Is It A Shoe Decision

Deutsch: Ausstellung Materielle Beweise der Gr...
Deutsch: Ausstellung Materielle Beweise der Gräueltaten in Auschwitz I English: Exhibition Material Proofs of Crimes at Auschwitz I Polski: Wystawa Materialne Dowody Zbrodni w Auschwitz I Español: Exibicion de Pruebas Materiales de los Crimenes en Auschwitz I (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often find myself listening to my children as they lament their challenges of the day and remind them of the differences between problems arising out of affluence and melodrama of the real world.

Prior to living in New Canaan, we spent several years in London where we received a baptism of fire in international living and in life. Our close family friends, Kathy and Ross, were Australian ex-pats whose children lined up perfectly with our own and whose ability to live in the moment made each day an adventure and every dinner a life lesson.  One evening I was complaining over dinner about a particularly difficult decision at work and Ross smiled and asked “ Well, mate, is it a shoe decision ? “  I was stumped and assumed this yet another of his Aussie colloquialisms.

Ross shared that his boss and mentor, Frank, was an Auschwitz survivor.  Frank was 48 when he emigrated penniless from the former Czechoslovakia.  His philosophy of living catapulted him to become CEO of one of the world’s multinational corporations.  Frank would often ask Ross “ is it a shoe decision ? “ when chiding Ross on taking life too seriously.

Frank shared that when he was a teenager, they were rounding up Jews and taking them to the camps.  The stress was unbelievable as each night Frank and an increasingly shrinking ghetto of survivors would wait for the pounding at the door.  ‘They always came at night and gave you no time to gather your things.  Off people went ‘( Most never returned ).

‘The night they came for me, for some reason, I did not expect it.  I was tired and was counting on a good nights sleep.  It was bitterly cold that winter and I had fortunately dressed in heavier winter pajamas.  They Nazis burst in, and I could only grab one thing.  I chose for some reason to grab two pairs of shoes.  I put on one pair and sliped the others inside my bedclothes.  The train was horrific – hours standing with no place to sit or use the toilet, people dying all the way over the several hour train ride to Birkenau -( Auschwitz )

‘It became clear to me that my extra pair of shoes would mean life for someone.  We were forced to stand for hours in freezing rain and snow. People’s feet would get frost bite and gangrenous.  Once the gangrene set in, they were whisked off to the gas chambers. I had two friends with me from home – both without shoes.  I knew that the person I gave the shoes to would live and the one without the shoes would most likely die. The night of my decision, I agonized until morning, a more tortured soul you could not find.  The next day, I gave the shoes to one friend, while the other watched.  He bore me no ill will.  The friend without shoes died in the gas chambers weeks later with infected feet.  My other friend ? He is an Auschwitz survivor today. ‘

‘ So you see, Ross’ he shared, ‘ here’s the way I look at it: Is it a shoe decision ?  Is it life or death ? Because if it is, you must take the time to be sure you search every corner of your soul for the truth.  Pray for guidance.  If it is not life or death.  Think.  Decide.  Act and never look back.  If it is wrong you can change your mind.  Be a good man.  Do the right thing.  But, agonizing over little problems that do not decide life or death is a waste of your life.  Leave worry for the other man.’

I think back many times on that dinner in London.  I think of the safety, security and affluence we enjoy and remind my children that none of our problems are “ shoe decisions”.  Words to live by, particularly these days when the world outside our cocoon seems so beset with conflict and hatred.

A Free Range Kid

A Free Range Kid

In 60’s and 70’s suburban Los Angeles, each planned community was a perfect grid of magnolia and palm tree lined streets with green carpets of manicured lawns stretching for entire blocks, interrupted only by cement driveways which served as primitive lines of demarcation for the packs of children that would roam their environs looking for field to play.  In our town at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, everyone knew the neighbors and the neighbors knew you.  It was difficult to engage in any form of civil disobedience – – blowing up anything with an M80s (1/8 stick of dynamite) purchased in Tijuana, BB gun wars, or heaving water balloons at passing motorists – – without someone id’ing you and reporting you swiftly to your parents, sometimes before you even made it home from the caper.  In my case, the fear of parental retribution would cause me to entertain wild thoughts of running away – – “I will sneak in, grab my clothes (and a few Hostess Fruit Pies) and shack up in Charlie’s tree house until I can get a job and then I will hitchhike to Montana.”  It did not matter that I was nine, uncertain of where Montana actually was or that Charlie’s tree house was a four by six spider colony.  This was secondary to avoiding the belt that was certain to find my adolescent behind for crimes against humanity.

When we moved into our new home in the summer of 1968, we quickly got to know our neighbors who lived behind our red tiled, stucco Mediterranean.  The backyard was still under construction and while my parents conducted their final walk through, we discovered a cachet of dirt clods that were unlike any organic material we had ever seen.  These massive dirt blocks, forged together from drought and construction digging, became weapons of mass destruction as my brothers and I squared off in primitive slit trenches and behind ivy fences.  As the battle raged, an errant clod flew over the redwood fence and resulted in a “splash”.  Like the old EF Hutton commercial, we froze, intrigued by the sudden sound of water.  My brother tossed another dirt clod over the fence testing the radius of the hidden water – – splash!  We took a third clod the size of Delaware and pushed it over the barrier- – “ker-plunk” followed by a geyser spiking higher than Old Faithful.  The barrage lasted for the next hour. As my father and mother toasted their new home and expanding social circle, the phone rang.  It was their new neighbors…their angry, new neighbors.  A reign of terror began that would last fifteen years. 

Despite these and many other transgressions, we were absorbed into this melting pot of young and old . Our neighborhood was a microcosm of every suburban community in America.  We had Howard, next door, who had possessed every conceivable power tool known to man and would voluntarily assist my father in fixing anything that broke, chipped or even looked like it might break. Years later, my youngest brother, home from college, got a hysterical call from Mildred, Howard’s wife, that he was gravely ill and needed to be lifted into the car so she could take him to the hospital.  The strapping do-it-yourselfer had been reduced to less than 100lbs from cancer but his sense of humor stayed in tact.  “Tell your Dad, he can have the band-saw if I don’t make it back home.”

 

We were all odd passengers lashed to the mast of a massive ship of streets and yards.  We had one neighbor who liked to make himself martinis, sit in a lawn chair and light off fireworks.  The problem was – – it usually around 12 at night and year round.   We sort of got used to the roman candles surging like a distant firefight and became indifferent to the Piccolo Petes that would shrill like incoming artillery fire.  We had your token grouchy old man who would threaten us with bodily harm ‘lest we venture on to his carefully manicured lawn to retrieve a baseball.  We named him “Groucho” and as we got older, we found increasingly ingenious ways to torment him including one night, lighting smoke bombs, donning dark bed sheets and circling the smoke, repeatedly chanting“ pagan sacrifice “.  I wasn’t sure what “peg and sacrifice “ meant but my older brother told me to say it.  Groucho called the police.  He reported hooded dwarves were committing ritual sacrifices on his dichondra and he had just reseeded. There was Mr. Brown who loved to sunbathe naked in his back yard which horrified Mrs. Cunningham next door, but the police would do nothing about it.  “Don’t look” they told her.  I recall lighting a fire in the bushes in front of another neighbor’s home but was so intent on my pyromania, I did not realize the fire was also in full view of their living room window where they sat and watched me.  Imagine my surprise as I exited the bushes with my friend, and noticed the police and fire truck car in front of our house.  I balled my eyes out when the fire chief said that they sent arsonists to reform school.  I was not sure what reform school was but I was sure they did not serve dessert there.

Diagonally to the north, we had the large Italian family with 12 kids.  They had their groceries delivered by The Helms Man Grocery Service – a luxury unheard of in the 70’s.   The Helms Man truck driver was not the sharpest tool in the shed and while other kids would distract him, we would empty his change dispenser and then buy candy from him with his money.  It worked for months until to our chagrin, a new driver showed up. Like all communities, we lived with illnesses, divorces, aging neighbors and people troubled by demons and dysfunction – – a bonanza of mania and mayhem.  There was the neighbor that snapped one day at work and came home to hold off the police for four hours with his son’s BB gun.  There was a suicide.  There was a murder.  There were robberies.  Life did not bypass this bucolic oasis.  It drove in like an ill wind every couple of years to remind us that we needed to look out for one another.   Through it all, every neighbor always was there for every other neighbor.  Every adult felt they had proxy authority to discipline other people’s kids and enforce a community standard.  We were free range kids – – roaming miles away on foot or by bicycle, making mistakes and learning coping skills that would serve us throughout life.

 

Times have changed.  Geography and social boundaries have made it harder to be a free range kid.  The requirements have not changed nor the have the dividends.  Free range kids need a little extra rope, independence, trust, support from their community and the ability to make mistakes.  Captive kids have “high bottoms” because parents love them to the point of not wanting them to fail, at anything.  Captive kids are tightly managed and live life within a set of guardrails built of myriad commitments and shielded with a two parent safety net.  When a free range kid gets into trouble sometimes he/she has to figure out how to get out of it.  Free range kids make bad choices but they learn, grow and some even believe these kids cope better when eventually introduced into “the wild”.    

 

Under The Wire

Under The Wire

A computer is like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy

John Dunlop

Firebase Dell, Connecticut. 2100 Hours. External conditions:  Dark.  Reported movement outside the wire.  Central command is expecting enemy activity tonight.  Assignment : check and stabilize cyber-firebase Dell. Prevent intrusions and viral infection.

It’s late and I sit down to walk the computer perimeter.  As I scroll the endless sea of daily activity and peruse the America On Line notices, I notice a small gap.  It appears someone has wandered into a protected area and erased their footprints.  The enemy agent has been working on a less patrolled corner of the firebase trying to penetrate my protective defenses.  I can almost see him, in his little black pajamas, a coy intruder using stealth and exploiting our generation gap.  When I interrogate the suspect, he confesses that he was trying to get on Webkinz to feed his virtual animals.  I am suspicious.  Webkinz sounds like a foreign acronym for a deadly virus or worm. The next thing I know, I will be getting pop up emails from someone named Ivana suggesting that we meet at least once before moving ahead with the marriage.  How we went from Webkinz to Russian mail order brides I will never know.  The one thing I know for certain is once again, my computer will be compromised.

I have a constant battle with viruses on my PC.  It got so bad two years ago that  I had to swap out my hard drive.  I  would boot the computer and it would immediately tell me I have won the Ghana National Lottery and then whip me off to another website where I could buy copious amounts of Oxycontin, Viagra and Xanex.  If a person actually consumed all of these potential purchases, they would probably try to seduce a silverback gorilla at the Bronx Zoo and then spontaneously combust, or perhaps just become a conservative radio talk show host.  Point is, the gremlins had gotten under my meager defenses, penetrated my perimeter with virus after virus and completely ruined my hardware.

I decided to buy Norton Anti-virus to confound the virus gremlins.  For good measure, I overlayed MacAfee Firewall on top of it.  The result was the equivalent of fitting my computer with a protective chastity belt and then throwing the key into Long Island Sound.  I could not even figure out how to get on to the Internet without going through more doors than Maxwell Smart.  It felt like a maze of cyber metal detectors, frisking me before I even entered my own computer.  The application window kept saying that the delay was due to the computer loading an approved list of sites.  Yet, the approved sites slowly reduced to a Dell accessories store and Norton Update.  I began to refer to this unholy offspring of MacAfee and Norton as MacNorton.  MacNorton was so effective in controlling access that no one could use the computer.  My days of being plagued by messages suggesting I buy Rolex watches or help wealthy

Africans who wanted to deposit $ 10,000,000 into my bank account because I was named in someone’s last will and testament –  were all done.  I could not get on to AOL.  I finally found a way of accessing Internet Explorer by setting my computer back to an earlier date through System Restore, accessing AOL via the web and then retrieving my mail as a guest.  I might as well have been in doing all of this from an internet café in Madagascar.

No good deed goes unpunished.  Webkinz, YouTube, My Space, Itunes and a parade of other seemingly benign Trojan Horses all require some degree of permission.  Hiding in these cyber facades are little Greek cookies and enemy tracking devices that will case my perimeter looking for a weak spot.  “ Dad, if I don’t feed my Webkinz , he will die”. One of my kids complained. Hmmm.  Perhaps this was a great opportunity to teach my kids about one of life’s great mysteries and inevitable passages and do it in a virtual manner.  I wondered what would happen if we did not feed that virtual cat.  Would the Webkin become ravenous.  Would Webkinz animal control officers break into the cyber house to thwart the abuse ? Would the cat scratch the hell out of the furniture and foul the room before going to the great kitty litter box in the sky – – now that would be virtual reality !

I once again laid down the law that my office computer was off limits.  They saw me for the paper tiger that I am and waited for me to go to work.  They promised me to use the other computer that I had explicitly purchased for them to use to access the internet and play games.  The problem with this fully loaded Dell wireless laptop – – with the chrome bumpers and the V10 engine, is it was now so riddled with viruses that it just laid on its side and as you walked by it would whisper , “ kill me, please, just kill me“.  As we do not believe in computer euthanasia in my house, we just waited patiently for it to die.

I devised a plan.  I must first purchase an iMac for the “power user” 14 year old who has been capable of hacking into the Kremlin for years and has probably been on the payroll of the CIA since middle school.  The plain envelopes addressed to her from Langley, Virginia were a dead give away.  If I could neutralize the power user, I could cut enemy activity by 33% – 45%.  The black pajama crowd was more difficult to disable.  Being young boys, they are predisposed to only hear 25% of what they are told and obey 50% of that.  That is a 12.5 % compliance rate.  As a male, I understand their compliance will never be more than 50% but such a low likelihood of success required drastic measures.  I eliminated instant messaging.  I deleted games and applications.  I reinstalled Norton.  I calibrated firewalls to their age group and entered a new password.  It worked.

Nowadays, I come home and the computer boots up quickly.  The website history is gloriously weak and showing signs of diminished interest in the internet.  I am pleased.  While I write my latest diatribe, I receive an email announced with a “ping”. I toggle to received messages.  It’s a note from someone named Svetlana69 and she wants to know when I want to meet.