Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Boy's Story: Moving Out

Fiction Sunday

This is the final excerpt of  Chapter 1 ("A Boy's Story") from a novel, Jack Miller's Story, which I started writing more than fifteen years ago. It has undergone many changes since then, but now is in a form that I find suitable for publication. It contains biographical elements, no doubt, but it is not biographical by any means. Memory, unlike mathematical operations, does not always produce the same result.


In Part 8, Jack decided he wanted to become an astronaut, to escape the earth and explore space. His plans change as much as his ideas on the excitement of the unknown after a fire destroys their family home, and he and his family have to move out of the neighborhood.

Friday February 13, 1970

It was a winter day like any other, bitter cold and bright sunshine enveloping the surroundings, temperature in the low single digits, making the arrival of Spring's promises at least two months' away. As Jack Millerman walked home from school with his best friend, James Wong, they did their best to avoid the huge snowdrifts left by last evening's small snowstorm.

Other than that physical obstacle, they were oblivious to their environment. They were deep in conversation as only two best friends could be, talking about the day’s events, what they learned in school, how they each did in their Grade 7 science projects (Jack made a working model of a volcano), and whether high school would be scary and hard. Jack had heard from his brothers that Baron Byng High School was much harder than elementary school, but that made Jack more determined than ever. He, along with James and Caroline were at the top of the class, and often shared the honours as “blackboard monitors,” a distinction that meant staying after school to clean the classroom blackboards. They were also hall monitors, patrolling the hallways for the lower-grade kids who went to the bathroom and forgot to return to the classroom.

Jack was also a gate monitor, a responsibility that he took seriously. When the second bell rang at 8:30 am, he officially shut the schoolyard gate, and any tardies would then have to report to the front office, and receive a pink late slip. Jack at one time had wanted to be named head monitor, but Caroline beat him by two points, her average an 91 to Jack’s 89. Jack wanted desperately to be a 90s student, which would make his father proud. His mother was always proud of him, and he was certain of her love.

When they reached the corner of Villeneuve and Jeanne Mance, James would usually say bye and turn left toward his house half a block down. Every so often, however, if the conversation was good, as it was now, he would continue walking Jack home.  When they turned the corner onto Park Avenue, they both saw a lot of red fire trucks down the block, quite close it seemed to where Jack lived. “I hope it’s not your house on fire,” James said.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Jack said, fearing for the worst, and hoping for the best,

“C’mon, let’s run,” he said to James, who complied, also worried for his friend.

They sprinted the half block, seeing what seemed like a dozen fire trucks and dozens of fireman milling around 4597 Park Avenue. His heart raced; it was his house. For what seemed like minutes, he stood outside the building, watching firemen come outside. There were no flames, visible, but the strong smell of smoke, reminding him of the time in the summer of 1968 when he was a camper at Camp B’nai Brith, his first time away from his parents.  But this was his house, and he saw firemen carting out his personal belongings. His heart beat faster and he began to sweat profusely. Time stopped. His brain focused on one thought.

“Where are my parents, Mom, Dad, Yosef & Benny,” he said out loud. He ran toward the house, screaming, Mom, Dad, Yos...”

A strong arm grabbed him from behind, preventing Jack from entering the building. “Hey there, sonny, you can’t go inside,” a burly fireman said in English in a strong French-Canadian accent. “We’re still doing some mopping up operations. It’s too dangerous for you.”

“Where’s my mommy,” Jack said, tears forming at the corners of his brown eyes.

“Jackaleh, we’re all here,” his mother screamed, standing at the door of the restaurant two doors down.

Jack saw her and ran into her waiting arms, tears streaming down his face.She enwrapped him in her apron, torn and marked by the stains of her kitchen duties that she had always carried out faithfully, and stroked his head. In the process mama comforted him and he her, reminding him of their symbiotic relationship. Despite the outward display, she was still vulnerable in his eyes, needing his protection and love in whatever form he could render it. His father sat drinking a strong coffee laced with ouzo and smoking one cigarette after another, Export As. Both were not his usual choices, but he took them appreciatively and with generosity  from the hands of the patrons of the restaurant, Nick and Nina, who understood hardship. "Thank you. Thank you so much... Sure, more coffee." They spoke in accented English, their common language, betraying that they were both refugees from lands marked by war and its destructive ways. Making a new life in a new land. Starting over.

“What happened,” Jack said, after he recovered.

“I don’t know; I was in the kitchen preparing supper when I smelled smoke coming from the basement. I saw huge flames come from the basement, so I ran outside, called the fire department. We are all safe, no one hurt. We are going to stay in a special hotel for victims of fires, a few doors away. I will call your school tomorrow and explain everything. It will be all right Jackaleh. We’re not hurt.”

“Yeah, Mom, he said, and hugged her tighter.

He was glad that no one was hurt. And after his father downed his last cup of coffee and smoked his last cigarette they went a few doors away to the Park Avenue Arms, an apartment hotel, which became home for the Millerman family for a few weeks. All paid for by Sun Youth Organization for such purposes, to help families undergoing personal tragedy get back on their feet. Sun Youth was the brainchild (and heartchild) of Sid Stevens, a community organizer and mensch. The Millermans were able to salvage some things from their residence, some clothes, some personal mementos, some photos, a few pieces of furniture. But most of their possessions were lost, destroyed by the flames.  With money from the fire insurance and donations from the community, they were able to buy some new things.

“We’re moving,” his father announced during supper at their temporary residence at the Park Avenue Arms Hotel. Your mother and I looked at a new place in an area called Snowdon. It’s an area where my landsman live, full of Yidn. Next week, you will all be going to a new school, Josef and Benny to a new high school, and you Jackaleh to finish elementary school.”

Jack was uneasy about all the changes, a new place to live, new furniture, a new school, new friends . . . .  How would he play at Fletcher’s Field? How would he be able to survive without his beloved mountain? What would the new neighbourhood be like? Would there be a mountain to play on? Would he be accepted? It seemed all strange to him, surreal. He finally liked the way things were. He didn't want to move away from the familiar routine, it having a calming effect on him. Making a new life in a new land. Starting over.

Jack Millerman would have liked to believe that this change, although a huge black hole for him, would be good. A clean slate. Tabula rasa. Starting fresh with new hopes and dreams. He would have liked to act heroic. Jack had lately taken a greater interest in science and the possibilities of applied science. One of his cousins, Barry, had recently entered McGill University's engineering program. Barry showed him around the Macdonald Engineering Building and some of the physical science labs. "Engineering is precise and it brings order to chaos," Barry said. "It designs and builds and leads to progress, making the world better for mankind. "

Barry, his four sisters and younger brother had gone through a lot lately. Their father was placed at Ste Anne's Veteran's Hospital; he was another casualty of war, suffering from "shell shock," Jack's mother said. "He was a Canadian soldier sent overseas to Britain, and was there during the bombing of London. He saw horrible things... pulling dead children out of rubble ... Horrible things. Your aunt Ruth is left alone to raise the six kids."

Jack had met his uncle Percival a few times. A quiet man who chain-smoked cigarettes and paced around the room like a caged animal while his wife held court at the kitchen table. Each coped in a particular manner. Jack liked uncle Percival and felt a connection to him. He wasn't sure why. But he always felt a connection to the underdog, wanting to lift people out of the pit, as he himself wanted the same—to ascend upward and upward. Not like Icarus and his failed attempt, but more like Superman and his heroic efforts to help humanity.

Yet, Jack was no superhero. He needed reassurance that his family couldn't now give him, now that they were busy preparing for the move. He gently took out the red transistor radio from his schoolbag—it survived the fire— old faithful, no worse for wear save the faint smell of smoke and the metal trimming slightly tarnished, appearing older than its years. It was tuned, as always, to CFOX 1470 AM, and through its tiny speakers came the familiar sounds of Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond:
Where it began, I can't begin to know when
But then I know it's growing strong
Oh, wasn't the spring, whooo
And spring became the summer
Who'd believe you'd come along

End of Chapter 1

Copyright ©2011. Perry J. Greenbaum. All Rights Reserved.

Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Jascha Heifetz: Rondo by Mozart

Jascha Heifetz [1901-1987] plays Rondo (from Serenade No. 7: Haffner Serenade: K. 250) by Mozart. The Haffner Serenade was first performed July 21, 1776. Some critics say Heifetz often played too fast, as if he were trying to catch a plane. I sense it's a matter of interpretation. Thus, you can compare Heifetz's performance of the Rondo to that of Henryk Szeryng [1918-1988]. See (and hear) for yourself.