Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Eerie Fancies

I’ve been watching the DVDs of, Upstairs, Downstairs, specifically the episodes set between 1905 and 1908.  I have become completely drawn in by the show, even falling in love with the character named Elizabeth. The daughter of Tory politician Richard Bellamy MP and Lady Marjorie Bellamy, Elizabeth has just returned from Germany where she read philosophy. Beautiful and intelligent, she is now an ardent socialist.

To celebrate Elizabeth’s return, her parents threw a ball, which Elizabeth found annoying and frivolous. She asks her mother how she could throw a ball with so many homeless and hungry people in London. Later, Elizabeth helps organize a group of upper class women to assist in a soup kitchen.  She gets shoes for shoeless children, doesn’t pay for them, and gets arrested.

Otherwise, Elizabeth hangs out and parties with a nonconformist (bohemian) crowd which causes her parents as well as the servants to become greatly upset and embarrassed (It’s hilarious). And after Elizabeth becomes enchanted with a nonconformist poet who also happens to be an irresponsible and narcissistic but handsome fool, she declares that she is against religion and marriage.

Unlike Elizabeth’s mother, who is full of Victorian airs, the free and outspoken Elizabeth is always down to earth and always herself. She treats the family servants like true friends and equals, and humorously, she sees right through the phony veneer of the conventional upper class boys.  The point is that between the philosophy and the help for the poor, I fell in love with her.

Naturally, I felt curious about the actress who played Elizabeth, Nicola Pagett, and so I googled her.  The very first item that I found was a newspaper article (dated 1997) titled, “Madly in love: how Nicola Pagett's infatuation tipped over into obsession.” It said in part:
Yesterday it emerged that the Prime Minister's press secretary had been the object of Nicola Pagett's erotomanic obsession. 
"I fell in love with The Stranger's face. I looked at a man's face and into his eyes on a screen and I believed him. `If it doesn't begin it can never end.' That's what I wrote to him.
So Nicola Pagett, the former Upstairs Downstairs actress, bravely chronicles in her autobiography the beginning of her descent into obsessive manic depression as she falls in love and becomes obsessed with a man she sees on TV whom she nicknames "The Stranger". 
Yesterday it was claimed that The Stranger was in fact the Prime Minister's press secretary, Alastair Campbell. 
Next, I clicked on an interview (dated 2001).  The more I read of the interview, the more disappointed and shocked I became as I came to see the reality of the actress. The real life woman, Nicola Pagett, was as naive and simple-minded as the lowly servant girls in the Upstairs, Downstairs episodes.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Recollection on the Tenth Anniversary of 9-11

My commute to work at the time was to take the train to Newark and then change to the Path train to the World Trade Center.  From there, I walked to the far end of Wall Street, to the last building before the FDR Highway and the East River.  On the morning of 9-11, I had exited the the World Trade Center about a half hour before the first jet hit.  

In the office, I found out about the attack from a panicky phone call from my wife who was watching the news at home.  We did not have a T.V. in our office; so initially, we did not have any idea of the magnitude of what had happened.  But someone had a radio and everyone was calling or being called by wives or friends. From my window, I saw millions of pieces of paper falling from the sky, as if from a ticker tape parade.  And from another window, I could see the smoke churning from the tops of the towers. After the buildings collapsed, concrete dust started falling from the sky, as if from a snow storm.

With the WTC gone and not certain about public transportation, I assumed that I was going to have to spend the night in the office.  So I walked around the corner to a drug store on Water Street, hoping to buy a bar of soap, a toothbrush, etc.  I felt the concrete dust in my lungs as I breathed.  People were rushing down Wall Street as fast as they could, away from the towers.  Here and there, people were shouting, shaking, or otherwise looking traumatized.  The hair and clothes of some were completely covered in concrete dust. Most were simply hurrying as fast as they could, to the subways, the ferries, to the Brooklyn Bridge, or to an avenue away from the dust cloud.    

Back in the office, an announcement was made that by order of the New York City Police Department, we were to evacuate the building and to walk uptown along Water Street.  I feared getting trapped in a crush of people in either the subway or the street.  My thoughts were that I had to avoid all risks and to look out for my own safety, for the sake of my wife and children, who depend on me. The building is next to Pier 11, and so I headed for the ferry. There were no lines, no crush of people, and I was able to get on a ferry immediately.  It left as soon as it was full, which was very quickly.  It brought us to Atlantic Highlands, on the New Jersey side, which is not far from where I live.  The wife of one of my colleagues that was also on the ferry met us there, and they gave me a lift home.

I remember every detail from that day and the weeks afterwards—the phone calls to make sure that others are were O.K., the phone call that afternoon to the pregnant wife of a friend who didn’t make it, of a lucky friend worked on one of the upper floors but had taken the day off to go fishing, of the numerous photos posted all over NY and NJ of the names and photos of the missing—and knowing that they were all dead, of lower Manhattan being sealed off to the public, of the fire burning for months afterwards, and of the funerals and memorial services.

I knew several people who died in the towers and several who escaped, as did my wife. I have two cousins who are NYC policemen who worked the site for months afterwards, on body recovery, and I know another policeman who worked morgue duty, sorting out body parts. I have heard all of their stories.  Ultimately, there is nothing that I, you, or anyone else can say.  It is beyond human words.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Life Lessons

My uncle John (Walsh) was a career New York City Fireman, the chief of a firehouse.  Once, when I was about 10 years old, he told me that in his youth, he liked to box. He told me that he was pretty good, or at least he thought he was pretty good.  In his crowd, and in the gym where he used to train, he was the best—he beat all-comers easily.  One day, someone suggested that he fight so-and-so, an experienced Golden Gloves boxer, and my uncle said, “Sure,” without hesitation.  Well, my uncle got beat very badly, and that caused him to put his boxing career in a different perspective.  After telling me this, my uncle then explained to me that no matter how good you are, or think you are, there is always someone better than you. That is something I have never forgotten.  But over the years, I have come to understand that the lesson is not so much about skill, or about any sport or school work, but about dealing with one’s pride and ego.