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You Think Things Are Bad Now?

Live During The Depression

I saw the light on the very first day the damn thing started. My parents were refugees from Europe, which was rapidly becoming Fascist; and though my father was a respected doctor in Budapest, he arrived in New York penniless and didn’t know a word of English. Because of that dearth of knowledge, the only job he could get was at a hospital cleaning out bed pans.

That odious employment and meager salary was just enough to buy food for a family of four, but the rent was a different story. To keep a roof over our troubled heads, we had to rely on family members who had migrated to America a generation before us. These relatives owned a decrepit shoe store and the four of us lived in its back room.

The store turned out to be fortuitous… but the falling apart place was our mean of survival. The family burned it to the ground every year or so, in order to receive insurance money that ended up getting us through the worst of times during the Great Depression. We never got caught, but there were other problems; my father still had a hard time with English and he kept failing the Medical Board tests. He was so desperate to pass the exam that one year he asked the young, would-be doctor next to him if pneumonia was spelled with an N or a P. Unfortunately, a proctor was watching my father and he was thrown out of the test for cheating. After several more tries he eventually passed the Boards, but he had no practice, so we were worse off than when he was swapping out bed pans.

There was an out besides burning down the shoe store. Prohibition was the law of the land but people could get booze if it were prescribed by a doctor. My father partnered with a crooked druggist and the two supplied our Brooklyn blue-collar neighborhood with all the hooch they could drink. Of course my father got caught. It looked like he was going to lose his newly-acquired medical license, or even worse, go to jail. After much consternation, the family found a judge who would exonerate my father for $7,000. That kind of money  in those years was the equivalent of $100,000 today. We burned down the shoe store twice that year, but it still wasn’t enough. We needed a miracle and it came in the form of a gentleman named Louis Lepke. Lepke was a killer and the head honcho of a bunch of Jewish thieves and murderers known as Murder Inc. Luckily, Lepke’s wife was pregnant with twins; and even more lucky for us, it was a difficult pregnancy and was in danger of aborting the babies. My father saved the day. Mrs. Murder Inc. had her twins and for payment, my father told Lepke to get the crooked judge off his back. Lepke paid the jurist a visit. The debt was immediately cancelled.

Still our doughty, little family had problems. Number one, our meager diet and cramped surroundings had left me with a raging case of rickets. The cure for this disease is a good diet and plenty of vitamin C. We didn’t have the money for a good diet, but the sun occasionally shone in Brooklyn and I remember my parents pushing me out to the stoop to lap up the sunshine. I’d sit there all day and my health actually improved, but besides my health problems, there were serious problems in the land. Because it looked like the Great Depression would never go away, a large consensus of citizens felt that capitalism had failed. One of the answers to this dilemma was communism. My older brother fell for this idea and became a card carrying member of the American Communist Party. This allegiance drove my father nuts. He had escaped Europe and he had escaped jail time, but he was a paranoid wreck  because of my brother’s radical politics and the fact that he kept a loaded suit case in the closet, just in case the family had to make a hurried flee down the fire escape.

Besides our own family difficulties, the effects of the Great Depression were all around us. Most people in my neighborhood bought their clothes from itinerant peddlers who wandered our streets. Pants went for 50 cents and you could get an entire suit with a vest for $3.00 from these vendors. There were also a lot of beggars on our street and they frequently came up to our door around dinner time. Since we had no money, my mother would give them a sandwich, and on those rare times when we were a bit flush, she would give them a nickel. My father would shake his head at his wife’s largesse, but he went along with it. Still there was much talk about money and the lack thereof at our dinner table. Every morsel that went down our gullets was monetized. How much did the carrots cost? What was the price of the strips of beef in the soup? How much was the apple sauce? This constant conversation about money at the dinner table made me neurotic. I felt guilty every time I swallowed.

Besides the ever present discussion of money, Hitler had become a threat. Mixing that monster with a depression made for a catastrophe that was about to envelope us all … and yet we lived through it. My brother gave up his communist credentials, became a loyal citizen, and joined the Air Corps and served as a bombardier on B27’s during the war. My father’s practice grew, and after that conflict he moved from Brooklyn to New York and opened a small office just off Park Avenue.

All in all, after the Great Depression and WW2, the world was a much better place. It was the American Century. The world was ours, it was a happy, heady time … and what helped to make it just that, were the tough times we went through to get there.

There are still great inequities in this country. The poverty rate is abominable. There is hunger, and disease and vast inequities in America. But we got through the Great Depression and we will get through these tough times. And the vast majority of us won’t have to commit arson to do it. I’m so positive of that fact—I’ll bet the shoe store on it.

Why Do Americans Hate The French

Dislike The French

I have always wondered why we, Americans, dislike the French so much. I have always thought of myself as lucky to have spent a considerable part of my life there. So I’m more than a little baffled why we are always putting that country and its’ inhabitants down.

Let me start with something as simple as streets. In France, the streets are pretty much immaculate. All the main arteries and most of the side streets are hosed down every morning. What’s wrong with that? And then there’s the mail. It gets delivered seven days a week—even on Sunday. That’s pretty good isn’t it? And of course there’s the food. OK, the dreadful McDonalds arches are more and more prevalent, but overall, you can always find a swell meal in most restaurants or bars. If they didn’t serve great food, they’d soon be out of business, and everybody likes a good meal, don’t they?

Speaking of food … the French take their time. Lunch is a big meal and can last a minimum of two hours. What’s wrong with that? The French also have not only a great interest, but a great tolerance about making love. Their presidents have mistresses and passels of illegitimate kids, and the French don’t get in snit about it. In fact, they feel the bedroom is off limits and nobody’s business. Why do Americans find fault with that?

If you’re a culture maven, France maybe the best place in the world. Take museums—you could put a dozen metropolitan and national museums together and they wouldn’t come close to the Louvre. You could spend months in that great institution and be surprised every day—because around every corner you come face to face with a masterpiece. And that’s just for old masters. There are wonderful museums for impressionists (a totally French phenomenon), and modern museums all over the country that are superior to The Modern in New York or LACMA in Los Angeles.

Enough of culture. France is a treasure trove of sights. At St. Tropez, every other beach is clothing optional, which in most cases is a very nice sight indeed. Even if there are some fatties, there is always the 18 year old girl (or boy if you are so inclined) that could make your day—if you’re lucky. And in France, you have much more of a chance at being lucky than most places on earth. And who doesn’t enjoy making love?

Then there’s the politeness thing. Americans think the French are haughty and rude. I’ll give you the haughty because they got a pretty nice place with lots of pleasures and culture, and there are lots of chances at feeling good which can make a dude feel kind of haughty. But about the politeness—the French, I say sadly, are a lot more polite and gracious than we are. And that’s because they are forever acknowledging your presence. Take French elevators for an instance; get in one and the inhabitants in that conveyance are not looking at the floor make believing there is no one else in the contraption. I’ve always found it endearing that when a French man or woman or child for that matter gets in to the conveyance, he greets everyone with a Monsieur—Dame. And the greeting is most always seconded. It’s nice having people recognize you as a fellow human being … you got anything against that?

What I have just mentioned are some of the minor or major glories of France. So, they didn’t do so great in WWII; they don’t agree with us at the World Bank; they don’t commit their youth to endless conflicts; and they think Americans are hypocritical and prudish about sex (we are). The Eurozone is going through difficulties but France will survive. And on top of that, they will continue to eat better, have more chances at love, have better schooling, and a culture that goes back 2,000 years. Plus, they invented the bikini and motion pictures. Picasso also lived there, and now so does Johnny Depp.

So why do we, Americans, find the French so unappealing, even hateful? I’ll tell you in three words.

WE ARE JEALOUS.

I am an American. Most of the time I am proud  to be one … but as we mature as a nation, we could do worse than adopting some aspects of the French way of life. If we did so, our streets would be cleaner, we’d eat and love better, we’d be more friendly and less rushed, we’d have more chances at making love, we’d get our mail delivered every day, and we’d say hello to each other on elevators. What’s so bad about all that?

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