Stories I'm hearing

Stories I'm hearing on the street, in the news, etc.

Bel Kaufman tells a joke


I loved Up the Down Staircase, the story of an idealistic teacher learning the ropes in a tough urban high school, which came out in 1965 when I was just learning how to be a vile teenager. It turns out that Kaufman's still in the classroom, having been hired last year by Hunter College, her alma mater, to teach a course on Jewish humor.

Bruce and Esther get the hang of it. Or not.

On the one hand, this three-minute video of Esther and Bruce Huffman trying to figure out their new webcam is all about ineptitude.  On the other hand, it’s all about pleasure and perseverance, and the couple is perfectly happy that their granddaughter Emily posted it to YouTube, making them viral celebrities. No matter that it shows Bruce getting plenty frisky with Esther. "We're still trying to figure out how to work it," he says, "but we're having fun trying." I bet Esther nails it.

glaucoma vs. Gershwin

This week I went up to Hartford, Connecticut, to hear my aunt, Caroline Zinsser, speak at the Connecticut Historical Society – of which the director is my cousin, Kate Steinway.  Nepotism, not! Caroline has a doctorate in education and several successful careers under her belt, most recently as a historian and the author of Vine Utley, The Remarkable Country Doctor of Lyme, Connecticut (1768-1836), the topic of her excellent talk that day.

"greedy for life"

Eddie Mae HolmesI met the incomparable Eddie Mae Holmes, a barber in Richmond, California, through my friend Silver Rose. So I followed right up on her email suggestion to get in touch with a psychotherapist-turned-filmmaker named Laurie Schur. Schur is at work on a documentary called “The Beauty of Aging” about women 80 and up who’ve aged well.  Schur’s engaging short, “Greedy for Life,” highlights two of them.

“It was part of my adventurous life.”

One of the pleasures of this project is listening to the history that my subjects have lived and witnessed. One of the difficulties is weighing how much to include, and my general rule has been less not more.  When I interviewed master ceramicist Eva Zeisel, for example, I learned that she had been involved with novelist and essayist Arthur Koestler and figures in his masterwork Darkness at Noon, which George Orwell drew upon when writing 1984

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