Disability and Elderly Issues

Randall Jarrell’s Letters



Randall Jarrell (May 6, 1914 – October 14, 1965) was an American poet, literary critic, children’s author, essayist, novelist, and the 11th Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that now bears the title Poet Laureate.



90 North

At home, in my flannel gown, like a bear to its floe,

I clambered to bed; up the globe’s impossible sides

I sailed all night—till at last, with my black beard,

My furs and my dogs, I stood at the northern pole.

There in the childish night my companions lay frozen,

The stiff furs knocked at my starveling throat,

And I gave my great sigh: the flakes came huddling,

Were they really my end? In the darkness I turned to my rest.

—Here, the flag snaps in the glare and silence

Of the unbroken ice. I stand here,

The dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare

At the North Pole . . .

                                        And now what? Why, go back.

Turn as I please, my step is to the south.

The world—my world spins on this final point

Of cold and wretchedness: all lines, all winds

End in this whirlpool I at last discover.

And it is meaningless. In the child’s bed

After the night’s voyage, in that warm world

Where people work and suffer for the end

That crowns the pain—in that Cloud-Cuckoo-Land

I reached my North and it had meaning.

Here at the actual pole of my existence,

Where all that I have done is meaningless,

Where I die or live by accident alone—

Where, living or dying, I am still alone;

Here where North, the night, the berg of death

Crowd me out of the ignorant darkness,

I see at last that all the knowledge

I wrung from the darkness—that the darkness flung me—

Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing,

The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness

And we call it wisdom. It is pain.

Randall Jarrell, “90 North” from The Complete Poems. Copyright © 1981 by Randall Jarrell.  Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Source: The Complete Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969)


Disability and Elderly Issues

Laura, the Woman Who Helped Me Survive Cancer When I was 28

YEARS LATER, Laura said, “Are you ever going to get me out of your system?” It was a rhetorical question, the kind one asks when too many events have passed to make an answer possible. In this case, however, the answer is that I will never get her out of my system. I will always love her in a way that makes my heart beat faster and my palms sweat. Some people—either by accident or fate—enter our lives and we are forever different. For me, Laura remains one of those people. We never could learn how to live together, but we will always love each other. It is, of course, impossible to describe such a relationship. Most who experience it have the good sense not to try.

On that day in late April, as we sat in that poorly lit bar with cheap red tablecloths, our love affair was at its most intense period and, as it would turn out, its most fragile.

LAURA TAUNTON SHELBY CONSTABLE. She is 5 feet 41/2 inches tall and weighs 112 pounds. She has green eyes and shoulder-length dark-blond hair. She is beautiful in a way that defies classification. Her long angular face with its high cheekbones and rigid jaw causes strangers on the street to stare at her. Her figure is lean; her long legs graceful, and she dresses and frequently acts with a flamboyant carelessness, as if saying, “I don’t care what men think of my looks.”


Sex with her was the most exciting thing either of us had ever known.


But she cares intensely. An old boyfriend once called her Iron Jaw, and she remains sensitive to comments about her appearance. Often she is ready to rebuff remarks that never come. When we first met she wore blue jeans and dark turtlenecks, like a uniform. It was what she called her “tough-guy period.” Recently she has begun to “soften her image,” wearing cotton and silk blouses which reveal her braless breasts. The best restaurants in town have not yet adjusted to blue jeans, and each supper presents a new challenge to headwaiters to decline to seat her, a challenge she always wins. When she is alone, she goes off to spend hours in exclusive Georgetown boutiques, trying on outfits she rarely buys and never wears—imagining she is throwing a society party at which she devastates her guests with her looks and her wit.


YEARS LATER, trying to keep my reportorial objectivity, I interviewed her about what she thought in 1976.

“How did you feel about me?”

“I loved you.”

“Why did you love me?”

“Because you were attractive and exciting and a young man on the rise, and because you treated me well.”

“Wasn’t I conceited?”

“Yes, and you were arrogant too.”

“Wasn’t I self-centered?”

“You’ve always been self-centered.”

“Then why did you love me?”

“For the reasons I listed.”

“Did you think we were going to get married?”


“Did you want to marry me?”


“Were you frightened about what might happen to me?”



“Listen, you idiot. I loved you. I cared what happened to you. I was worried that something might be wrong with you. I loved you and didn’t want you hurt. I loved you and didn’t want to lose you. I was scared and I was frightened and I was angry that something might happen to you. Does that answer your dumb questions?”

She was the most honest woman I’d ever met. I was used to manipulative women, who tried to control me and do so indirectly. I once married a woman like that. Laura was direct, often abrasively so. She was not interested in manipulating or controlling me, and she wouldn’t put up with my periodic attempts to manipulate her. Sex with her was the most exciting thing either of us had ever known. There was passion, energy, screaming, and tenderness.

We were funny together, sparring with each other verbally, getting drunk and laughing at jokes that only we understood. Even when we were sober, everything seemed funny in a cynical, offbeat way.

ABOUT A MONTH before that Friday afternoon, Laura got the final decree on a long and sticky divorce. She worked her way through five lawyers, trying to find one “mean and vicious enough” to deal with her husband. Now in the spring of 1976, after two years of waiting for the divorce, it looks as if we might finally live together and get married. There is, however, the lump under my right arm.

Early that morning I mentioned my lump for the first time and she had one of her frequent bursts of temper. “Don’t you know that there are people dying of cancer around here all the time? What are you going to do, wait until your arm falls off before you see a doctor?” I calmed her down, saying that I had an appointment that afternoon. She apologized, telling me that her mother and her former husband always delayed medical attention until they manipulated her into pushing them to the doctor.

As we drink, I tell her what happened at Aaron’s office. There is not much to say. We both know that further information awaits the outcome of the operation. We are both frightened, both intent on reassuring each other. It doesn’t matter what we say. What matters is that we are together. I need to look at her, to know that she is with me. Holding her hand makes me feel less afraid.


Click here to purchase: My account of my cancer experience when I was 28 in which Laura appears as the heroine:

Learning to Live Again, My Triumph Over Cancer

Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Disability and Elderly Issues

Not only does Trump’s NYC monstrosity debase Columbus Circle, but it fails to protect cancer patients from the rain

Originally shared by e-architect, August 17, 2015

Donald Trump, the New York City real estate magnate with shockingly bad  taste is running for President of the United States in a crowded Republican primary field. Trump is in first place. Last week’s New York Times headline read: “Trump Says He’d Be a Smarter President Than His Competitors.”

Trump cites his credentials to hold the highest office in the U.S. to his hands-on approach to solving business problems. Attached here exclusively for e-architect is a photograph I took in June of the disability accommodations at Trump’s luxury condominium at Columbus Circle. Instead of less expensive universal design, this photograph shows the accommodations Trump makes available to those of us who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices for locomotion.

Insult to the mobility disabled.

Returning back to my lodging after treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, it began to rain. At Columbus Circle, I tried to get in from the rain, but Trump’s disability elevator did not work. I got wet; soaked, indeed.


This is how The New York Times described the building in April, 1996:  “Fancier than Trump Tower. Glitzier than the Trump Taj Mahal. Pricier than Trump Palace or Trump Parc. Its glossy brochure trumpets Trump International as ‘the most important new address in the world.’

“Hmmm. Anyway, it’s big.

“Buyers (more than half the 166 condominium apartments have been sold, sight unseen, Mr. Trump says; the 168 hotel suites went on the market last week) are the kind of people who like their windows tall (nine feet), their ceilings high (10 feet), their living spaces sprawling (up to 5,500 square feet) and their prices steep ($8.4 million buys a five-bedroom penthouse).”

I have just returned from two weeks in the hospital and am especially sensitive to disability issues relating to architecture. Trump’s decision to unnecessarily use inaccessible steps for grandeur and then meet federal ADA requirements with an expensive elevator that does not work dependably may very well indicate the kind of President he would make.

As a partisan Democrat, I hope Trump wins the Republican nomination. He would be sure to be defeated in the general election. A comparison to Trump and his architect’s approach to disability access will appear in the next Joel’s column–part three of the four-part Piano Whitney series.

Joel’s Column will assert that Renzo Piano and Zaha Hadid are examples of architects who would not make the mistakes Donald Trump forced his architect to make.

The White Separatist Murder of Heather Heyer Who Demonstrated for Racial Equality

On Saturday August 13, 2017, Heather Heyer, 32 years old, was murdered by a white separatist in Charlottesville, VA because she demonstrated for racial equality.

From the President of Synagogue Beit Israel,  Charlottesville, VA

At Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA, we are deeply grateful for the support and prayers of the broader Reform Jewish community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Heather Heyer and the two Virginia State Police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who lost their lives on Saturday, and with the many people injured in the attack who are still recovering.

The loss of life far outweighs any fear or concern felt by me or the Jewish community during the past several weeks as we braced for this Nazi rally – but the effects of both will each linger.

On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).

Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.

When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.

This is 2017 in the United States of America.

Later that day, I arrived on the scene shortly after the car plowed into peaceful protesters. It was a horrific and bloody scene. Soon, we learned that Nazi websites had posted a call to burn our synagogue. I sat with one of our rabbis and wondered whether we should go back to the temple to protect the building. What could I do if I were there? Fortunately, it was just talk – but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises.

Again: This is in America in 2017.

At the end of the day, we felt we had no choice but to cancel a Havdalah service at a congregant’s home. It had been announced on a public Facebook page, and we were fearful that Nazi elements might be aware of the event. Again, we sought police protection – not a battalion of police, just a single officer – but we were told simply to cancel the event.

Local police faced an unprecedented problem that day, but make no mistake, Jews are a specific target of these groups, and despite nods of understanding from officials about our concerns – and despite the fact that the mayor himself is Jewish – we were left to our own devices. The fact that a calamity did not befall the Jewish community of Charlottesville on Saturday was not thanks to our politicians, our police, or even our own efforts, but to the grace of God.

And yet, in the midst of all that, other moments stand out for me, as well.

John Aguilar, a 30-year Navy veteran, took it upon himself to stand watch over the synagogue through services Friday evening and Saturday, along with our armed guard. He just felt he should.

We experienced wonderful turnout for services both Friday night and Saturday morning to observe Shabbat, including several non-Jews who said they came to show solidarity (though a number of congregants, particularly elderly ones, told me they were afraid to come to synagogue).

A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us. At one point, she asked, “Why do they hate you?” I had no answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of years.

At least a dozen complete strangers stopped by as we stood in front the synagogue Saturday to ask if we wanted them to stand with us.

And our wonderful rabbis stood on the front lines with other Charlottesville clergy, opposing hate.

Most attention now is, and for the foreseeable future will be, focused on the deaths and injuries that occurred, and that is as it should be. But for most people, before the week is out, Saturday’s events will degenerate into the all-to-familiar bickering that is part of the larger, ongoing political narrative. The media will move on — and all it will take is some new outrageous Trump tweet to change the subject.

We will get back to normal, also. We have two b’nai mitzvah coming up, and soon, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur will be upon us, too.

After the nation moves on, we will be left to pick up the pieces. Fortunately, this is a very strong and capable Jewish community, blessed to be led by incredible rabbis. We have committed lay leadership, and a congregation committed to Jewish values and our synagogue. In some ways, we will come out of it stronger – just as tempering metals make them tougher and harder.

Alan Zimmerman is the president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA.Published: 8/14/2017


Monday, August 14, 2017.  Tonight a trilogy of three MSNBC, programs demonstrating the power of television (not seen since the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the South in the 1960s), clarified the consequences of President Trump’s failure to say the right thing at the right time.



The first of the three programs was The Rachel Maddow Show: “Long Division.” Maddow has created a new art form within television news. Hitherto, news programs catered to the viewers’ requirement to get to the point instantly. In a medium where the term “breaking news” is employed to excess–as in “Earthquake Hits San Francisco”–the broadcaster immediately informs on what, where, and when. Not Maddow.

Maddow requires the viewer to be patient. Her detractors complain that 20, 30, or more minutes into her broadcast, they still do not know the purpose of the tale she is weaving before our eyes.


How white supremacy is like a national drug addiction

Carol Anderson, chair of African-American studies at Emory University, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the affliction of white supremacy in American culture is like a drug addiction that ultimately hurts everyone.

Maddow features as the focus for her lengthy broadcast, Anderson’s article in The Guardian:

“America is hooked on the drug of white supremacy. We’re paying for that today”

“In 1968, Richard Nixon dabbled in it [white racism] when he ran for office on the Southern Strategy, which promised a curtailment of black civil rights in order to woo disaffected white Americans from the Democratic party into the Republican party. And the disaffection ran deep.


The second of the three programs was Brian Williams’s aptly named and carefully crafted Eleventh Hour. When the program ends, I suspect you may reach the same conclusion I reached. The Presidency of Donald Trump ended on Saturday August 12th when our President failed in his moral duty to condemn the Ku Klux Klan by name, David Duke, by name, White Separatists by name.


Monday’s tepid Trump denunciation of the Klan was too little too late. Hours earlier on Monday–before denunciations from the President’s own party forced him to read without the requisite emotion–the requisite condemnation of white separatists, the Ku Klux Klan and racists–the President (our President!)–vilified Kenneth  Frazier,   chief executive officer of Merk Pharmaceuticals (who happens to be an African-American), for leaving the President’s manufacturers group because of Trump’s failure to label appropriate the blame on Saturday for the premeditated murder of Heather Heyer.


Hours before the President finally read from the teleprompter the words, I denounce the Ku Klux Klan, Trump excoriated the chief executive officer of Merk Pharmaceuticals for criticizing the President’s disgraceful remarks on Saturday.


“The Little Rock Nine became an integral part of the fight for equal opportunity in American education when they dared to challenge segregation in public schools by enrolling at the all-white Central High School in 1957. Learn more about the Little Rock Nine with the Library Research Guide.”


Brian Williams provided this example of Presidential leadership in a time of crisis–leadership sadly lacking on Saturday when it was so badly needed.

President George W. Bush’s Remarks At Ground Zero September 14, 2001


Phil Ochs comes instantly to mind.

If you drag her muddy river, nameless bodies you will find.
whoa the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes,
the calender is lyin’ when it reads the present time.
Whoa here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,
Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of!


Lawrence O’Donnell’s invocation of Heather Heyer’s murder as only the most recent of a number (too large to count) of those who died that we might have racial justice in our country brought to mind the murder of Medgar Evers. Evers was murdered because he sought to register African-Americans to vote in Mississippi.


I weep for the future of our republic

Read the transcript of Donald Trump’s jaw-dropping press conference

“Trump: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it, and you have. You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.”

Mozart Requiem Lacrimosa


On the Friday night that preceded the murder of Heather Heyer, white separatists carrying torches shouted “Jews won’t take our place in the streets of Charlottesville.”



Wikipedia David Duke

David Ernest Duke (born July 1, 1950) is an American white supremacist and white nationalist politicianantisemitic conspiracy theoristHolocaust denierconvicted felon, and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.


Details on the murder of Heather Hyer and the alleged murderer


Published on Aug 15, 2017

A white supremacist saying he’s ready to die for his convictions and a political activist saying he’s exposing evil were at an event that ended with one woman dead and at least 19 injured.


Coverage of the memorial service forHeather Heyer


My Two Days in a Homeless Shelter in Brooklyn

Tuesday, August 1, 2017. This morning I left a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, New York where I spent the last two nights.


This is the entrance to the homeless shelter where I spent Sunday and Monday nights. Notice the barbed wire.


Last night I returned “home” at 9:30. The hard and fast curfew is 10. The three or four uniformed guards made sure I was secure. My backpack was scanned by an airline-grade machine. Previously, my backpack had revealed a bottle of water. It had been seized. No glass permitted. Between the imposing scanner and the other device most everyone had to go through for detection of metal objects, the otherwise adequate space presents a fortress-like appearance. Being in a wheel chair, I was”lightly patted down” then cleared.



Inside Room A was my bed–Number 017. We residents were not referred to by name; rather by bed number.


Accuracy requires this notation: I could not have taken this photograph before 11 pm when lights were out. Before 11 glaring fluorescent illuminated everything. I took the photograph at 2:30 AM on Tuesday.


Ordinarily, I would have gone to the bathroom before bed. Brushing my teeth, for example, my dentist recommends. However, on Monday morning, I had awakened to the realities of the bathroom.


I took this photograph at 2 AM Tuesday morning. Going to the bathroom could no longer be postponed. As I considered washing my hands, a fellow resident had just finished scrubbing out the basin to the right of this photograph. He invited me to wash my hands where it was clean.


The resident of bed number 014 walked up to me and suggested I complain to the staff because I was not close to an electrical outlet required to charge my mobility device. The shortage of electrical outlets was severe. Several of the 20 or so residents of Sleeping Area A had iPhones. Cell phones were the only way homeless residents connect to the world. The shortage of electrical outlets at the homeless shelter meant several of us had to huddle at one outlet to recharge our phones. A 100 percent charge was considered a luxury.


Huddled around the electric plug after 11 pm, we residents tried to obtain enough electricity to be able to communicate with the outside world.


At 11, a member of the staff turned off the lights.


The lights did not remain off for long.


The rules are important at the homeless shelter. Before being allowed to sleep, I was required to sign each of 16 pages.

At 2:30 AM Sunday (actually Monday), I was given 16 pages of rules to sign at the shelter’s intake center. This was my second intake. The first was on 30th Street and First Avenue. Had I known I would be sent to Brooklyn I may not have gone. Although at that point, I would have gone anywhere for a bed to sleep upon.


At 11:02 precisely, the quiet in the sleeping room was broken when I heard a staff member yelling. She was in the bathroom apparently staring at an occupied stall, telling the resident that he should b e in bed. She said that because he was in the bathroom rather than in his bed, she was taking his bed away from him and he would have to leave the shelter.

The issue appeared to be resolved when another resident told her that the man in the bathroom did not speak English. She sought to rectify the situation by yelling at him more loudly. I do not know whether the resident was allowed to sleep in the bed he had been assigned in another sleeping room. I suspect he was allowed.


Sometime between 1 and 1:15 AM a staff member woke me from a deep sleep shaking my arm until I was sufficiently alert. She handed me this piece of paper informing that at 8 AM I had an appointment 8 AM for a mandatory assessment. She insisted I sign a piece of paper affirming. I signed. Immediate return to sleep was difficult. Another staff member turned on the bright lights. Other names and  bed numbers were called and the lights remained on until the last of the relevant residents had signed.




Shortly after 3 AM I awoke and was unable to return to sleep. I brushed my teeth and washed my hands and face. The showers were not only dirty–filthy. None of the showers was a wheel chair roll in. Attempting a shower would have been dangerous. Instead, I got dressed, packed, and attempted to leave. At the front door, a staff member informed me I could not leave the building. She said I had to wait until 5 AM.  I said I wanted to leave now. She said, “Well, I guess I cannot stop you.”





Copyright © 2017 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.