07. September 2019 · Comments Off on New commentary, review and Q&A online · Categories: Uncategorized

On the site for older writers (which would include me), Bloom.

27. August 2019 · Comments Off on Aging cars (and people) · Categories: Uncategorized

My wife’s car, 25 years old, has developed a minor key problem. You now need to jiggle the key for about 10 seconds before it engages and you can start the car.

The number of minor problems with this car is long, but it still runs and my wife likes to hold onto things including, thankfully, me. I would like her to get a newer or new car, but I’m zipping my lip. I did inform her, though, about one important change: “You probably haven’t thought of this, but you can no longer use your Subaru as a getaway vehicle.”

06. October 2018 · Comments Off on Throwing America away · Categories: Uncategorized

I grew up in an immigrant home with a profound prejudice. My parents hated Americans. They loved America. But the people born here were a different story. Americans were lazy, stupid, naive, arrogant, thoughtless, soft, spoiled, weak and did I mention lazy? The worst thing my parents could say about my behavior was, “You’re acting like an American.” That’s when I knew I had hit rock bottom. I’ve been around immigrant kids from other cultures and their parents. I don’t think my parents’ attitude about Americans was all that unusual.

I’d not infrequently have discussions with my dad about this prejudice. I’d ask, ”How could such lazy, dumb people produce the America you love so much?” His answer was usually along the lines of, “They got lucky. They’re so stupid that they don’t know how lucky they are and will, one day, throw it all away in a second.” I’d find this answer preposterous. Since 2016, I’ve started to believe his answer has some validity.

It’s not that I think that Americans are stupid and lazy. That was my mother and father’s view, not mine. But they have taken their liberties for granted. They don’t vote in large numbers. They don’t protest in large numbers. They are mostly passive in response to political change and there has been profound political change in America. As Yeats, the Irish poet, once wrote one hundred years ago during the tumult after the end of World War I, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

The passionate intensity is coming from the American right. It has been passionate and destructive for over 20 years. The GOP used to be a party of moderates and conservatives who worked across the aisle to compromise and make America better. But in the 1990s, the GOP became radicalized. Its leaders like Newt Gingrich condemned compromise. The other side, the Democrats, became the enemy to be destroyed. The GOP began to game American politics to its advantage. Voters who were poor and non-white were taken off state voting rolls in the name of “protecting America from voting fraud.” Political districts were gerrymandered with the help of computers to make possible GOP minority rule in state governments and in the US House of Representatives. Courts were stacked with GOP operatives. Through this process, decent Americans were complacent. They continued to not vote in large numbers. They didn’t protest.

Then in 2016, the passionate worst won the presidency. A crude, mentally-ill, ignorant man who hated people of color and women began to take America on a crooked and awful path. Immigrants were demonized. Hateful, racist, white nationalistic language was embraced in the White House and in Congress. Courts were packed with even more political operatives. The doors of a country built on immigration were shut to newcomers. I note that my parents would have been denied entry into the US if America had elected such a hateful president in the 1940s. This week, Trump and the GOP have packed the Supreme Court with enough GOP political operatives to turn a once revered and distinguished court known for political independence and decency into just another crooked and corrupt arm of government.

None of this would have happened had Americans widely participated in government in one simple way. If only they had voted, America would be healthy today. If the poor had voted, if people of color had voted, if young adults had voted, we would have decent responsible government. Instead we have radical right-wingers destroying America and our freedoms.

I’ll move from the national scale to the personal to draw an analogy. Once I was at a strange job interview when at the end of the day, the chair of the search committee took me out to dinner. Instead of professional talk, he opened up about his wife leaving him. He told me of his failings to his wife honestly. He’d cheated on her repeatedly. He’d taken her for granted. Now that she was gone, he felt awful. He missed her desperately. “What can I do to get her back?” he asked me.

I told him I wasn’t a marriage counselor and I felt awkward giving advice, especially to someone I barely knew. He said, “But you’ve been married a long time and are happily married, right? Just tell me what you think.”

I said, “Well, from what you’ve told me, you’ve been an awful husband. Truly awful. Sometimes you don’t get a second chance. You can beg her to come back. But from what you’ve told me, maybe she shouldn’t believe you.” I’ve often wondered if I was being cruel that night, but as time has gone on I think I was right to give that man a verbal slap in the face.

Now it’s time for Americans to get a slap in the face. My father was right about one thing. American citizens have taken this country for granted. They’ve been terrible at being responsible citizens. Because of their complacency, their liberties and what makes this country admirable and decent are being stolen. They are, by their lack of action, throwing a democratic America away.

Unlike the chair of the search committee I had dinner with, Americans can get back what they took for granted. There will be an election on November 6th. Vote. Get everyone you know to vote. The passionate worst are going to try to make sure you don’t get a second chance.

03. March 2018 · Comments Off on I’ll be on Wisconsin Public Radio · Categories: Uncategorized

Talking about college grades. March 12, 2018, 8-9 AM CDT You can listen live here. There apparently will be a call in session, and if so, call up and ask away.

28. June 2017 · Comments Off on I’ll be on CNBC this Friday, June 30 · Categories: Uncategorized

Power Lunch, sometime between 1 and 3 PM EDT.

18. May 2017 · Comments Off on Advice from Uncle Stuey · Categories: Olio, Uncategorized

When Watergate started I was hitch hiking across Canada. Then I went to Israel. It was still going on. Then I hitch hiked around Europe. It was still going on. Then I went to Israel to help out during the Yom Kippur War. It was still going on. Then I went back home to keep my dad from going crazy while my mom had breast surgery (benign). It was still going on. Then I went to college for a semester to make my mom happy. It was still going on. Then I drove out to the Canadian Rockies and dodged grizzlies in the wilderness. It was still going on. Then I stopped in Wall SD to get some food and drink on the way home. Nixon resigned while I had a beer. That’s how I remember it.

Now we wait for the Trump impeachment. Go hitch hike somewhere. Dodge grizzlies in the wilderness. Be a mercenary in an overseas war. It’s going to be a while.

14. May 2017 · Comments Off on A building with a story · Categories: Uncategorized

A brag-filled story. Way too long a story, but true.

My father built this building. Designed it. He was in love with it, said he’d never sell it even though the rent he was getting was barely paying for the mortgage. He thought it was beautiful. My mom, who did the renting because she spoke far better English than my dad, thought so, too.

When I was 12, my dad dropped me off to repair a toilet. When I was done I waited outside for him to pick me up. I sat on the steps next to the street sidewalk. A middle-aged lady dressed to the nines walked by. “I love this building,” she said. “Do you know who owns it?” I told her my mom and dad did. “Do you think they would sell it?” “Maybe,” I said. “What do you think they’d want for it?” I knew what the place cost to build because I did the books for my mom and dad. I mentioned a ridiculous number, roughly double the price to build. She paused, then said. “I’m interested.” She gave me her card and told me to give it to my mom and dad.

My dad picked me up. I gave him the lady’s card. I told him the story of the possible sale. He was adamant that the lady dressed to the nines wouldn’t buy it for that price. “How did you come up with that number?” he asked. I told him that since he loved the building I thought that was about the price it would take for him to budge. I spent a half hour back home shouting and screaming back and forth with my dad to call the lady dressed to the nines. He kept saying it was a waste of time. This was normal for my family, the shouting and screaming back and forth. It was a sign that we were family and loved each other.

Finally, he picked up the card and called. For my father to do this, admit that a 12-year-old boy might be right, took a lot of swallowing of pride and my dad hated to swallow his pride. So did I. We’d battle all the time. He didn’t want a 12-year-old pseudo-equal, wanted a dutiful son.

The building was sold to the lady dressed to the nines in a cash sale in three weeks, with a little discount to account for the fact that no realtor was involved. I said to my dad, “What about me? Don’t I get a commission?” “You’re a kid. Kids don’t get commissions. You get food on the table.” I was pissed!

The other day, I spent an hour on the phone talking to my uncle as I drove up to San Francisco. He’s about 80 years old, probably 79. We talked about old times. I said, “You’re the last Mohican.” He said, “You are, too.” How can anyone explain this world in a palatable way, a way understandable to Americans? These people were fierce 24/7. They lived through hell in Europe. Their eyes were always open for any sign of potential danger. If threatened they became cornered wild animals. If presented with an opportunity for joy, they laughed and danced all night. How do you explain these people? Who knows?

05. May 2017 · Comments Off on Stu, The Movie (a romcom) · Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve been uploading 71K photos (and graphs) I’ve made over 40 plus years to the cloud. Here are a few. My life in one minute and fifty seconds. Get some popcorn and enjoy. https://mobile.twitter.com/StuartEtc/status/860604326628122624/video/1

28. August 2016 · Comments Off on A little about Stu’s other eyeball · Categories: Uncategorized

Last week, my good eye started to do what my bad eye did last November, fall apart. But this time, I knew exactly what was happening and emailed my eye doctor, who snuck me in for an appointment. The bottom line is that the damage to the eye is minor because I caught things early and I’ll have surgery in two weeks.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed and am feeling optimistic.  The surgery will be far less involved this time around.  The recovery time should be a lot shorter.  It paid to be vigilant about my eye health over the last nine months.  Or maybe I wasn’t vigilant, but neurotic.  Is there a difference?

07. April 2016 · Comments Off on The Fourth Hand · Categories: Olio, Uncategorized

I’m trying to put together a summer men’s mah jongg league. We’ll smoke cigars, drink vodka, tell stupid jokes, and play mah jongg under the stars. First we need to learn the rules and next month I’m going to take lessons. My mom played the game this way:

The Fourth Hand

“One crak.” My mom took a sip of coffee from a cup that was part of her Rosenthal China set, one of the few things my family brought with them from Europe.

“Two bam.” Eva, a dozen years older than my mom and in a floral dress with a lace wrap, took a piece of my mom’s strudel.

So it went during all of my childhood in Milwaukee. Once a month when I’d come home from school, three ladies would always be there calling out their tiles. There was Eva, a German war survivor who was always cheery yet formal. There was Rosie, another boundless optimist just like the other two, but who was American born and petite. She always wore a cardigan sweater, even in the summer. Of course, there was my mom, a Polish war survivor. The game would rotate from house to house once a week.

I still don’t know what craks and bams are. But my wife does. My mother-in-law does. My daughter does. Every Jewish woman I’ve ever known well knows how to play mah jongg, an ancient Chinese tile-based game.

All the tile sets I’ve seen have been made from plastic, but once upon a time they were made from bone. My wife owns a set. My mother-in-law does too. So does my daughter. They don’t play regularly, hardly at all. My mother played the game once a week for thirty years.

How did a Chinese game become an entertainment staple for Jewish women in America in the 20th century? I have no idea. Mah jongg does seem kind of exotic in comparison to card games, and playing cards was a crude thing to do according to my mother. Whenever she said the words “card player,” kurtenshpiler in Yiddish, it was with derision.

Ah, but mah jongg. That was something real ladies did. It showed refinement and class. How this distinction came to be is anyone’s guess. It was just implicit. Card playing was done at night with cigarette smoke in the air. Mah jongg was done in the day with your best china. You dressed like a lady should dress, as if you were going to a charity luncheon. You talked politely with your friends. If you talked about other people, you didn’t gossip, but focused on their successes. These were the unwritten rules of these three ladies.

Playing mah jongg was part of being balbattish. You kept up your home. You made sure that your kids’ clothes were clean and mended. You made sure that your husband was color coordinated when he walked out the door. There was always a meal on the table promptly at 5:00 so you could watch the news at 5:30 as a family. And you played mah jongg. It was all part of a package and all three of these women were effortlessly baltbattish.

Except there was one essential problem for this trio. You play mah jongg with four people. My mother played mah jongg with Eva and Rosie for decades. But the fourth? There was never a suitable fourth for the long haul who shared their sensibility.

At first, my mother’s good friend Honey played with the threesome. But there were compatibility problems. Honey was a top-notch bridge player, a fast talker, crude and down to earth. She hated getting dressed up. Mah jongg or “mahj” as it is known for short ultimately was twee and beneath her. She lasted for several years, not ever fitting in, before she called it quits. She always liked my mom, she said to me once about her revolt from the weekly mah jongg trio. “But those other two.” She shook her head.

A second fourth hand came on board, Sylvia, who was someone my mother barely knew from synagogue. She caught on instantly to the vibe of the other three. She dressed up. She was polite. Unlike the first fourth, she didn’t mind that every week they set some money aside from the bets for a yearly trip to Chicago to have lunch and go to the Phil Donahue Show (and after that TV show went off the air, Oprah). Honey would call Phil Donahue a fag and laugh after she hurled the insult. Sylvia, like the other three, thought Phil Donahue was one of the most attractive men on Earth. “And so intelligent, too,” they all concurred.

My mother became fast friends with Sylvia as a result of mah jongg. They’d shop together and drive down to Chicago to buy clothes. With Sylvia on board, the mah jongg group was as tight as it would ever be. Then one day, my mother walked into her friend’s house and found Sylvia slumped over her kitchen sink, dead of a heart attack at the age of forty-two. That event truly shook my mother. “Her face was all blue!” She said more than once. For two or three years after, my mother was very conscious of her own mortality. The mah jongg group was back to three.

A new fourth hand was found, someone who was a dead ringer for the comedienne Madeline Kahn. Marilyn. She even talked like Kahn, with the same strange theatrical rounding of vowels. She was American born, came from serious money and unlike the other three wasn’t sunny. She dressed up because she always dressed up wherever she went. It was a strange fit, this oh so serious and status conscious woman in the mix with the other three.

At face value, Marilyn shouldn’t have lasted. There was always something a little off about her personality, nervous and diva-like. Then three years into her being the fourth hand, something happened that made her a fixture in the group in an off again/on again kind of way. She went off her rocker. Off to an asylum she went for three months. When she got out, her doctor recommended that she return to normal activities. One of those normal activities was mah jongg. Back she was at the weekly table. The replacement fourth hand was sent off to exile.

Marilyn wasn’t the same woman when she came back. She’d stare off into space and rattle off words that made no sense. She’d shout out in anger over little aspects of the game. My mother and the other two adapted. The joy of playing clearly was gone, but now they shared a valuable community role. They were doing the right thing by helping a sick woman.

Every eighteen months or so Marilyn would go back to the asylum. The temporary fourth hand – another German-born war survivor, Ava – would come back. You’d see the original trio relax and enjoy the game again. But it was understood that this would be a brief holiday. No one ever suggested that Marilyn not come back and join the group. Weekly mah jongg was essential therapy for Marilyn.

For ten years this shuttling of Marilyn into and out of the asylum took place. She died in her fifties of cancer. The temporary fourth came back full time. My mom, Eva and Rosie finally were back to being ladies, not nurses. The only sore point was that Ava would not infrequently mention that she didn’t understand why they had kept Marilyn on all those years, that it hadn’t been fair to her. The other three would say nothing when Ava’s hurt feelings would periodically surface.

Once a year they’d all go to Chicago to see Oprah, although they still remembered Phil Donahue fondly, and have a ladies lunch in the big city. They’d talk about how good a person Oprah was for weeks after. She wasn’t crude like the other TV hosts and hostesses. She was a real lady. It’s probably true that Oprah would have made the ultimate fourth hand at my mother’s mah jongg table.*

About a year before my mom died, Eva passed on. She was about 80 at the time. I saw her a month before she died and watched her play. Thirty years of watching women play mah jongg and I still don’t know the rules. She was sunny as always and alert. That was probably the last time my mother played mah jongg in her own home.

My daughter has my wife’s aunt’s mah jongg set on my father-in-law’s side, I think. My wife has her aunt’s set on her mother’s side. I don’t know who has my mother’s set. Maybe we do. I probably should learn how to play. But I think that there is another unwritten rule out there that of course my mother never told me. Real men don’t play mah jongg.


*Oprah’s mother lived outside of Milwaukee for many years. She was a vivacious woman and my mom met her once or twice at a burger joint they both liked that was near my grandfather’s junkyard. According to my mother, Oprah was in high school with me for a brief time. I remember a very shy, large girl who had a locker down the way from me, was in choir, was harassed now and then by upper class boys, and who disappeared in the middle of the year. Was that her? I have no idea.