Author Archives: susanjustwrites

Julius Caesar and me

JULIUS CAESAR AND ME

In my last blog post (“Marlon, Tony, and Cyd,” https://susanjustwrites.com/2022/10/26/marlon-tony-and-cyd/), I noted Marlon Brando’s performance in the 1954 film version of Shakepeare’s Julius Caesar, a film that had a tremendous impact on a very young version of me.  As I recall, I saw it with classmates at my junior high school, which declared a special day at the movies for some reason.  I always wanted to see it performed live.

Years later, that finally happened.

In May 1972, my husband Marv and I took our long-delayed honeymoon. We’d married one year earlier in LA, but we weren’t able to take off more than a weekend (spent in beautiful Santa Barbara) until we arrived in Ann Arbor in the fall of 1971.  We found life in AA somewhat restricting, and we began to ponder trips outside of Michigan and my hometown of Chicago. 

Our first foray took us to the tropical paradise of Nassau on a bargain charter trip from the U. of M. that we thoroughly relished.  But we hungered for more.  We soon aimed at the fabled cities of London, Paris, Florence, and Rome, and decided to visit them in our upcoming three-week vacation/honeymoon.

We landed in our first city, London, in early May.  We reveled in the British history and literature that leaped out at us:  Touring Charles Dickens’s home; making the essential trip to the Tower of London; viewing the paintings at the National Gallery…. 

We were also theater buffs, and we made sure to get tickets for plays on the London stage.  I remember our first night in London.  Even though we sat in the first row of the theater where Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing appeared, Marv had such vicious jet lag that he fell asleep and missed The Whole Thing. We loved the musical version of Canterbury Tales (which never seemed to be offered in any US city we ever lived in) and we roared at Robert Morley’s antics in his hilarious comedy in the West End. 

But one thing was missing.  We weren’t able to get tickets at any theater offering the plays of William Shakespeare. Whatever may have been playing was sold out or otherwise unavailable.

We racked our brains trying to solve this problem.  Suddenly an idea popped into mine.  We’d briefly shopped in the famed Harrod’s department store, mostly to see the place, and I thought I’d seen an advert for its travel service.  So we made our way back to Harrod’s and, sure enough, we discovered that its travel service offered a bus tour that encompassed an overnight stay in Stratford-upon-Avon and included two tickets to the Shakespeare play being performed on the date we’d arrive.  Voila! 

We immediately signed up for the tour, which also would make brief stops in a few other places:  Oxford, Blenheim Palace, and a town called Leamington Spa.  The only hitch was that we had to cancel the rest of our stay in our Sloane Square hotel and scramble to find another spot when we returned to London.  But Shakespeare was worth it.

Early the next morning we took off on our bus tour.  We discovered that our tour included theater tickets for a performance of Julius CaesarDestiny?

Soon we arrived at our first stop:  Oxford and its world-recognized university.  After viewing the university from our bus, we briefly walked around the campus.  I recall strolling around Christ Church College and noting its elegant architecture. 

Whenever I watch “Inspector Morse” on PBS, the crime drama starring John Thaw as Oxford police detective Morse, I’m always reminded of our brief stop at Oxford. The prizewinning series was produced from 1987 to 2000 and occasionally still pops up on PBS-TV channels.  The setting for each episode is invariably Oxford and nearby locations. 

Christ Church College has even more recently loomed into public view. Decades after our visit, Christ Church College has become famous because a number of campus locations were used as settings in the Harry Potter films.

Next we headed for our most desired stop:  Stratford-upon-Avon.  We found ourselves booked at the city’s White Swan Inn.  This historic inn, first used as an inn as far back as 1560, struck us immediately as a classic example of Tudor architecture, with a half-timbered exterior typical of that era.  When we checked in, we discovered that its framework of wooden beams extended into our bedroom, creating a memorable place to lay our heads during our stay in Stratford.

At the hotel’s restaurant, we shared dinner with our fellow tour-mates.  One other American couple shared our last name, and we chatted happily with them and others.  But we hardly noticed the food because we were eagerly anticipating our evening at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, an eight-minute walk away.

Excitedly, we arrived at the theater and took our seats, located not far behind the first row.  The other Alexanders were seated a couple of rows behind us.  The program listed the cast and included only one semi-familiar name.  Corin Redgrave, presumably the son of notable British actor Michael Redgrave (and notable British actress Rachel Kempson) and brother of Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, would play the part of Octavius Caesar.

The play began!  Marv and I knew the plot well, having seen the 1954 film more than once.  We certainly had no problem watching the violent murder of Julius Caesar by Brutus and the others.  But during that scene, we could hear cries of anguish coming from the other Alexanders.  At intermission, they exited, loudly declaring how unhappy they were.

I was astonished by their reaction to a brilliant performance of one of Shakespeare’s classic plays.  What exactly did they expect?  Much of Shakespeare is loaded with acts of violence and death.  Were they expecting one of the comedies?  If so, I was torn between feeling sorry for them and laughing at their foolishness. They’d probably been excited about seeing Shakespeare in Stratford, and they’d shelled out some of their pricey tourist budget to be there.  But they were apparently not very knowledgeable about the Bard or they’d have had an inkling of what could be on the stage that night.

I lost further respect for our fellow theater-goers when I overheard a woman (with a pronounced British accent) mutter, “Corin Redgrave.  Isn’t she Vanessa’s sister?”  Marv and I were both aware of Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, two women who’d already played prominent film roles.  So even though we weren’t entirely sure who Corin Redgrave was, we could easily tell from the program that he played a male role, and he would therefore be Vanessa’s brother, not another sister.  We Americans seemed to know a lot more about the British theater than the locals did.

Although we didn’t recognize the names of any of the other actors at the time, I’ve been able to find (on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s website) the names of the members of the cast that night.  I discovered that we saw a number of outstanding British actors who later achieved great fame. They included Patrick Stewart (as Cassius), John Wood (as Brutus), Richard Johnson (as Mark Antony), Margaret Tyzack (as Portia), and Tim Pigott-Smith.  Further, the director that night was the much acclaimed Trevor Nunn.  No wonder we were thrilled to witness this extraordinary performance.

Marv and I stayed till the very end and reveled in the brilliant performances of these talented actors.  We’d happily achieved our goal of seeing Shakespeare in Stratford, performed by members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and we’d seen a spectacular new version of Julius Caesar to boot.  Back at the White Swan Inn, we celebrated our thanks-to-Harrod’s coup with a romp in our very feathery English bed, Marv first showing off his manly strength by hanging from one of the overhead wooden beams.

By the way, the White Swan Inn has been renovated and still exists as a hostelry in Stratford, now dubbed the White Swan Hotel.

En route back to London, we made two more stops.  First, we visited historic Bleinheim Palace, where we toured the glorious interior.  The palace has been in the Churchill family since the 1770s (its history is fascinating), and Winston Churchill, who was born and often lived there, is buried just outside the palace grounds.  His grave is accessible to anyone. (You don’t need to visit Blenheim Palace first.)  Five years earlier, I briefly witnessed some of Churchill’s state funeral (the last state funeral before Queen Elizabeth II’s in September 2022) on a small black-and-white TV in the basement of Wyeth Hall during my first year as a student at Harvard Law School.  I was doing my laundry in an adjacent room and, when I glanced at the TV, I was suitably impressed by the pageantry on display in London in January 1965.

The tour’s final stop was a charming tea shop in a town called Leamington Spa. As our group gathered for tea, we learned the history of Leamington Spa, a beautiful but largely unknown town not far from our earlier stops.  (On a trip to countryside England with a friend in 2012, my friend and I met someone working in the Somerset area who confided that she was moving to take a new job in…Leamington Spa!  So, forty years after my visit to its tea shop, I surprisingly heard mention of it again.)

Marv and I returned to Stratford-upon-Avon with our daughters in 1995, in the middle of a jam-packed trip to the U.K. and France [please see “Down and Hot in Paris and London,” https://susanjustwrites.com/2014/11/%5D.  We stayed in nearby Cheltenham, visited other towns in the Cotswolds, and toured some sites in Stratford.  But we weren’t able to see a Shakespeare play together (I think the theatre was closed just then). 

So the time Marv and I were able to spend in Stratford in 1972, and our chance to see the Royal Shakespeare Company give a spectacular performance of Julius Caesar, gleam even more as a glittering memory, still burning brightly.

Marlon, Tony, and Cyd

Thanks to the cable TV channel Turner Classic Movies (TCM), I frequently watch a wide range of movies produced from the late ‘30s to those in the 21st century.

Some of my favorites are movies from the 1950s.  One highlight is the 1955 film Summertime, featuring Katharine Hepburn as a single woman who finds love while touring Venice on her own. Shot on location in Venice, it’s not your typical romantic movie, surpassing that genre with Hepburn’s brilliant performance and its glorious setting.

Among many other films from the ‘50s, I recently came across the 1955 Hollywood version of the 1950 Broadway blockbuster musical Guys and Dolls.  I’d seen it before but not for decades, and the TCM introduction by host Ben Mankiewicz was intriguing.  He noted that the film’s director, Joe Mankiewicz (Ben’s uncle), induced Marlon Brando to take the role of the leading man (Sky Masterson) despite Brando’s reluctance to assume a role in a musical. 

Joe reportedly told Marlon that he’d never directed a musical before, but, hey, they’d worked well together one year earlier when Joe directed the film version of Julius Caesar, and neither of them had ever done Shakespeare in a film before. As we know, Julius Caesar was a success, and Joe convinced Marlon that they’d also succeed together in a musical.

Although I enthusiastically agree that they both performed at the top of their game in Julius Caesar, their later collaboration in a musical was less than totally successful.

Filled with catchy tunes composed by the great Frank Loesser, the movie is exuberant, probably as far as a movie musical can go.  But one enormous weakness is Marlon’s lack of vocal ability.  His part requires that he sing a host of major songs, but his voice just isn’t up to them.

(By the way, Frank Sinatra was reportedly angling for this role and not happy about being given the secondary part of Nathan Detroit.)

One of the most obvious examples of Marlon’s poor vocal ability is his rendition of “Luck Be a Lady,” a show-stopping musical number on Broadway. 

When I watched Marlon’s pitiful attempt to master it, I was flooded with memories of first hearing this song performed—live—by singer Tony Martin at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

I was a kid when my family and I arrived in Las Vegas en route from Chicago to Los Angeles.  We’d left our life in Chicago behind, hoping to find a new life for all of us in LA.  Our move was prompted by my father’s serious illness, which we optimistically believed was cured, and his hope to establish a new life for our family in sunny LA.

I was delighted by our departure.  I knew I’d miss my friends in Chicago, who memorably gave me a surprise farewell party featuring a cake emblazoned with “California, Here Comes Sue” (my preferred nickname at the time).  But I was excited about forging a new life on the West Coast, where I fervently hoped that Daddy would be healthy and able to forge a new career.  Sadly, that wasn’t to be.  (I plan to write about that period in my life another time.)

Many of you may be wondering, “Who was Tony Martin?”

Although Tony Martin has faded into our cultural background today, he was a prominent American singer and film actor during most of the 20th century.  Born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland, Tony began his musical career with a local orchestra until he left for Hollywood in the mid-‘30s.  He appeared on radio programs like Burns & Allen, then moved on to films, where he starred in a number of musicals and received equal billing with the Marx Brothers in their final film, The Big Store.  After serving during WWII, he came back to the U.S., recorded memorable songs for Mercury and RCA records (including some million-sellers), and returned to Hollywood to star in film musicals in the ‘40s and ‘50s.  He also began performing in Las Vegas and other venues and continued to perform live till he was over 90.  (The NY Times reported that he performed at Feinstein’s on Park Avenue in NYC at the age of 95.)

Before dying at 98 in 2012, Tony was truly a fixture in Hollywood films, recorded music, TV appearances, and as a headliner in live concert performances for seven decades.  In the public mind, he’s been eclipsed by another Tony—Tony Bennett–who became successful during the ‘50s recording hits like “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches.”  His rendition of 1962’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” became his signature song and made him a hero in San Francisco (although it was Tony Martin who was actually born in SF).  Tony Bennett, perpetuating his role as a celebrated singer of pop standards, jazz, and show tunes, has become something of a cultural touchstone.  Despite his recent battle with Alzheimer’s, his popularity endures.  I can’t deny that his prominent place in the American musical landscape has lasted far longer than Tony Martin’s.

Back to my story…. 

Our family was staying at an inexpensive motel on the Las Vegas Strip, but Daddy had grand plans for us.  He succeeded in getting us front-row tickets for Tony Martin’s memorable performance at the Flamingo, a luxury hotel on the Strip.

The Flamingo Hotel itself is noteworthy.  As the 1991 film “Bugsy” (starring Warren Beatty as Bugsy Siegel) and, more recently, the 2021 film “Lansky” (featuring Harvey Keitel as Meyer Lansky) make clear, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky were major figures in organized crime who funded the construction of the Flamingo Hotel in the late forties.  It was finally completed in 1947 around the time Bugsy was shot to death by his fellow mobsters, who believed him guilty of skimming money. 

I knew nothing of this history until many years later.  When I was a kid, all I knew was that I got to see and hear Tony Martin live at the Flamingo.  I absolutely reveled in being part of the audience that night, watching Tony perform.

When Tony sang “Luck Be a Lady,” he lighted up the stage, and the audience responded enthusiastically. I recall being completely enthralled. 

Marlon’s performance in Guys and Dolls wasn’t in the same league.

At the same time that Tony was executing this song far better than Marlon ever could, Tony’s wife, dancer Cyd Charisse, was making her own mark in Hollywood.  Tony and Cyd married in 1948, and their six-decade marriage ended only with Cyd’s death in 2008. 

Cyd was an astounding dancer in a raft of Hollywood films, paired with both Gene Kelly (in Brigadoon, for one) and Fred Astaire.  Her dance number with Astaire in The Band Wagon (to the song “Dancing in the Dark”) has been immortalized in 1994’s That’s Entertainment III.  And if you watch 1957’s Silk Stockings (a musical version of Garbo’s Ninotchka), your eyes are riveted on her fantastic dancing, which outdoes Astaire’s in every way.  (By the way, Cyd’s comments in her autobiography on dancing with Kelly and Astaire are fascinating.)

Was Cyd in the audience that night, sharing her husband’s fabulous performance with the rest of us?  I’ll never know.  But it’s exciting to imagine that she was there, applauding with gusto, just as we did, to pay tribute to Tony’s outstanding rendition of “Luck Be a Lady.”

It goes without saying that Marlon Brando was a brilliant actor, one of the most remarkable actors of his generation.  His performances in films like On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, and, for that matter, Julius Caesar, will remain in our cultural memory as long as films endure. 

But notably, after playing Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, Marlon never attempted another singing role.  

I want you to get mad

In the 1976 film Network, a TV newscaster named Howard Beale announces on TV:  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  He’s irate, angry with the state of the world, and he tells his viewers:  “I want you to get up and yell ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.’” 

I re-watched Network recently, and Howard Beale’s words have stuck with me.  Until now, I’ve written very little about politics, but the current state of things has pushed me to finally speak up.  Like Howard Beale, I’m mad as hell, and I don’t think I can take this anymore.

TWO KEY POINTS:

  1.  THE OVERWHELMING IMPORTANCE OF VOTING

Much of our country is now in the grip of—or is moving toward–minority rule.  State legislatures like that in Texas have assumed minority control, and they are dictating their desires to the entire state, whether the majority agrees with them or not.  One example is their outrageous legislation banning a woman’s right to choose, a right that was until June enshrined in the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court for nearly fifty years.

How can we escape this move toward minority rule?  Lawsuits have been filed, and activists have been clamoring for the U.S. Congress to act, to protect the rights of the majority and thereby protect democracy in our country.

While these lawsuits proceed in the courts, and while the GOP members of Congress sit on their hands, let’s focus on what WE CAN DO.  Every voter in this country must VOTE.  Nothing will change until the majority exercises its right to vote. We urgently need to energize voters to vote—even where voting is hard. Turnout is vital.

Many of us are enraged by the new restrictions placed on voters by the minority-dominated legislatures.  These restrictions, primarily directed toward voters of color, can also diminish the voting rights of older voters and the disabled. 

What can we do?  We can–and we must–encourage all of these voters to vote.  And we need to get them to the polls.  If that means that we need to organize a battalion of vehicles to transport them to the polls, then we should do that.  If that means that voters must deal with the unfair restrictions placed upon them by the new rules, then that’s exactly what they need to do.  Until the unfair rules change, they need to follow the rules.

It may not be easy for everyone to vote, but we need to emphasize how vital it is. Let’s tell voters:  Don’t go to the polls expecting short lines or people handing out bottles of water.  Be prepared for long lines of voters like you.  Bring water and food from home while you wait.  If you’ve been able to use a mail-in ballot in the past, don’t assume you can use it now without following whatever draconian rules have recently been enacted.

Why?  Because you need to follow the rules if you’re going to change anything.  Specifically, to change the people elected to the legislature and the other elected positions that are up for grabs.  Even if you’re in a gerrymandered district, go out and vote.  Lose a day’s pay if necessary.  Wear the most comfortable shoes in your closet.  Bring an umbrella if the forecast is for rain.  In short, do whatever you need to do to exercise your right to vote

The new Texas laws, passed by a legislature dominated by members who do not represent the majority of citizens in their state, make Texas the “poster state” for minority rule.  We need to keep Texas in mind when we encourage people to vote anywhere and everywhere.

I’m encouraged that many groups and individuals are taking steps to promote greater turnout.  Increasing enthusiasm and higher voter registration numbers, especially among women, are immensely encouraging signs.

  •  MAKING SURE YOUR VOTE IS COUNTED

We have an even greater challenge:  Confronting those who advocate that we do not honor the outcomes of rightful elections.  These candidates and others will not commit to honoring the will of the voters.  Win or lose, they want to proclaim victory and remain in power forever, creating a one-party state.

We need to do whatever we can to clamp down on this alarming trend.

These “election deniers,” who have falsely claimed that the ex-president won the 2020 election, appear up and down November ballots throughout the U.S.  Many are contending for local and state offices, like the state offices that run elections–the secretaries of state–that are frequently ignored by the electorate.  They have the potential to wreck the orderly administration of elections throughout our country. 

I’m especially disturbed by these efforts to undermine local elections because I have relevant personal experience.  For decades, I worked as a fair and unbiased precinct worker, poll worker, and election judge, and I’m appalled by what’s happening in our country right now.

In 1975, I moved to Wilmette, a North Shore suburb of Chicago, with my husband and one-year-old child.  At first, I didn’t have a job as a lawyer or as a law school professor (both of which I’d previously done), and I had no other meaningful employment outside the home. Because I had a lifelong interest in politics, I immediately searched for ways to get involved in politics in Wilmette.

It turned out that Wilmette was embedded in a largely Republican part of Cook County.  Village officeholders were chosen in nonpartisan elections, but other officeholders, such as our member of Congress, faced highly competitive elections.

Wilmette was in New Trier Township, which covered much of the North Shore, and I came across the New Trier Democratic Organization, filled with energetic Democrats who hoped to get more Democrats elected locally, statewide, and nationwide.  I allied with NTDO, volunteering to work in my precinct to elect Democrats in the November 1976 election.  In the beginning, I went door-to-door to learn who was likely to vote for Democrats.  I would then mark up a publicly-available list of voters and give it to my precinct captain, helping to get Democratic-leaning voters to the polls on Election Day.  Soon I became a precinct captain myself.

Even after I was hired to teach at a downtown Chicago law school, I chose to work part-time only, primarily to spend time with my children but also to be able to pursue other interests.  My darling husband (always supportive of whatever pursuit I chose) was a university math professor who could work on his math at home and otherwise had a flexible academic schedule, and he would often assume responsibility for our children.

So I continued to devote time to volunteer efforts related to electoral politics.  I eventually worked my way up to sit on the NTDO executive committee.  (More about that—and our pivotal endorsements–another time.)  Although I generally supported Democratic candidates, I respected Republican candidates and officeholders and those who worked to support them.

Two of my favorite efforts were 1) serving as a poll worker, monitoring the proceedings at an election site on Election Day, and 2) serving as an election judge, working as one of the two parties’ judges, checking in voters and tallying up votes at the end of the day.

Politics in Wilmette remained highly competitive, but this competition never interfered with the orderly conduct of elections.  On the contrary, everyone worked smoothly together, and I always felt welcome wherever I worked.  Even in the most Republican-dominated part of town, I enjoyed sitting beside and chatting with Republican judges.  Those of us who represented both parties at the polls respected each other and got along remarkably well.

The contrast with electoral politics in 2022 is enormous and truly frightening.  If the election deniers take over running local and state elections, they will not respect their opponents.  They will not tally votes fairly.  They will attempt to work toward their goal of a one-party state.

If they win, what will politics be like for our children and grandchildren?  Will our democracy survive?  Or will tyranny triumph?

Please become aware of election deniers running for office in your community and work to defeat them.  The prospect of their running future elections is horrifying.

As Timothy Snyder has stated in his book, On Tyranny, if we are to avoid tyranny, we must tell everyone:  “Believe in truth.  To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.” 

We must “defend our institutions” and do all we can to “beware the one-party state.” 

Finally, Snyder has challenged all of us:  Be as courageous as you can.  If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny.

This is why I want you to get mad.  This November, voting is more important than ever before.  We need to get out there and vote.  To help others to vote.  And when we vote, we need to oppose those who would undermine our freedom.  Our democracy hangs in the balance.

Totin’ cotton

This may sound silly.  But The New York Times recently focused on a problem you’ve probably never thought about:  “the cotton tote crisis.”

What?  How can cotton tote bags create a crisis?

The Times described a woman who decided to count all of the free cotton tote bags she’d accumulated in her closet.  They totaled 25.  She complained that they’d been foisted on her at a variety of stores and hotels:  “You get them without choosing.”

This woman’s complaint is preposterous.  No one is compelled to accept a cotton or any other kind of tote bag.  When I’m doing errands, like shopping for groceries or other items, I bring along tote bags I already own.  I’ll sometimes take an empty backpack and fill that up with groceries, books, or the like.

But I do admit that I like tote bags and have acquired a lot of them.  Counting them seems absurd, but I’ll bet I have at least 25.  I especially like those that promote my public library, art museums, reading, and causes I support, like the environment.  My favorites at the moment?  One from the Save-the-Redwoods League, another from the California State Parks Foundation, both sent to me in return for a small donation.

But the question remains:  Is there really a crisis?

It turns out that there is a crisis.  But it’s a crisis that goes far beyond one’s possession of a heap of tote bags.  The crisis arises out of possessing everything that’s made of cotton.

Why?  Because cotton is itself an environmental hazard.  First, growing cotton takes up a lot of land, and it has “a big carbon footprint.”  As Tatiana Schlossberg has explained, producing the world’s cotton supply for use in textiles results in over 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.  It also uses a lot of chemicals like insecticides and fertilizers.  But according to Schlossberg, the biggest problem with growing cotton is how much water it uses. [Schlossberg’s 2019 book, Inconspicuous Consumption: the environmental impact you don’t know you have, is worth reading.]

The media are currently full of stories about the increasing worldwide shortage of water.  Global water supplies are seriously stressed.  Drought in the western United States is notably causing huge problems, leading to harsh restrictions on water usage that will probably hit residents who’ve blown off the warnings for years.  Farmers will bear most of the impact, causing predicted shortages in our food supply.

The story in the Times backs up these conclusions.  It notes the many problems with cotton, quoting a University of Maine professor that cotton is “so water-intensive.”   Others state that another serious issue, forced labor, is involved in the production of cotton.

As for tote bags, according to the Times, a Danish study concluded in 2018 that an organic cotton tote needs to be used 20,000 times “to offset its overall impact of production.”  I’m not quite sure how that figure was arrived at, but, okay, let’s agree that we don’t need all of the cotton tote bags that are currently produced.  Stores use them as “mobile billboards,” possibly helping them boost their sales. Charities use tote bags to promote their more virtuous goals.  But cutting back in either case is probably a good idea.

Think about alternatives.  The string bags popular in Europe might be adequate for your needs.  If you’re handy with needle and thread, try cutting up old clothes and sewing them into colorful tote bags. Keep using the bags you already have.  But don’t forget: Plastic bags are far worse for the environment and should never be considered a desirable option.

At the same time, we don’t need a lot of the fashion items that use cotton.  That inexpensive dress from H&M? That sharp cotton shirt from Macy’s?  Another pair of Levi’s? Yes, these may look great, but I’ll bet that your closet’s already full.  Let’s not buy any more than we need.

Can we substitute other textiles for cotton? Suggestions abound.  Recycled cotton may be an alternative.  Hemp is another.  Recycled plastic water bottles?  Yes!

The real goal here:  Reducing the production and sale of unnecessary items made of cotton. Clothes, of course. Tote bags, too.

Please keep this question in mind:  How many pairs of jeans do you really need?  Think about it.  The same answer ought to apply to tote bags, cotton and otherwise.

Giraffe grannies

In the midst of the doom and gloom surrounding us on a daily basis, I offer some news that may brighten your outlook.

There are certainly more consequential things to write about.  But let’s think about something else for a change: the pivotal role of grandmothers in the animal world. 

Yes, grandmothers.

In a recent issue of National Wildlife, published by the National Wildlife Federation, writer Mark Wexler highlights the role of giraffe grandmothers.

I’ve always viewed giraffes as the most graceful and charming of animals.  I’ve probably been swayed by photos of giraffes bending their long necks towards and around each other. But according to Wexler, until two decades ago, giraffes were believed to be basically aloof and lacking any social structure. 

Guess again.  Biologists at the University of Bristol have reviewed over 400 scientific studies of giraffe behavior and reached a very different conclusion.

It turns out that graceful, elegant, apparently aloof giraffes have highly complex social systems.  Most notably, these often include small groups led by older females, who spend as much as 30 percent of their lives after their reproductive years.

The biologists suggest that giraffes fit the “grandmother hypothesis,” the idea that females in certain species survive beyond their reproductive years so they can help raise later generations of their offspring. 

It now appears that giraffe grandmothers play an important role in raising young giraffes.

Biologists have previously noted this behavior in only a few other mammals.  Which ones?  Orcas, elephants, and–of course–humans.

The behavior of older female orcas is highlighted in a new CNN series about Patagonia.  Colorful footage reveals orca grannies teaching baby orcas how to survive in the treacherous waters along Patagonia’s Atlantic coast.  Others have noted this kind of behavior among elephants.  And I hope we’re all aware of the vital role played by human grandmothers.

The lead author of the British study, Zoe Muller, is baffled that giraffes, “such a…charismatic…species,” have been “under-studied for so long.”  She believes that we can use this newly-revealed understanding of giraffe behavior to bolster the population of giraffes in the wild. 

Apparently, giraffe population has been in decline for many years—by 40 percent since 1985.  But now that we have a better understanding of how this species behaves, Muller believes that conservation measures may be more successful.

I’m hoping that the active role pursued by these grandmothers will help our beautiful co-inhabitants of planet earth survive in greater numbers.  I’d hate to see giraffes disappear from our planet, wouldn’t you?

So let’s celebrate giraffe grandmothers.  And let’s hope that the worldwide population of giraffes will increase rather than decline. 

Our own grandchildren will be the happy beneficiaries.

Declare Your Independence: Those high heels are killers

Following a tradition I began several years ago, I’m once again encouraging women to declare their independence this July 4th and abandon wearing high-heeled shoes. 

I’ve revised this post in light of changes that have taken place during the past year and a couple of new ideas I want to pass along.

My newly revised post follows:

I’ve long maintained that high heels are killers.  I never used that term literally, of course.  I merely viewed high-heeled shoes as distinctly uncomfortable and an outrageous concession to the dictates of fashion that can lead to both pain and permanent damage to a woman’s body. 

A few years ago, however, high heels proved to be actual killers.  The Associated Press reported that two women, ages 18 and 23, were killed in Riverside, California, as they struggled in high heels to get away from a train.  With their car stuck on the tracks, the women attempted to flee as the train approached.  A police spokesman later said, “It appears they were in high heels and [had] a hard time getting away quickly.” 

During the past two years, largely dominated by the global pandemic, many women and men adopted different ways to clothe themselves.  Sweatpants and other comfortable clothing became popular.  [Please see my post, “Two Words,” published July 15, 2020, focusing on pants with elastic waists.]

In particular, many women abandoned the wearing of high heels.  Staying close to home, wearing comfortable clothes, they saw no need to push their feet into high heels.  Venues requiring professional clothes or footwear almost disappeared, and few women chose to seek out venues requiring any sort of fancy clothes or footwear.  

But as the pandemic began to loosen its grip, some women were tempted to return to their previous choice of footwear.  The prospect of a renaissance in high-heeled shoe-wearing was noted in publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.   In a story in the Times, one woman “flicked the dust off her…high-heeled lavender pumps” that she’d put away for months and got ready to wear them to a birthday gathering.  According to the Times, some are seeking “the joy of dressing up…itching…to step up their style game in towering heels.”

Okay.  I get it.  “Dressing up” may be your thing after a couple of years relying on sweatpants.  But “towering heels”?  They may look beautiful, they may be alluring….

BUT don’t do it!  Please take my advice and don’t return to wearing the kind of shoes that will hobble you once again..

Like the unfortunate young women in Riverside, I was sucked into wearing high heels when I was a teenager.  It was de rigueur for girls at my high school to seek out the trendy shoe stores on State Street in downtown Chicago and purchase whichever high-heeled offerings our wallets could afford.  On my first visit, I was entranced by the three-inch-heeled numbers that pushed my toes into a too-narrow space and revealed them in what I thought was a highly provocative position.  If feet can have cleavage, those shoes gave me cleavage.

Never mind that my feet were encased in a vise-like grip.  Never mind that I walked unsteadily on the stilts beneath my soles.  And never mind that my whole body was pitched forward in an ungainly manner as I propelled myself around the store.  I liked the way my legs looked in those shoes, and I had just enough baby-sitting money to pay for them.  Now I could stride with pride to the next Sweet Sixteen luncheon on my calendar, wearing footwear like all the other girls’.

That luncheon revealed what an unwise purchase I’d made.  When the event was over, I found myself stranded in a distant location with no ride home, and I started walking to the nearest bus stop.  After a few steps, it was clear that my shoes were killers.  I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and the pain became so great that I removed my shoes and walked in stocking feet the rest of the way.

After that painful lesson, I abandoned three-inch high-heeled shoes and resorted to wearing lower ones.   Sure, I couldn’t flaunt my shapely legs quite as effectively, but I nevertheless managed to secure ample male attention. 

Instead of conforming to the modern-day equivalent of Chinese foot-binding, I successfully and happily fended off the back pain, foot pain, bunions, and corns that my fashion-victim sisters often suffer in spades.

Until the pandemic changed our lives, I observed a trend toward higher and higher heels, and I found it troubling.  I was baffled by women, especially young women, who bought into the mindset that they had to follow the dictates of fashion and the need to look “sexy” by wearing extremely high heels.  

When I’d watch TV, I’d see too many women wearing stilettos that forced them into the ungainly walk I briefly sported so long ago.  I couldn’t help noticing the women on late-night TV shows who were otherwise smartly attired and often very smart (in the other sense of the word), yet wore ridiculously high heels that forced them to greet their hosts with that same ungainly walk.  Some appeared to be almost on the verge of toppling over. 

Sadly, this phenomenon has reappeared. On late-night TV, otherwise enlightened women are once again wearing absurdly high heels.

So…what about the women, like me, who adopted lower-heeled shoes instead?  I think we’ve been much smarter and much less likely to fall on our faces. One very smart woman who’s still a fashion icon: the late Hollywood film star Audrey Hepburn. Audrey dressed smartly, in both senses of the word.

I recently watched her 1963 smash film Charade for the eighth or tenth time. I especially noted how elegant she appeared in her Givenchy wardrobe and her–yes–low heels. Audrey was well known for wearing comfortable low heels in her private life as well as in her films. [Please see my blog post: https://susanjustwrites.com/2013/08/08/audrey-hepburn-and-me/….]

In Charade, paired with Cary Grant, another ultra-classy human being, she’s seen running up and down countless stairs in Paris Metro stations, chased by Cary Grant not only on those stairs but also through the streets of Paris. She couldn’t have possibly done all that frantic running in high heels!

Foot-care professionals have soundly supported my view.   According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, a heel that’s more than 2 or 3 inches makes comfort just about impossible.  Why?  Because a 3-inch heel creates seven times more stress than a 1-inch heel.

A few years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle questioned a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon who practiced in Palo Alto (and assisted Nike’s running team).  He explained that after 1.5 inches, the pressure increases on the ball of the foot and can lead to “ball-of-the-foot numbness.”  (Yikes!)  He did not endorse wearing 3-inch heels and pointed out that celebrities wear them for only a short time, not all day.  To ensure a truly comfortable shoe, he added, no one should go above a 1.5-inch heel.  If you insist on wearing higher heels, you should limit how much time you spend in them.

Before the pandemic, some encouraging changes were afoot.  Nordstrom, one of America’s major shoe-sellers, began to promote lower-heeled styles along with higher-heeled numbers.  I was encouraged because Nordstrom is a bellwether in the fashion world, and its choices can influence shoe-seekers.  At the same time, I wondered whether Nordstrom was reflecting what its shoppers had already told the stores’ decision-makers.  The almighty power of the purse—how shoppers were choosing to spend their money–-probably played a big role.

The pandemic may have changed the dynamics of shoe-purchasing, at least at the beginning. For the first year, sales of high heels languished, “teetering on the edge of extinction,” according to the Times.  Today, the pandemic may be a somewhat less frightening presence in our lives, and there are undoubtedly women who will decide to resurrect the high heels already in their closets.  They, and others, may be inspired to buy new ones.

I hope these women don’t act in haste.  Beyond the issue of comfort, let’s remember that high heels present a far more serious problem.  As the deaths in Riverside demonstrate, women who wear high heels can be putting their lives at risk.  When they need to flee a dangerous situation, high heels can handicap their ability to escape.

How many needless deaths have resulted from hobbled feet?

Gen Z shoppers can provide a clue to the future. They largely eschew high heels, choosing glamorous sneakers instead–even with dressy prom dresses.

My own current faves: I wear black Sketchers almost everywhere. I occasionally choose my old standby, Reeboks, for serious walking. [In my novel Red Diana, protagonist Karen Clark laces on her Reeboks for a lengthy jaunt, just as I do.] And when warm temperatures dominate, I’m wearing walking sandals, like those sold by Clarks, Teva, and Ecco.

The Fourth of July is fast approaching.  As we celebrate the holiday this year, I once again urge the women of America to declare their independence from high-heeled shoes. 

If you’re currently thinking about returning to painful footwear, think again.  You’d be wiser to reconsider.

I encourage you to bravely gather any high heels you’ve clung to during the pandemic and throw those shoes away.  At the very least, keep them out of sight in the back of your closet.  And don’t even think about buying new ones.  Shod yourself instead in shoes that allow you to walk in comfort—and if need be, to run.

Your wretched appendages, yearning to be free, will be forever grateful.

[Earlier versions of this commentary appeared on Susan Just Writes and the San Francisco Chronicle.]

The wage gap is still enormous

You’re probably wondering.  Wage gap?  Huh?

This isn’t a sexy topic, but it’s troubling, and it’s not the first time I’ve written about it.  There are certainly more compelling topics to discuss right now (e.g., gun safety, the persistence of Covid), but I want to focus on this today.

 Five years ago, in July 2017, I noted my concern with the CEO-worker wage gap [https://susanjustwrites.com/2017/07/31/random-thoughts-ii/].

What was bothering me?  The CEO “pay ratio” was standing at 271-to-1.

I was looking at the Economic Policy Institute’s annual report on executive compensation released on July 20, 2017.  According to that report, chief executives of America’s 350 largest companies made an average of $15.6 million in 2016, or 271 times more than what the typical worker made last year.

Yes, the number was slightly lower than it was in 2015, when the average pay was $16.3 million, and the ratio was 286-to-1.   And it was even lower than the highest ratio calculated, 376-to-1 in 2000.

But, as I pointed out, before we popped any champagne corks because of the slightly lower number, we had to remember that in 1989, after eight years of Ronald Reagan in the White House, the ratio was 59-to-1, and in 1965, in the midst of the Vietnam War and civil rights turmoil, it was 20-to-1.

In 2017, I wanted us to reflect on those numbers.  To think about how distorted these ratios were and what they said about our country.  I asked, “Did somebody say ‘income inequality’?”

Why am I writing about this issue again?  Because this week Andrew Ross Sorkin reported in The New York Times that the average pay gap between low-wage workers and the CEOs of their companies is still enormous.

Sorkin reported that, according to a brand-new study by the Institute for Policy Studies, the median pay for workers at companies that tend to pay low wages was, thanks to inflation,  up by 17 percent,.  But that raise was dwarfed by the rise in CEO pay, which rose by 30 percent at those same companies.  The lead author of the study “Executive Excess” noted, “this could have been a time when companies used rising profits to level the playing field.  Instead,” said Sarah Anderson, “we haven’t seen a very big shift in pay equity.”

Further, CEOs did even better at companies where salaries didn’t keep pace with inflation. The study looked at median workers’ wages at about a third of the firms in the study, firms whose wages did not keep pace with inflation.  The average CEO pay at those companies was up by 65 percent, or more than double the increase at all of the firms in the study.

One company in this group was Best Buy, where median pay fell two percent last year (to $29,999), while the CEO, Corie Barry, got a 30 percent pay increase to $15.6 million.  Barry may have done a bang-up job, but the huge difference in pay is pretty stark.

Hey, Best Buy, I just bought some stuff from you.  If I’d known that my purchases have led to this vast inequity in pay, I’d have thought twice about giving my business to you.  I don’t like to think that such a big chunk of your profits, including those derived from customers like me, went straight to your CEO instead of to your workers.

Is there any possibility for change?  There may be a glimmer of hope.  Sorkin’s report also noted that the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) could possibly move in that direction.  According to Sorkin, a group of former regulators (including two former SEC commissioners) have asked the SEC to issue new rules illuminating this disparity. 

The petition for this rule-change contends that “investors need more information about what companies pay workers,” and it urges the SEC to propose new rules requiring companies to disclose how much they’re investing in their workforces.

The two former SEC commissioners (Joseph Grundfest and Robert Jackson) have, in the past, often had opposing views.  They noted, “We differ in our views about the regulation of firms’ relationships with their employees generally.”  But, they added, “we all share the view that investors need additional information.”  The group stated that the current accounting and tax rules make “investing in machines more attractive than spending on humans.

Right now only about 15 percent of public companies disclose their labor costs. The proposed rules would require that companies disclose their labor costs (and no longer lump them in with other expenses).  They’d also require companies to provide detailed workforce compensation data, including information on the breakdown for contract, part-time, and full-time employees.

So we may be able to clearly see the current disparity in compensation.  If these new rules are endorsed by the SEC, we could see much more transparency in workers’ compensation because data revealing who earns how much would be revealed for everyone, including investors, to see.  

At least some investors could then make choices that would benefit workers’ compensation.

The goal is achieving greater equity.  I think that many if not most investors would welcome a move in that direction.  As Virginia’s Senator Mark Warner, who supports the petition, says, “No one can credibly argue that this type of disclosure wouldn’t be valuable or material to investors in a highly competitive, 21st-century, global economy.”

My Fight for Reproductive Freedom

Thanks to the recent leak of a draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, the news has been filled with stories about the future of women’s reproductive freedom, guaranteed to American women since the 1973 Supreme Court opinion in Roe v. Wade.

As a young lawyer, I fought for reproductive freedom over 50 years ago.  My co-counsel and I (working as an attorney with the Chicago Legal Aid Bureau) filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the restrictive 19th-century Illinois abortion law in February 1970. 

We argued for and won a TRO (temporary restraining order) allowing a Legal Aid client, a Black rape victim, to have a legal abortion in March 1970.  And after oral argument in September 1970, we ultimately won a hard-fought 2-to-1 decision by a three-judge court in January 1971.  You can probably read the court’s decision online.  Doe v. Scott, 321 F.Supp. 1385 (N.D.Ill. 1971).

In brief, the court held that the Illinois statute was “an intrusion on constitutionally protected areas…women’s rights to life, to control over their own bodies, and to freedom and privacy in matters related to sex and procreation.”  

I later filed an amicus brief in Roe v. Wade, arguing specifically on behalf of poor women. 

I’m currently engaged in a writing project that focuses on Doe v. Scott.  I plan to answer questions like these:  What led me to stand up for women’s rights, including those of poor and minority women?  How did my experience as a federal judge’s law clerk enable me to pursue a class action of this kind?  And how did our case actually proceed to victory in the conservative federal court in the Northern District of Illinois?

I still have a great deal of work to do to complete this writing project.  It will not be a commentary on the current direction of the Supreme Court, which appears headed to sweep away five decades of women’s reproductive freedom.  It will instead focus on what happened up until 1973, and it will stop there.

In the meantime, I plan to continue to add a new post to my blog about once a month.

PACIFIC BEACH: An unforgettable year (Part IV)

My baby was due in early May.  One Friday close to my due date, I underwent a procedure in my doctor’s office called amniocentesis.  It involved plunging a needle into me to extract fluid proving that my fetus’s lungs were sufficiently mature.  It was painful, briefly, and there was a danger of piercing the amniotic sac, but skillful Dr. Blank carried it off with aplomb.

I felt fine when it was over, and Marv and I took off for a beautiful afternoon in Balboa Park.  We strolled through the park until we came across the Spanish Village Art Center, a collection of small buildings designed like an old village in Spain.  It was originally built in 1935 for the second California Pacific International Exposition, and a group of dedicated artists had turned it into a permanent art center. Artists have continued to preserve and enhance it. 

We happily encountered a watercolor artist, Frances Steffes, who was showing some of her paintings, including one of La Jolla Cove.  After chatting with her, we decided to buy this watercolor, which captured the beauty of a spectacular spot in La Jolla.  The painting now hangs in the home of the baby I gave birth to two days later.

Dr. Blank had warned us that amniocentesis might hasten the birth, so we took it easy on Saturday.

I woke up around 4 a.m. on Sunday. The process had begun.  As a high-risk primapara, I was worried that things might not go smoothly, so I needed to get to the hospital right away.

Marv and I phoned Dr. Blank and left for the hospital.  At that time, Scripps Memorial Hospital arose in the middle of a still largely undeveloped tract of land in La Jolla.  We were ushered into a room where my progress was monitored by a rather brusque nurse until Dr. Blank arrived.  Although I had increasingly painful contractions, I was told that my labor didn’t “progress” well.  Because of my high-risk status, Dr. B didn’t want labor to continue indefinitely, and at noon he decided to deliver my baby by C-section.

Now we began to wait for an operating room.  I was in agony, wondering exactly what was causing the hold-up.  We were finally told that only one operating room was available on Sundays (that was somewhat surprising), and another operation was in progress.  A male baby had a “bleeding circumcision,” and we had to wait for it to be surgically repaired before I could be moved to the operating room.  The surgeon who had caused the flawed circumcision must have been desperate to repair it to secure his professional reputation. 

All this time, I was having intense labor pains, along with accompanying worries about my high-risk status, and the waiting seemed interminable.  (I could comment here about gender-bias, but I won’t.)

Finally, I was moved to the operating room. An anesthesiologist gave me a spinal injection that killed my pain, and he and I chatted while Dr. B deftly performed my C-section.  When Dr. B announced, at last, “You have a beautiful baby girl!” I burst into tears, deliriously happy tears running down my face.

As soon as I was moved to a room, Marv immediately rushed to my bedside (fathers weren’t allowed in operating rooms), joyfully telling me, “She’s the prettiest baby in the nursery!”  By this time, Marv and I had decided on a name in memory of his late mother.  I’ll call her Felicia. 

We were extremely relieved to learn that Felicia had no signs of diabetes (or any other ailment), and my own gestational diabetes had vanished as soon as she was born.  It reappeared only briefly during my next pregnancy and then once again disappeared.  I’ve been lucky to have been spared this awful disease.  So far, at least.

Mom arrived from Chicago to join our newly-created three-member family when we left the hospital.  Her cheerful stay was brief but helpful.  After she left, Marv and began to focus on our new life.  Tammy and Norm volunteered to be our first babysitters, and we took them up on it and left for a quick bite at Bully’s.

Breastfeeding, a/k/a nursing, was a challenge.  At the time, breastfeeding wasn’t universally adopted by new mothers.  But I was determined to try.  I constantly returned to another well-thumbed paperback by an author who strongly endorsed it.  Just as she warned, it was painful at first, but I persevered, and it was worth it.  I loved holding Felicia in my arms, nurturing her with milk produced by my own body.  I still think that breastfeeding is an astounding experience that every mother should at least attempt, and I was delighted that both of my daughters followed my lead and breastfed their babies.

At home with my baby, I was able to watch the televised impeachment hearings held by the House Judiciary Committee, which began on May 9th.  By June, Woodward and Bernstein had published All the President’s Men, its astounding revelations creating a firestorm.  Tricky Dick was clearly in big trouble.

Going for long walks with our baby smiling at us from her carriage, Marv and I began to look at houses. We weren’t certain that we had a future in La Jolla (he had only a one-year appointment as a visiting professor), but we thought we might as well look, right?  I remember seeing a house in La Jolla that listed for $40,000.  It was in a not-so-desirable part of town and probably wasn’t much of a house, but looking back even a few years later, I realized what a great investment any piece of property in La Jolla would have been. 

Unsure that we’d stay, we unfortunately couldn’t consider buying it.  We didn’t have a lot of spare cash, and we needed to save what we had for a future home, wherever that might be. 

Marv and I got adventurous, taking our baby to a restaurant for the first time.  Our choice was La Rancherita, a small Mexican place on La Jolla Boulevard.  Dinner there was a breeze.  Felicia slept through the whole thing.

We tried our luck again a few weeks later.  We headed for a terrific Italian restaurant in Pacific Beach.  But our luck had run out.  This visit was a near-nightmare. Although Felicia was a happy baby who almost never cried, here she cried the entire time.  The only positive thing that happened: A woman diner asked me her name, then told me she’d given the same name to her own daughter.  That made me feel a tiny bit better.

Aunt Sade and Uncle Sam reappeared, driving down from LA, and we ate at a splendid seafood restaurant in La Jolla called Anthony’s. While we ate, we all gazed at the entrancing Felicia.  I was delighted to see Sade and Sam again at our joyous reunion, and I looked forward to another one. 

Life was blissful.  Although we knew we might have to leave our magical life in La Jolla, the prospect was too awful to contemplate.  But one day Marv had to relate very bad news. 

We’d been hoping that his one-year appointment at UCSD would be extended.  But his mentor, an older professor who (as I recall) headed the math department (I’ll call him Jay), was leaving.  A native of the Netherlands, Jay had taught at American universities for decades.  But his second wife missed her home in Europe and was eager to return.  For whatever reasons, Jay accepted a position in Amsterdam. 

This was shocking news.  Jay had invited Marv to UCSD because he greatly admired Marv’s work as a mathematician and relished sharing ideas with him.  I think Jay would have made sure that Marv remained his colleague at UCSD.  But Jay was departing, and his influence no longer held much weight.   

So although Marv was at the top of his field (he’d already earned tenure at the University of Michigan), the rug was suddenly pulled out from under him when Jay announced he’d be departing for Europe. 

Marv began searching for another job in California.  But it was too late in the academic year to secure a new faculty position, and other attempts to find a meaningful position for someone of his academic stature didn’t pan out.

So together Marv and I bravely faced facts.  We’d have to leave our idyllic new life in La Jolla.  We knew that the math department at the University of Michigan would welcome Marv back with open arms, so it made sense to return to Ann Arbor for one more year. 

Our new baby was totally dependent on us, and it was imperative that the three of us stay together.  I sadly had to forgo the prospect of returning to my Legal Aid job in San Diego.  I knew that I would continue to pursue my own career, but I never for one second considered looking for a job that would separate me from my adored Marv or my beautiful new baby or both.

Together we would move back to Ann Arbor.

We began packing.   While we packed, we put Felicia, comfy in her baby chair, on the floor near us. We discovered that she liked to kick brown paper grocery bags, watching the empty bags move and listening to them make noise, so we placed bags where her tiny feet could reach them.  This effort kept her happy while we filled up cartons with our stuff.

As we packed, Tricky Dick Nixon faced his own grim future.  On July 24th, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to deliver tape recordings and other materials to the district court.  The walls were closing in on him.

Then, between July 27th and 30th, we learned of two other developments:  The House of Representatives issued Articles of Impeachment, and Nixon’s “smoking gun” tape was disclosed.

Around August 1st, Marv and I flew back to Ann Arbor (via Detroit) with our not-quite-three-month-old baby.

While we stayed at Ann Arbor’s Briarwood Hotel, looking for an apartment, we had one consolation for our move:  On August 8th, Nixon announced his resignation in a televised speech (he officially resigned and left the White House the next day).  Watching his humiliating speech on TV, Marv and I celebrated by ordering steak and champagne from hotel room service.

An even more significant and lifelong consolation:  Our baby.  Felicia sustained us through everything we dealt with during the next year in Ann Arbor.  Flooding my memory is the agony of pushing her baby carriage through daunting piles of snow and ice that winter.

This darling new person in our life sustained us until the following spring, when Marv accepted an excellent job offer from a university in Chicago.  Being in Chicago would be an exciting departure from Ann Arbor.  Soon we used our spare cash to buy a house in the leafy lakefront suburb of Wilmette. 

No, it wouldn’t be La Jolla.  It wouldn’t be Pacific Beach.  But our new home in Wilmette meant the beginning of a beautiful new life.

PACIFIC BEACH: An unforgettable year (Part III)

Something surprising happened in January.  Months before, I’d applied to work at the San Diego Legal Aid Society, but I’d never heard back.  Now I got a phone call asking me to come downtown for an interview. When I met with the program director, Steve H, I was visibly pregnant, but Steve liked my background working in Legal Services as a lawyer for low-income clients, and he decided to hire me part-time. 

I was thrilled.  I’d completed teaching Poverty Law at USD at the end of the fall term, reading final exams and papers and handing in my grades.  Starting a great new part-time job right now would work out perfectly.  Steve loved introducing me to everyone in the office, practically beaming because he, a steadfast liberal, had hired a pregnant woman.

I discovered that I could take a convenient bus downtown.  But when I met my officemates, one of them offered to give me a ride. Mike W, a single lawyer about my age, lived near me and picked me up on a corner close to my apartment. 

Mike W was a smart guy but totally unaware of how pregnancy worked.  Almost every time he gave me a ride, he fretted that I’d give birth in his car.  I had to keep reassuring him that first babies are never born that fast.  And of course mine wasn’t.

Working in the downtown office turned out to be a terrific experience.  I enjoyed my Legal Services work, interviewing clients and doing research at the downtown city library.  During lunchtime strolls, I was also able to explore downtown San Diego.  I discovered a great used book store and still own a vintage copy of Robert Burns’s poetry I found there. 

I also browsed at the big downtown department store, Walker Scott.  It reminded me of old-line department stores in other cities, like Chicago’s Marshall Field’s.  I remember the store was at that time promoting the forthcoming film, “The Great Gatsby,” featuring life-size photos of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow on full display.

One lunchtime, I entered Walker Scott feeling a bit tired, and I happily discovered a women’s lounge where I could put my feet up.  I returned there often.  One day I noticed a new mother nursing her baby, and I remember smiling and telling her how much I admired her.  At the time, I was busily reading up on how to nurse my own baby, and it was reassuring to see a new mother handling it so well.

Before I reluctantly went on leave from my job at Legal Aid (I’ll explain why below), the women in my office surprised me with a baby shower!  It was a true surprise because I never expected any of them to spend their precious time and money on me.  I think there was one other woman lawyer, whom I barely saw because she was so busy.  The other women were either administrative staff or secretaries, and most of them didn’t appear to have an extra dollar to spend this way.  It was a joyous event, and I treasured receiving gifts from these ultra-kind women.  A stuffed teddy bear from Mari became our baby’s first toy, landing in her bassinet as soon as she arrived home.  Another gift was a baby blanket, especially endearing because it had a noticeable flaw that identified it as a remainder purchased at a bargain store.  Buying even that was probably a stretch for my beautiful co-worker, and I loved her for it.

In March, I got some bad news.  A routine urine test revealed a high number for glucose.  I had to follow up with another, more serious, glucose test, requiring that I drink a revolting liquid.  The result was a shocker:  I was diagnosed with a complication of pregnancy, “gestational diabetes.”  

I didn’t even know that this complication existed.  It was NOT a complication described in my well-thumbed paperback copy of “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” written by the noted NYC ob-gyn Alan Guttmacher.  His book listed a whole lot of complications, but nowhere did Dr. G mention gestational diabetes.  (I do remember his advice for dealing with constipation:  Just relax on the toilet with a cigarette.  Oh, yes, his book gave that advice.  Luckily, I never needed to follow it.)

Dr. Blank sent me to a local specialist, an MD who was an expert on diabetes.  This man turned out to be a horrible practitioner of the medical profession. I had no problem with modifying my diet. That was no big deal.  But this MD also ordered that I begin having insulin shots once a day, and he arrogantly announced that I had to enter a hospital overnight to learn how to give myself injections.  Further, instead of trying to cheer me up, reassuring me that everything would go well, he warned me forebodingly:  “We’ve had some losses….”  What a miserable thing to say to a vulnerable pregnant patient.

My friends Lyn and Ted once again came to my rescue, dismissing the idea of my going to the hospital.  Instead, in their dining room, they taught me how to give myself insulin shots, using an orange as the substitute for my arm.  Former nurse Lyn told me that was how nurses learned to give shots.  I felt incredibly lucky to have Lyn on my side.

Marv lovingly took over giving me my needed shots.  But I was nevertheless depressed by the prospect of six more weeks of them.  Marv tried valiantly to make me feel better by reminding me of the biggest news story of the day:  Patty Hearst’s abduction in Berkeley six weeks earlier.  The shocking story had dominated local TV news.  “The time since then has gone fast, hasn’t it?” Marv asked me.  I had to admit that he was right.  Those six weeks had flown by.  I could survive six weeks of shots.

I had become and would always be a “high-risk primapara.”  Once I learned the meaning of “primapara,” a woman giving birth for the first time, I thought about writing a journal titled “Diary of a High-Risk Primapara.”  But I never got myself organized enough to do it.

Celebrating my birthday at the end of March became a wonderful break from our worries.  My nausea had lessened a great deal by that time, so Marv and I drove to Tijuana, where we had a scrumptious Mexican lunch and shopped at the outdoor vendors’ stalls.  Marv bought me a beautiful white crocheted shawl that I cherish to this day.  We then drove back to San Diego, where we devoured a delicious dinner at a fancy rooftop restaurant, Mister A’s.  (It’s still in business.)

Marv and I didn’t want to tempt the evil eye, so we put off shopping for baby clothes and furniture until just before my due date in early May.  But we anticipated needing a rocking chair for our new baby.  In a store near our apartment, we found a great Scandinavian-designed rocking chair, made with teak wood like the rest of our good furniture.  I later used it to rock my new baby, just as we planned.  I still own and treasure it.

In April, my diabetes diagnosis compelled me to take a leave of absence from my Legal Aid job.  The reason was borderline disgusting.  Please forgive me for describing it, and feel free to skip the following paragraph.

My doctors demanded that I collect my urine for 24 hours every day so it could be analyzed for a certain substance in it.  I was given giant glass jug-like bottles in which to save the urine, and I kept them in a bathtub in our apartment.  I was so dutiful in my collecting that whenever I left home, I would carry smaller bottles in which to collect smaller amounts, later adding them to the giant bottle. Usually accompanied by Marv, I would then drive to the UCSD hospital downtown to drop off the big bottles.  The whole process was exceedingly disheartening, but the final blow came when I began to lift a completely-filled bottle out of my bathtub, and the bottom fell out, spilling an entire day-long collection.  I sadly watched it all go down the drain.

At that point, I knew that I couldn’t keep up with both my job and all the medical demands on me, and it was the job that had to go.  My desire to give birth to a healthy baby overpowered everything else.  So I said goodbye to my Legal Aid office, assuring everyone that my leave was only temporary and that I planned to see all of them again after the birth of my baby.

Although my diagnosis of gestational diabetes was disheartening, and we couldn’t be certain of the outcome of my pregnancy, I felt pretty sure that the fetus growing inside me would put up a good fight.  This baby had to be strong.  It had survived all of my energetic dives into the hotel pool we’d shared with our friend Arlyn in Westwood.  (I’ve always believed that a weaker fetus might not have survived my vigorous diving.) 

The gap in my work-life balance was soon filled by another part-time job, one I could work on at home.  I’d already begun my leave of absence from my job at Legal Aid when I was recruited to bolster the Legal Writing program at USD law school.  I’d successfully completed teaching Poverty Law at USD at the end of the fall term, reading final exams and papers and handing in my grades.  Now a faculty member eagerly recruited me for this new job.  He brought me a big pile of student papers to review and grade by the end of the spring term.  I was happy to use my experience as a Legal Writing instructor at the University of Michigan Law School, a job I’d completed just before we left Ann Arbor for San Diego.  I dug into the USD student papers with relish, marking them up with my trusty red pen.  My hope, of course, was that my revisions and comments would help these students become better lawyers.

Meanwhile, Marv and I went back and forth, trying to choose a name for our hoped-for baby.  Picking a name for a boy was easy:  Marv’s and my father had both been named David.  But a girl’s name was much more challenging.  Almost every one that I liked Marv would veto.  While we continued to consider possible names, my friend Lyn gave me some useful advice:  Choose a name your baby will like.  She confided that she and Ted had named their son Ira Robert, but he was incessantly teased by other kids:  “I’m a rabbit, I’m a rabbit.”  They finally legally changed his name to Robert Ira.

                                                To be continued….