College, PA
Stay tuned to this posting for more, which contrary to traditional blog chronological custom, will appear as I write my story. Links will be dropped in without warning. Become a frequent flyer and subscribe to this site.
Then, on May 6, 2012 The CITIZENS-TIMES report on the event:
“UNCA’s rainy spring graduation : As soon as UNC Asheville students got to the quad for the spring graduation commencement, the rain started to pour Saturday. 5/5/12 – Erin Brethauer ([email protected])”
Our daughter Joanna Marie Solkoff, who graduated with honors in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently studying to be a nurse. Accompanying Joanna is Jade Phillips, a rock and refuge shown together at my apartment at State College, PA in March:
Asheville, NC 7:19 PM. May 4, 2012 [official Star Trek holiday celebration; see Wikipedia.].
I am ensconced in a disability room at the Asheville NC Extended Stay America motel.
This is directly down the road from the University of North Carolina Campus where Amelia graduates tomorrow at 9 AM.
Relatives, loved ones, friends, and the like are preparing to come to my hotel to engage in a Jewish celebration of Sabboth and undoubtedly much mischief.
When I have time, I promise to TELL ALL. Including photos.
There is candle lighting in my room: “Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”
Flashback: Two days earlier
Michelle is my candidate for Best Western employee of the year.
As we all know, commencement is not a beginning, it is an end.
On the road again:
May 3, 2012 Hagerstown, Maryland, Best Western Grand Venice Hotel, 11:55 AM
The route from Downtown State College, where I live, to Ashville North Carolina, where Amelia will be receiving her diploma on May 5th at 9 AM at the University of North Carolina in Asheville is 571 miles–a 9 hour and 40 minute drive, longer than I have driven in over eight years.
Yesterday, I left State College after my friend Pinki Heyn helped load the Enterprise Rental Car driven by Dawn, a new management trainee, who brought me to the rental office for the ritual filling out of the forms and paying the money. After picking up a suit (which I have not worn in 7 years), several starched shirts, and clean clothing, I left town at 5 PM and drove the astonishingly beautiful Route 99 to Route 70 to Hagerstown, site of the Battle of Antietam, the first Union victory, giving President Lincoln the credibility required to issue the Emancipation proclamation. More on Emancipation later in the trip.
I now have traveled 158 miles of a 571 mile trip. Amelia called anxiously trying to rush me. Whose celebration does she think this is?
Last year, before reaching her current level of maturity, Amelia prepares to run with the bulls
A Commencement Speech I Approve Of
I have been led to understand that…you are going to graduate. Well, my strong recommendation is that you don’t go. Stop! Go on back to your rooms. Unpack! There’s not much out here. Chekhov tells the story of the traveler faced with three roads… If he takes the one to the right, the wolves will eat him up. If he takes the one to the left he will eat up the wolves, and if he takes the one to the center he will eat himself up.
The point is we don’t want you out here very much. We on the outside see graduation as a terrible event–the opening of an enormous dovecote from which spring into the air tens of thousands of graduates. What is particularly disturbing is that you all come out at the same time—June—hordes, with your dark graduation cloaks darkening the earth. Why is it that you can’t be squeezed out one at a time, like peach pits, so that the society can absorb you without feeling suffocated?
My own profession is being, swamped with writers coming, out of college, despite the conditions out here that no one reads. Indeed, my friend Kurt Vonnegut was saying the other day that the only solution to ·the moribund state of publishing would be to require all of those on welfare that before receiving their welfare checks, they must hand in a book report.
So go back to your dorm rooms and stay. True, there may be some practical problem. The deans may come tapping at your door like hotel concierges wondering about checkout time. Tell the dean through the door that you don’t think you should go out into the world with a C- in Economics 10. Great damage can be caused to the economic structure, and probably already has, by Harvard men out there who earned a C– in Economics 10; you must tell the dean you don’t want to compound such a situation.
The dean will say that he needs the room for the junior who is going to become a senior–the process must go on. Tell him there’s no reason why the juniors can’t stay juniors, the sophomores, sophomores, and the freshmen, freshmen. Tell him to stop the process. Why should the process go on? The Harvard Lampoon has had, in its century of operation, 100 different editorial boards. Has it improved? Probably not. Why not keep the same one?
Besides, we are told all the time what a marvelous institution Harvard is. Benjamin DeMott once likened Harvard to the continent of Europe: “Either you’ve been there or you haven’t,” And you’ll all remember the Boston dowager who said of a nephew: “He doesn’t go to college, he goes to Brown.” Why do they tell us such things if they don’t want us to stay? So tell them you’re convinced. You’ve decided to stay. You’re not going to budge.
After a while the dean will go away. Deans always go away. They go away to ponder things. They will assume that your parents will finally force the issue. They’ll want you home. But I am not so sure. I have the sense that parents would rather not know what’s being sent home to them these days from the college–not unlike receiving a mysterious, package tied with hemp, addressed in rather queasy lettering from Dutch Gularia.
They’d much rather you stay here. When a mother is asked about her son at the country-club dance she can always say: “Why John’s off at Harvard.” There’s something quite grand about that certainly compared to: ”Well, the last time I saw him he was throwing a frisbee in the backyard.”
If your parents insist you pack up and come home, there are always measures. If you’re chemistry major, tell them that you’ve become very attached to something in a vat of formaldehyde. If you’re in pre-law, tell them that you’re thinking of bringing home a tort. Your parents will probably have forgotten what a tort is, if they ever knew, and it sounds so unpleasant–something that your Mom wouldn’t want to have stepping suddenly out of a hall closet. Surely, there is hardly an academic field of one’s choice which does not have a nightmare possibility with which to force one’s parents to pony up enough to allow nearly a decade of contemplation in one’s room.
You’ll remember the King in Alice in Wonderland. When asked: “Where shall I begin?” the King says, “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end; then stop.” What I am suggesting is that you stop at the beginning, stop at your commencement. It’s not very interesting to stop at the end–l mean everyone does that. So stop now. Tell them you won’t go. Go back to your rooms. Unpack!
זיכרונה לברכה zikhronah livrakha of blessed memory.]
The party is over, but I linger on in Asheville after everybody left.
The graduation was on Saturday. On Saturday at 5:15 PM we had a celebratory dinner at a classy Spanish restaurant. Asheville becomes more charming every day. On Sunday morning, my sister Sarah Schmerler, her husband Uncle Robert Simonson, and my 10.5 year-old nephew Asher left to return to Brooklyn, NY. Also that morning I had breakfast with my former wife Diana Bass, my elder daughter Joanna and her friend Jade Phillips, and Amelia. Joanna and Jade left to the airport to fly to Los Angeles where Jade’s mother lives, before…Diana drives off to her home in Durham. Amelia lingers an extra day and morning and is now with her mother camping on the Outer Shores of NC. Wonderful ferry ride. wonderful world.
And I returned to the Extended Stay Hotel here in Asheville at Kenilworth Knoll where the helpful staff help me with my disability gadgets. Here is Extended Stay Wendy helping with a light-weight wheel chair I am experimenting with.
The End. REALLY.
Somethings naturally come to an End. The countdown to Amelia’s graduation from college has come to an end. She graduated a week ago today. This posting is mostly over. Yes, there are details to be taken care of such as the deep skinny on Graduation Meal celebrations 1-4.
As I write this from Marion, VA still miles away from home at the Budget Inn (not affiliated with anything) across the tertiary road from the beautiful Walker Mountains, the details of the end have not been codified. Last night, for example, I was invited to join the Moose. Come next month’s check, I plan to join the Smyth County Moose chapter where I had friend okra for dinner last evening. My Moose card will get me in any Moose hall in the country.
Today, April 14, 2012 Webster’s disability access:
Today, Robbie and Laura sell me books:
The ever-knowledgeable Robbie Mayes sells me a first edition of Chips Off the Old Benchley for $4.
“The Mysteries of Radio” from Chips Off the Old Benchley by Robert Benchley, 1942
“I WOULDN’T be surprised if I knew less about radio than anyone in the world, and that is no faint praise. There may be some things, like horseshoeing and putting little ships in bottles, which are closed books to me, I have a feeling that if someone were to be very patient explain the principles to me I might be able to get the hang of it. But I don’t have any such feeling about radio. An expert could come and live with me for two years, and be just as kind and gentle and explicit as a radio expert could be and yet it would do no good. I simply never could understand it; so there is no good in teasing me to try.
“As a matter of fact, I was still wrestling with the principle of the telephone when radio came along, and was still a long way from having mastered it. I knew that I could go to a mouthpiece and say a number into it and get another number, but I was not privy to the means by which this miracle was accomplished. Finally I gave up trying to figure it out, as the telephone company seemed to be getting along all right with it, and it was evident from the condition my own affairs were getting in that there were other things about which I had much better be worrying. And then came radio to confuse me further. “
Also, I saw children today. At 64 years of age, I do not often see children:
Housing for the elderly and disabled
Addison Court is an independent living residence for low-income elderly and disabled individuals. Built approximately 18 years ago, this 8 story structure houses 90 of us residents. Between then and now, development has grown considerably. The Central Area Transit Authority (CATA) has a large building next door and busses stop and idle at all hours.
Traffic on Beaver Street has become one of two major through fares where the trucks that stock the stores in downtown roar by. A neighbor, in her 80s, standing on a shaky walker asked me to see what I could do to control the traffic light so that she could cross without worry. I called the appropriate official at the Borough Building to no avail.
Drunks routinely exit the bars on Allen and Beaver Street, screaming down Beaver Canyon after closing time at 2 AM, but since many of the disorderly drunks appear to be college students, the excellent State College police appear to be on instructions not to arrest them or stop their unruly behavior. The logic, I am told, is that because State College is dependent upon Penn State student income effective police enforcement is regarded as unwise.
Last summer, Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, a steadfast friend of Addison Court, asked me to testify before the liquor control board to release to the State College Police resources. Thinking these resources would be used to protect the residents of our building, I agreed to do so. I have personally experienced instances where late night/early morning revelers urinated, defecated, changed tampons, engaged in sex, and peered into the windows of residents at 3 AM, I brought with me a photograph of a resident who experienced harassment and told me the damage to her heart caused her to move.
At the hearing, Thomas R. King, Chief of Police said he would come to Addison Court’s social hall (bingo parlor) and listen to the residents describe their concerns about police protection, but several attempts to find an agreeable time failed. I hereby request that Police Chief King renew his efforts to visit us. Indeed, I have an extra bed, he is welcome to stay in my apartment and hear for himself what his well-trained force could prevent.
What I am saying is that neglect is the watchword for how the residents of Addison Court are treated. Here are two of my friends and neighbors:
What I am saying here clearly is that at times it seems in Downtown State College that the community has abandoned us. For years, in keeping with traditions established by other elderly and disabled institutions, I have been trying to have children visit us on a regular basis.
A year ago Christmas was the last time our social hall rang with the enjoyment of children courtesy of the First Presbyterian Church.
Try as I have repeatedly, I have been unable to get the religious institutions in the area to recognize the contribution the elderly can make in the formation of young minds and vice versa.
Now, cause for neglect is muted: Webster’s is back:
Since the Fourth of July weekend massacre, I cannot go into Webster’s Cafe and Bookstore. On Thursday, I saw Cary, bracing herself in the doorway at Irving’s, weeping, her blonde hair contrasting a face so red it reminded me of a tomato. Her pain seemed to seep out every pore. “I have been selling books for nearly 14 years. I do not know what else to do.”
I have been buying books from Cary, Anne, Robbie, Elaine, and the new guys at Webster’s where I ate my breakfast–7 AM weekdays; 8 weekends–(and other nutritious meals besides). For the past two years, ever since I was discharged from the hospital for nearly dying from diabetes, I have been a regular. As long as my social security check held out, each month I ate reading the poetry books and buying them as well as books on diabetes, art, history, and who did what to whom and why.
To help prepare for elections (certainly a patriotic act), proprietor Elaine Meder-Wilgus provided audiences in the 90 resident Addison Court (where I live with the elderly and disabled) with coffee and tasty snacks—helping in voter registration and absentee ballot drives and boosting attendance (food is a great audience draw for) candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, legislative assembly, mayor, members of the State College Borough Council, and appreciation for the Alpha Fire Company.
For me Elaine has been an iconic figure, an earth mother guiding and bestowing energy and support for my column on disabilities and the elderly in Voices of Central Pennsylvania, for creating a space where I can take my children, for serving as a mail drop so my editors at Voices could give me proofs, and for creating an environment for a wide-range of progressive causes. When I asked Elaine whether she would provide food for Republicans, she said, “Of course.” Last Labor Day weekend I saw our Representative Glen Thompson (R PA) arrive early for an early morning breakfast with the Addison Court residents, drinking Webster’s regular coffee appreciatively, coffee which arrived just as early as he did.
The fact that Elaine is a rotten businesswoman is no big surprise. The number of things I am rotten at is considerable. So, Elaine’s magic does not extend to money. So what. Her magic extends to such a large part of my life, that she is entitled to a little forgiveness, including forgiveness for failing to fight in a focused way.
In the first of many meetings (transcripts of which are available on the web) she asked for help. She asked us to write 500 word essays on what Webster’s means to me. Her helpers have circulated petitions in hard copy and online. Special sections of Facebook are now dedicated to the impending demise. Elaine has recorded a lengthy You Tube video. A music concert is in the works. Between emails of people requesting their names be spelled correctly on online transcripts, I expect to see now, any day, the Webster’s going out of business movie followed by the Webster’s going out of business video game.
I do not mean to suggest that the talented and energetic supporters of Webster’s are unfocused in their efforts, unable to focus on reality and actually save Webster’s in its current location. I am saying outright, brothers and sisters, you are unfocused. The following is what needs to be done:
Understand that the reason Webster’s is in danger of closing is because Elaine has failed to pay the landlord. Her current due bill is for $40,000.
Reportedly, Webster’s landlord is Scott Kresge, who has power of attorney for his elderly mother who is the actual owner.
According to Elaine, when she offered to pay the landlord the $40,000 owed, he refused and said he had another tenant.
Elaine does not have a lease and she has a history of late payments and the landlord gave her notice to leave the premises within 30 days and did so during the July 4th weekend when she did not have time to consult her attorney.
To my knowledge (based on today’s You Tube video) Elaine still has not consulted with an attorney on whether the 30 day vacation request is valid or whether she has additional time. Answers would be useful. To all you lawyers out there, is there not one of you, en route to the concert, who can clarify what rights Elaine has? (Maybe I missed the answer and should be confined to the cyberspace transcripts.)
Joan of Arc did not say, when she was fighting to save France, “If this does not succeed, maybe we can relocate to the old Verizon building, across the street from the State College municipal building.” Elaine’s initial instinct to get rid of the books in her store and talk about an alternate location is a mistake. You do not give up a battle before you have lost it. Now, the bookstore reminds me of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem Old Ironsides, “The harpies of the shore shall pick / The eagle of the sea.”
Clearly, the solution to the problem is to make an arrangement with the landlord. Carol Gold suggested creating a Foundation based on the concept that Webster’s serves as a church for those of us who attend regularly. Carol said that Elaine would be free to spend the funds any way she pleases. That would be a mistake. In the current situation Elaine herself has stated that she cannot be trusted to spend money wisely. The Foundation, or some other financial contrivance, could serve as a guarantor that from now on Webster’s will be paying its rent on time because the Foundation has enough money to do so, and is required to make timely payments to the landlord.
If the landlord refuses to accept such an arrangement, then pressure should be brought to bear.
The first thing the State College Borough Council should do on Monday, after hearing impassioned rhetoric, is to pass a sense of the State College Borough Resolution stating that Webster’s Bookstore and Café at 128 S. Allen Street is a Borough resource, the last real bookstore in State College, and that it should not be allowed to fail.
Get the Council, which we helped elect, to do some work to keep Webster’s at its current location. If Webster’s goes, oh town fathers and mothers, so goes the town. The danger of State College becoming a one street town, viz. a long bar going up and down College Street, is considerable. Revenue to keep and maintain State College is hard to come by. Penn State is draining revenue when it constructs or takes over property in the jurisdiction and pays compensation that is lower than property taxes. The Commonwealth budget, on which State College has depended in the past, cannot be relied upon. Webster’s will be replaced by what? Another store that sells State College athletic clothing. Another franchise. Another indication that incipience will be followed by decay. The Council cannot allow Webster’s to disappear at its current location on Allen Street. Words like “eminent domain” come to mind. Do they apply? If you send a delegation to the landlord and you can assure the landlord of not only the back rent but also future rent on a timely basis, oh mayor and council leaders, and the delegation fails, are there not enough smart attorneys among you who can figure out how to take jurisdiction of the premises and declare it a landmark? Sometimes political men and women of good will have to do what needs to be done. It would be a sin to deprive the disabled and elderly downtown residents of the right to buy a book.
Let us not forget the 12 employees of Webster’s. These are difficult economic times. I know most of Elaine’s employees, and right now they are hurting financially as well. Giving the employees some of the money being raised and giving it to them now will go a long way to making sure that they will be around when the store returns to normal. I still want a copy of Revolt of the Angels in French, and they are my only hope.
Customers, bring back the books you obtained at half price. The bookstore looks deserted without them.
Figure out, you money moguls out there, how to create a financial apparatus which will make it possible for Elaine to do what she does best, viz. work magic and not worry about filthy lucre.
[Joel Solkoff is a monthly columnist for Voices of Central Pennsylvania on disability and elderly issues http://www.disabilitiesjoelsolkoffblogs.blogspot.com/ Joel can be reached at [email protected] Joel remembers when, in 1948, Harry Truman nationalized the coal mines during a coal strike, and Army troops dug coal. Maybe he was wrong but Truman was a gutsy guy. Maybe there is, among our town leaders, the willingness to follow Truman’s example of gutsiness on a local basis.]