Middlebury

 

Scott A. Margolin '99

Scott Margolin photo Beacons of Light is a collection of essays written by Scott Adam Margolin '99 during his freshman year at Middlebury. Tragically, Scott was killed in a car accident at the end of the year. Scott was a gifted young writer and we are fortunate that he has left behind the legacy of these stories ... albeit too few. Scott's flair for story-telling shows us that he was a young man who had an insightful way of looking at the world and a real passion for living life to the fullest. We will miss Scott, but are brought closer to him through the view into his life these stories provide. To paraphrase Scott's mother, Maureen, in a quote taken from the story Loretta, we hope these stories will inspire you to "become beacons of light, and they will have an effect on you and that you will spread the word to others and that they will pass it on. In doing so, I feel that I have done some sort of good for the world ... and it makes me feel good too." Susan Mindell Blum, October 1996

Special thanks to Estelle Siegel and Deborah Williamson for their help in preparing this collection.

Journal: My Freshman Year In College is a collection of journal entries written by Scott Margolin while he was at Middlebury College. They were published in Coming of Age: Literature About Youth and Adolescence Vol. II, in 1999.

Beacons of Light - Essays by Scott Margolin

Loretta

My Mom says we can all be beacons of light. I didn't always read so far into the things my Mom talks about, but lately, relatively lately anyway, I have realized that she has so much wisdom that she wants to give out. It has taken most of my life to date to notice that my Mom's attitudes and philosophies of life are very similar to mine (no wonder where I get them from) and that she has taught me much of what I know about myself. I don't know why I was surprised, then, when my Mom related my story of Loretta, a short order cook in a Worcester luncheonette, to life's greater meaning.

The downtown region of Worcester, Massachusetts was described to me as "a smoggy and polluted row of generic stores and restaurants that is graced by a backdrop of factories and smokestacks stretching as far as the eye can see." While this description turned out to be a gross exaggeration, Worcester was not exactly a city that would sell many postcards. Nevertheless, it was the site of the Phish concert and therefore our destination for a portion of December break from school. My brother, my best friend Chris, his brother and I were excited to spend three days together listening to music, bonding, and having fun.

Due to the concerts and some sort of international hockey tournament, the only hotel room available in town was at the Crown Plaza, probably the most luxurious accommodations in the area. We were not thrilled about spending the money and we certainly didn't require such pampering but it was refreshing to walk into a fairly large clean room. As I have done at many a new hotel, I began to explore. The window looked out onto the main drag of the downtown area. I gazed up and down the street as cars passed by in a blur. A McDonald's in the distance and a WalMart a few stores down; I saw nothing else worthy of comment ... except for the Luncheonette.

It was the banality of the sign that caught my attention: Luncheonette painted in green old fashioned letters on a white wooden background. No clever demonstrations of wit or reference to short order cooks named Bob or Sue. just Luncheonette. I thought hmm ... we have a greasy-spoon-type-place right over there ... probably won't be eating there, and that was it. I didn't know at the time, but I would not be able to glance out at the street again and look at that sign the same way.

That night, hungry after the first of two concerts, we decided to stop at the McDonald's on our walk back to the hotel. The Golden Arches were not lit up and the door was locked. Not only was McDonald's closed, but so were the few other nearby restaurants. Cold and tired, we decided to go without our midnight snack and made our way towards the Crown Plaza. Across the street was the Luncheonette, lights on and several customers inside. The place was open and there was food to be eaten and nothing else mattered at the time. Nearing the door, we could make out two hand-written signs. The bigger of the two informed us of the business hours which, strangely, were from eleven o'clock at night to two o'clock in the afternoon. The second sign extended an open invitation to join the "management" for bingo on Wednesday nights and even added the incentive of prizes. Walking through the door, I picked up the distinctive scent of french fries and cigarette smoke which, surprisingly, was not nauseating; not even disagreeable. The four of us walked past several tables surrounded by other hungry Phish fans and sat at the last booth in a row of four, across from the counter with its round swivel stools. The green cushions we sat on were criss-crossed by duct tape meant to hinder the escape of puffy yellow stuffing. The silverware on the table was spotted and one spoon was even caked with trace amounts of a yellow crusty mystery substance. From the speckled white linoleum floor to the crinkled one dollar bill taped to the wall to the long fluorescent lights overhead, everything seemed to fit in.

We heard singing coming from the open kitchen. The jolly voice then changed pitch and cheerily asked of the sole waiter (though all the customers could hear), "Who do we still have waiting? Tell them I'm sorry it's taking so long. Busy night!" and so went our first account with Loretta (we knew that was her name because a sign on the wall advertised "Loretta's Mean Veggie Omelets").

Loretta was a chubby Black woman, apparently the cook at the Luncheonette. She was dressed for business in a hairnet and a white apron with spots of red and streaks of brown that were, no doubt, remnants of breakfast or lunch. She emerged from the depths of the kitchen with a glowing smile on her face. Loretta joked with the waiter, whom we called Lester because he looked like a Lester. The man was six and a half feet tall and probably weighed three hundred pounds. We discovered later that he went by the name of Shorty. Loretta and Lester conversed casually across the restaurant about the fact that they were unprepared for this unusual volume of customers. Undaunted, Loretta continued to produce grilled cheese sandwiches and orders of fries and personally made sure that each customer enjoyed his meal. When she ventured over to our table, we wanted to be especially friendly to this poor, seemingly overworked woman bent over the fryer at two A.M. We asked her about her hours and she proudly explained to us that she is there during all business hours and that the Luncheonette is her responsibility. I love to cook!" she said, "I love to feed hungry people late at night or any other time they want to visit me!" Does Loretta sleep? we asked. "Sure," she said, "I sleep for a few hours during the day before I have to be back here to open up."

We returned to the greasy luncheonette after the concert the next night. Loretta and Lester had gone shopping, the cook told us, and now they would be able to keep up with the demand for the next few days. I didn't have the heart to tell her that tonight was the last concert and, well, business would return to usual tomorrow. Even if I had, I am confident that Loretta would not have stopped smiling. Before we left, the happy cook told us that if we came back in the morning she would make us "the meanest" veggie omelets we would ever have because she had such an array of fresh vegetables stockpiled from the store. We said we would see her tomorrow.

Just because Loretta was so happy and friendly to us, we decided that we wanted to give her a gift before leaving town; not as a reward but as a token of our appreciation. After all, genuinely friendly people are not always easy to find, much less friendly overworked cooks in the middle of the night. A pre-breakfast trip to CVS left us with rainbow-colored alphabet shoelaces, a package of Sweet Tarts, and a card with nothing printed inside. We wrapped the shoelaces and candy in a napkin and wrote a message in the card: Dear Loretta, thank you for being so friendly at two in the morning and all the time and for being happy and for making us happy. Love, Scott, Chris, Mike and Ryan. We wanted to keep it simple. We entered the Luncheonette once again and sat down (in the same booth, of course) for breakfast. The "mean" veggie omelets were indeed the best of their kind. After paying the check, when Loretta expected us to walk out, we presented her with the gift. She read the card to herself and tears came to her eyes. Loretta thanked us and wished us luck, we had Lester snap a photo of the five of us, and we were off for home.

Shortly after arriving at home, I related the events of the trip to my Mom. She had a smile on her face throughout the story and, when I finished, she looked thoughtful. "I did the best I could to show you what I believe is right," she said, "I tried to teach you that a little compassion goes a long way and that it doesn't have to take a lot of effort to make someone feel good." My Mom continued, "You are my beacons of light. I have had an effect on you and you spread that to others and they hopefully affect even more people. By spreading it, I feel that I have done some sort of good for the world. And it makes me feel good too."

Onions

Chef and recipe book author Lee Bailey says, "Let onions take center stage!" Indeed, Mr. Bailey does provide unique recipes, some of which require nothing but onions. A few of Mr. Bailey's creations are very specific: his Apple & Onion Cobbler calls for four sweet Vidalia onions between two and a half and three inches in diameter (relatively large in the realm of Vidalias). Other recipes leave options open to the reader and would-be-cook; for example, the Chef's Cheese & Onion Pie "comes out great no matter what the variety of onion". Mr. Bailey writes about outrageous concoctions as well as recipes so simple they seem out of context. His Watermellon and Red Onion Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette is a mixture of the following ingredients:

2 cups cubed seeded watermelon
1 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 1/2 cupfresh raspberries, crushed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Boston lettuce leaves, for garnish

On the next page is a recipe for Santa Fe Onions. The required ingredients are:

2 large onions

Lee Bailey's book, given to my parents by a friend, was a very appropriate gift. Anyone who dines with my family will surely realize that something is slightly abnormal; that we are a bit odd. I first noticed this in an Italian restaurant quite a few years ago when the waiter termed us "The Onion Family." Granted we ordered raw onion to eat with the bread, onion rings, salads with extra onion, and pizza smothered with onion, but I didn't see anything wrong with that. In fact, I was surprised when the waiter raised his eyebrows and said, "Raw onion. You just want raw onion?" I thought onions were a staple of everyone's diet.

In fact, throughout history, the bulbed herbaceous biennial has served many a purpose and has accounted for much more than mere flavoring. In ancient China and India, onions were a valuable commodity and were traded for clothing and jewelry. Without modern means and agricultural knowledge, onions were scarce and difficult to grow. The distinct vegetables became a status symbol of the continuous universe. The term onion was derived by the Egyptians from the Latin root unus, meaning one. American Indians believed that the spherical bulb had curative powers and tribal medicine men prescribed large doses of the vegetable for ailments such as colds, animal bites, burns, and warts. More recently, a new variety of onion brought wealth and fame to a small town known as Vidalia, Georgia. Produced in the Spring of 1931 by an accidentally-induced mutation, the Vidalia onion changed the lives of many Southern farmers.

Just as the residents of Vidalia, Georgia would surely rant and rave if their onions were taken away, so would my father. While Mr. Bailey may slightly exaggerate the importance of onions, it is true that they're used to flavor countless meals. Certainly, any respectable restaurant uses onions on a regular basis and always keeps them in stock. With this knowledge in mind, my Dad became quite upset when he was told in a fancy Italian restaurant that raw onions were not available for his salad.

"Raw Onions?" repeated the waiter, "We don't keep them in the kitchen".

"I see," said my Dad, in a wise-ass tone " "You don't use onions in any of your dishes and you don't keep them here on the premises?"

"I believe that to be true sir."

"Bullshit!" said my Dad, and the flustered waiter offered to send over the manager.

I was not until my Dad threatened to "storm into the kitchen and scour every corner" that he received his onions. The manager finally offered a small plate, bearing a single slice of red onion. Not surprisingly, my family never returned to that restaurant.

I had a similar encounter in the college dining hall just a few days ago. Having assembled most of my salad, which included lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms and alfalfa, I reached with the serving spoon into the onion compartment. The spoon came up empty, and my dreams of the perfect salad faded away.

"You are out of onions," I said to the indifferent Dining Services employee, "Could you put more out please?"

"We're out of onions," he replied and turned to walk away.

I found it hard to believe that the entire dining hall, which facilitates the cooking of several different entrees for hundreds of students, had run out of onions in the middle of a meal. They had never run out of lettuce, and they have an abundance of chick peas, so why should they run out of onions? I pleaded with the employee and asserted, "I know there must be onions somewhere back there," and he said he would see what he could do. When he returned with a vat of freshly chopped onions, I felt like a child at Disney World whose lollipop had been returned by the bully who stolen it.

Maybe my family is infatuated with onions because of their versatility and adaptability to almost any culinary situation. The vegetable is known by all of humanity, most likely, because it exists in so many varieties, each with its own unique flavor and use: globe-shaped yellow and white onions, with their strong flavor and tear-inducing gases, are perfect in stews and sauces. Flat red onions, grown in the relatively cool climate of North America, have similar effects on the taste buds and are commonly seen on salad bars. Bermuda onions result from the warm weather of the island and are large and fairly mild. Available throughout the year, this variety is often stuffed, roasted, or French-fried. Vidalias, from the rural counties of Georgia, are probably the most popular onions in America. Their sweet, rather than sharp, flavor appeals to many people who find the zing of traditional onions offensive or a least not enjoyable. Used often in salads and on sandwiches, Vidalias are only available from Spring to Autumn, necessitating the use of more traditional onions dirung most of the year. Less common are pearl onions, harvested before fully grown, and green onions (also called scallions) which are harvested before the bulb even develops. Considering the great variety of the onion family, it is not surprising that the vegetable can adapt itself to unusual situations.

Flat red onions make excellent birthday cakes. The waiters at my family's favorite Italian restaurant have become acquainted with us over the year and have come to accept the fact that we are onion lovers. On my Dad's forty-ninth birthday, in an ingenious display of wit and good humor, several waiters presented him with a birthday onion. The oblong shape provided stability and the easily removable center layer was replaced with a candle, glowing for all the other customers to gawk at. While I don't expect the majority of the population to substitute onions for birthday cake or to view them as a model for the continuous universe, I do think the legendary vegetable deserves more appreciation and respect than it gets. In the words of author and chef Lee Baily, "one thing is for sure: the world would be a poorer place without onions."

The Bowels of Proctor

"I have an appointment with Kit," I say to the Dining Services employee who asks to see my student ID. She nods and points to the wide open archway through which, under normal circumstances, I would not be allowed to pass. I feel like a novice reporter, granted special press access for the first time. My newly acquired sense of self-worth fades quickly. I am an outsider in a hostile land, a fish up the wrong creek. A maze of open door leading further into the depths of the kitchen lays in front of me. I am surrounded by black conveyer belts of various sizes transporting everything from Brussels sprouts to cleaning solution through the doors and out of sight. Urgent commands fly through the air, directed at no one in particular: "Breakage and spill at beverage bar--get a mop!" "Low on pork chops! Restock!" "Call Custodial!" My mind goes blank, and Kit's directions through the chaos to her downstairs office escape me. I am lost in the bowels of Proctor Dining Hall!

Bewildered and confused, I finally find the office of the Assistant Manager. Kit Quesnel sits quietly at her desk, in stark contrast with the battlefield above. My uneasiness must be apparent because the first thing she says is, "Oh, you get used to that. It's sort of amusing, isn't it?"

Amusing? "It's certainly interesting," I respond. The office is located right off the kitchen, and the wide open doorway provides the manager on duty a clear view of the action. From her office, Kit can keep an eye on the cooks and answer the phones at the same time. Her duties are many, and during a meal "things have to be down to a science or it's pure chaos."

"Life here in Proctor is a full-time conunitment," Kit says, "Breakfast starts at eight and you only have a few hours between meals. After dinner it's already seven thirty and you've been here twelve hours but there's still clean-up." According to Kit, the key to a successful day is between-meal preparation. She is responsible for the hiring, firing, and supervision of forty to forty-five high school and college students. "You have to hound them to come in. School work is their priority, not this. No one comes to Middlebury College to work in Proctor," she says. The help has not been reliable this season, with almost every meal severely understaffed. "We can cover some of it ourselves, but it takes a certain minimum of people to operate this place."

Aside from her staffing duties between meals, Kit does not rest during breakfast, lunch, or dinner hours. She has to constantly circulate from one conveyor belt area to another. "During meals I'm responsible for sanitization, checking food temperatures, crowd control at the entrances, communication between the kitchen and the front line ... it's like running a military operation," Kit says, "but the biggest thing is presentation and customer satisfaction." All employees are required to wear a smile when Kit is on duty.

Leaving the office, she leads me back upstairs through the chaos, but somehow it seems calmer now, maybe because I am not alone. We arrive at the double serving door of the dish room and I hear a grumbling sound. The ground begins to shake and Kit shouts, "hit the wall!" A six-foot-high stack of crates full of clean glasses resembles a Mack Truck as it burst through the doors in front of us. Narrowly escaping death, I look for sympathy from Kit but she has already proceeded through the doors. Inside, the stench of bacon and dirty dish water is overpowering and a slushy and blubbly substance runs freely on the floor.

"What's it like in here during meals?" I ask over the sound of running water.

"Pure hell!" Kit says without even thinking. At least she's honest. "The trays come in continuously during the meal and two or three people have to dump, scrub, rinse, and load the crates to bring them back out. The worst is when the drains get backed up. There's no clean water and the whole system shuts down. Rice does it all the time. We're serving rice tonight."

Rice in the drains is a mere inconvenience compared to last week's sewage backup. "Someone threw a towel into one of the toilettes and it got stuck in the pipes. Everything was coming back up, if you know what I mean," Kit remembers. This disaster occurred during dinner in Lower Proctor, the smaller satellite dining room not far from the office. The meal had just begun when a layer of sewage covered the floor of the serving area. Kit had to clear the dining room, but she also wanted to keep the situation as quiet and calm as possible. "The first thing I did was call the plumber. Then I pulled the serving staff from upstairs and gave them mops. I had the runners cart the food up and we saved most of it. I told (a head server) to put in a call to the director, and I cleared the dining room myself. That was the tricky part. You can't just say 'there's sewage on the floor so you have to leave' because you'll never hear the end of it. So I made up something about a kitchen fire and asked people to go upstairs! There is a gleam in Kit's eye and energy in her voice, "It's these moments of crisis and quick thinking that make the job exciting."

I leave Kit to a minor drainage problem and wander out into the dining room. The hustle-bustle of students walking back and forth filling up glasses, making salads, toasting bread, and finding tables used to overwhelm me. Little did I know that, behind the scenes, Kit was at the head of an organized chain of command trained to handle any emergency that might arise in the bowels of Proctor.

Bagel and Lox

Granola bars are my ritual pre-dinner snack. As I remove the green foil wrapper and toss it in the trash can under my desk without even looking, I review the day in my mind: wake up, shower, school, track practice until five or six, homework, dinner, TV, sleep. So predictable and so consistent, this invariable chain of events describes more than just the day. It describes every day for months on end. Granted, there are exceptions, but the pattern always seems to emerge eventually. Weekends and vacations are a break from the norm (sometimes) but a break is all they are; a temporary departure from what appears to be the crux of my existence. These days, I think, I feel like I am going through the motions of life but not really living.

High school as we know it: a gateway to boundless insight into the meaning of life and of God's master plan or a main-frame computer for which we are the microchips? As I sit confined in my room plugging away at mathematical equations, I believe the latter to be true. Minds that were once hungry and eager are routinely indulged with information and values that will only be used to inundate the next generation of eager minds. High school is a practical place where practical people receive practical educations so they can enter the college or career (or both) of their choice. I see the trap and I am falling right into it. Maybe college will be different, although I don't see how it can be because it will consist of similar people with similar educations and values. And does God even have a master plan?

It is almost time for dinner. Mom, Dad, Ryan and I will come together for forty-five minutes (sometimes a whole hour!) and pretend that these moments of our precious time are the happiest of the day. We will artfully avoid controversy and focus our mental energy on intertwining four lives with as much in common as oil and water; night and day; cats and mice.

"Scott ... Dinner at five,' comes the sweet familiar voice, garbled over the intercom. Dinner; breakfast. There was always something about meal times...

"Scott. -wake up! Your father's here with breakfast." The call went something like that every Sunday morning of old. The aromas were familiar, almost expected, and definitely taken for granted. The faint fishy scent mixed with lemon, the stronger of the two, pervaded the olfactory doldrums at about this hour every Sunday morning since the beginning of time.

An onion bagel for me, cinnamon-raisin for Ryan, plain for Mom and Dad. I could recite the contents of the table from sheer rote before even setting foot near the kitchen: the four bagels with a few extra just in case one of us was especially hungry that day, lox platter with cream cheese, lettuce, tomato, white fish, creamed herring and onion salad, egg salad, and Tropicana orange juice (the kind without the little bits that get stuck in your teeth, of course). I sat down at the table and, young as I was, I .noticed a pattern. There was nothing disagreeable, nothing I even remotely disliked, but there was nothing new either. How long would it last? Forever? Nothing lasts forever.

"What do you have cooking his week?" The conversation began.

"Not much. Math test on Tuesday cause Mrs. Lodde is mean and a report on Mexico sometime--I'm not sure--Thursday or Friday."

"Ryan, how 'bout you?"

"Nothin'."

"How was business this week?" Mom asked in a tone that, if I hadn't known better, I would say indicated feigned interest.

"Not bad. The Liebeskinds pulled all of their accounts to move to Florida, but Mr. Ackerman invested quite a bit that he must have got from his dead father. Where should we go for dinner tonight?" And so the conversation ended.

I take a bite of the granola bar and wonder, was anyone actually listening? Was anyone actually enjoying their bagel? It used to all make sense. There was Dad the stockbroker, Uncle Jerry the dentist, Grandpa the landlord. What will Scott be? Scott the what? It doesn't matter anymore. I want to just be Scott and I don't even want to eat bagels and lox.

Fresh air. I need fresh air so I open the window and look out onto the street at all the other houses with all the other families inside and wondered about things and take a deep breath.

I was not long ago that I inhaled the crisp Alaskan air and warmed my hands over the fire. I reviewed the day in my mind: woke up at first light, broke camp, hiked in the wilderness, saw a grizzly and a caribou drinking from a stream, feasted on freshly harvested Alaskan King Crabs, located the Big Dipper in the wide open sky. Sitting in a circle with others who must have appreciated the day just as much, I listened. There are strange things done in the midnight sun/By the men who toil for gold. I couldn't remember a day in my life, or even in the week, that had been remotely similar. In fact, every day and every moment of that trip had its own personality, its own character. The Arctic trails have their secret tales/That could make your blood run cold. These words meant something to me at the time but I wasn't sure what. A free mind, an unchained spirit, the more important things over the petty. Where I was there was no petty. Life was life and that was it, nothing less.

So why can't life be that way now? Why am I stuck in my room, alone, occupied only be my math homework? I can not answer these questions. I can blame no one but myself, for I am in control. I found it briefly and I lost it, but forever? Nothing lasts forever,

The voice comes over the intercom, "Scott--dinner!"

"I'm not hungry," I reply.

On Mary Austin

Mary Austin, in the chapter entitled "The Pocket Hunter," conveyed her realization that the land, her desert in particular, has certain mystical quality about it that draws people in. The Pocket Hunter is a man who had spent the better part of his life living as close to the land as possible. In fact, he had become so close to nature that weather no longer phased him. The Pocket Hunter lost no time during even the most viscous snow storms, nor did he fear them. He knew the land as well as anything and he had his life there down to a science. When the Pocket Hunter finally struck it rich he seemed to have fulfilled his goal of being able to move to London and become a member of bourgeois society there. This life, however, did not last long:

It was no news to me then, two or three years after, to learn that he had taken ten thousand dollars from an abandoned claim, just the sort of luck to have pleased him, and gone to London to spend it. The land seemed not to miss him any more than it had minded him, but I missed him and could not forget the trick of expecting him in least likely situations. Therefore it was with a pricking sense of the familiar that I followed a twilight trail of smoke, a year or two later, to the sale of a dripping spring, and came upon a man by the fire with a coffee-pot and frying-pan. I was not surprised to find it was the Pocket Hunter. No man can be stronger then his destiny. (pg. 52)

It is the final line of this passage that is so emotional and meaningful: No man can be stronger than his destiny. This is to say that the destiny of the Pocket Hunter was to roam the desert with his mules and his minimal provisions. Austin does not specify whether the man returned because he longed for the land or because he spent all of his money, but that is irrelevent. The Pocket Hunter has returned because the desert drew him back. He belongs there; that is his home just as it is Austin's and, like the Pocket Hunter, Austin could never sever all ties with the land. She has too much in common with it and she has found too much love there to ever fully move on. That is her destiny.

To relate Austin's realization to personal experience, I have felt drawn to certain special places. When I have been out west in the Rocky Mountains, whether it be skiing in Utah or hiking in Colorado, I feel a certain sense of welcome and comfort. Something there has become a part of me. Maybe that is my destiny.

Interview with Uncle Dan

The thing to remember when traveling is that the trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for. --Louis L"Amour

My uncle Dan is one of those mad scientist types. He doesn't have uncontrollable wiry white hair, nor does he lay claim to any patented inventions, but his mind is always working faster than his mouth. Uncle Dan's creative imagination and dynamic perspective on life result from a myriad of experiences. Granted, every rational human has countless experiences during the course of his life that serve to forge his existence, but there is a difference: while some are subject to the direction in which they seem to be pulled, others actively process their experiences, and learn from them, in order to construct a unique reality.

"Colorado, France, California, New York, Florida, Spain ... wow! And it's not even April!" The time is six A.M. and the sun has just begun to cast long shadows from the trees onto the grassy expanse of my back yard. Since I was fast asleep ten minutes ago, I only partially comprehend the words of Uncle Dan. Nevertheless, the interview could not take place at any other time: for he is a busy man. Always on the run, Uncle Dan agreed to stop by my house on the way to the airport. He has traveled to many a destination, spanning every continent except Antarctica (though he "would like to get there" someday) and he can attribute a valuable experience to each of his excursions.

Several years ago, Uncle Dan was nearly kidnaped by natives of Singapore. Walking down the main street in one of the larger and more populous villages of the Malaysian nation, Uncle Dan knew that something was not right. He noticed hooded women behind him, following at a reasonable distance, but moving closer and closer. "They seemed to be coming out of the woodwork," Uncle Dan recalls, "These women, their faces wrapped in white cloth, were all around me." The mysterious figures converged to form a tight circle. The entire assemblage, with Uncle Dan in the center, headed off the street and into an alley between two buildings. Uncle Dan felt a bony hand slide into his back pocket and he knew he would never see his wallet again. As if commanded by some sort of silent signal, the women turned and disappeared into the buildings or back out onto the street, indistinguishable from each other and from the rest of the female 17 population of Singapore.. it was impossible to single out the actual thief. After regaining his composure and shaking off the initial shock, Uncle Dan was able to think about what had occurred. "Aside from being scary, the experience made me see those women as inhuman. There was some kind of savage quality to them and I know that reasoning would do no good. They were robots out for whatever they could get and there was no stopping them," Uncle Dan continues, "It was so obvious that these women had been brainwashed by their society and that they had lost any sense of individualism."

A trip to China last summer confirmed Uncle Dan's conclusions from Singapore and expanded them to include another culture. The purpose of the trip was business--to make the first annual visit to the new plant and to meet the supervisors. Upon entering the huge aluminum-sided warehouse, Uncle Dan was led to the observation balcony. He gazed out at several hundred factory workers scattered about on the floor below. Each had his own particular job; one step in the production of hand-made ceramic Disney character figurines. Even though the supervisors were not cruel men and the factory conditions were at least satisfactory, the wage workers possessed an inhuman quality. "They didn't talk to each other or joke around; they didn't even look up. They just made the necessary mechanical motions with their hands." Uncle Dan says, "Just as in Singapore, it was as if they were robots with no personalities outside their prescribed functions. Selfishly, I felt lucky to be me and live a life not dominated by the constant pressure of need."

Weekend ski trips to Vermont have also made a lasting impression on Uncle Dan. Every Spring, he invited me and my brother to spend the weekend at his condominium at Okemo. Uncle Dan, my brother, my cousin and I always had fun at a restaurant called Michael's. The food was not extraordinary and the atmosphere and service were just above average, but we all looked forward to dinner there. Now, several years after our last meal at Michael "s , Uncle Dan reminds me of the conversations, inside jokes, and good times we shared there. Little did I know that while we were all laughing and tossing food at each other, Uncle Dan was thinking about the experience in relation to the rest of his life. "Those meals were precious times for me. Not only did I have fun and enjoy a break from work, but you kids taught me a lesson. Watching you guys laughing and smiling with nothing else on your minds made me realize that those moments are what life is all about. They're not just a break from the norm; they're the happy times that will always stand out in my memory."

Uncle Dan looks at his excursions to places near and far as small parts of an endless journey with no particular destination. This journey consists of countless other experiences that enhance or benefit from his travels. "Growing up in the Bronx was an experience in itself," Uncle Dan reminisces. "You had to know how to stick up for yourself. There were two gangs: the Italian Fordham Daggers and the Puerto Rican Imperial Hoods." Despite his efforts to remain neutral, Uncle Dan was provoked by a member of the Hoods one time too many. Instead of walking away from the situation as usual, Uncle Dan spontaneously swung his fist and the bully hit the ground. Impressed by this show of might, the Daggers proposed that Uncle Dan join the gang. Even though he was Italian and had proven his worth, Uncle Dan refused the invitation. He saw the animosity as groundless and racist. "It was very appropriate preparation for life," he says. "Lots of things don't make sense, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Anyone can have ideal visions of what the world should be like. It takes more intuition and judgement to draw the line between those visions and reality."

Different jobs formed the foundation of Uncle Dan's career in the publishing business. His first paycheck came from his uncle's bleach factory. Uncle Dan was required to mix chlorine and water together in one hundred gallon drums and haul them up a flight of stairs to street level where they were sold. The caustic chemicals often burned his skin and his fingers cracked and bled from the rough handles of the barrels. "'It got so bad that I just had to leave one day," Uncle Dan said. "My uncle was left with no help and he never forgave me. 'How could you treat a family member like this he said. It taught me the need to separate business from personal life."

Erving's Grocery Store was Uncle Dan~s next source of income. Erving was a master of public relations. Every week, he advertised a different product by painting a sign with shoe polish on meat-packing paper. On every sign, Erving purposely misspelled some word or left out a minor detail. Hundreds of customers entered the stove every day, informed Erving of his mistake, and bought groceries since it was convenient. Uncle Dan learned that a fresh approach can bring success and that a hook is necessary in order to get the attention and interest of customers.

In the Army Reserve Corps, Uncle Dan became aware of the inefficiency of bureaucracy and red tape. When asked what he did in the Army, Uncle Dan says, "We built bridges and then knocked'em down. Our superiors had orders from their superiors that we were to be kept busy with constant labor. It was against policy to travel to another location, where our skills might actually have been useful. I can imagine now how much time and money would have been saved if we had built bridges that were actually used." Uncle Dan went on, "It said something about human nature: we are so concerned with the immediate present but we fail to think ahead. The problems of the future are inevitably worse and more complex than those of the present and it will catch up to us someday."

Finally, Uncle Dan was hired by Grolier Publishing Company to work in the mailroom for minimum wage. This was the start of one of the major journeys of his life, as he followed the path from the mailroom up thought the ranks to the president's office, where he presides today. With no college education, money in the bank, or corporate connections, Uncle Dan realized the American Dream. While he is not sure if this is still a likely possibility, he feels that, "I have accomplished something. While the end may be the same for me as for the son of the wealthy businessman who gets a job through his father, the means are very different. I know in my heart that I have lived life and have not merely been a passive traveler."

He who does not constantly ask questions and who glides through time in a turbo-charged sports car will never reach his full potential. He who never stops to think that maybe there are some things worth stopping to think about will never know what it really means to be alive. He who is the passive traveler will surely miss all that he travels for.

Boat

Sherman taught me basically everything I know. Everything that matters anyway, like the difference between a Perch and a Pickerel (Pickerel have teeth) and how to appreciate the sunset and how to make chili from a can taste like it was made from scratch. Every Friday night during the summer I would kneel on the couch in the cabin of our twenty-eight foot Sea Ray and peer out the window in anxious anticipation of Sherman's blue van. If ten o'clock arrived and the parking lot was still empty, it was safe to say that he was not coming that weekend and I would go to sleep.

We had been going to Boat for as long as I can remember. And for as long as I can remember, we always, for some reason, said going to Boat.. It was not going to the lake or even going to the boat.. just going to Boat. We went to Boat almost every weekend of the summer of 1989, as we had for several summers before that and would continue to do in the future. Something was special about that year though; it was Sherman's last year at the Lake.

Lake Hopatcong had become more than just a second home to me. Located in rural New Jersey (if you can believe there is such a thing), the Lake, whose name was derived from the Lenni Lenape Indian word meaning Honey Waters of Many Coves, served as an escape for suburbanites trapped in the rat race of New York Metropolitan life. The drive out, directly west from home, took only fifty-five minutes on the interstate but the change of scenery and way of life made it feel worlds away from the engulfing pressures and everyday banalities of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Most of the ride was on a ten lane highway but the last ten minutes brought us into the hills and through the woods until we arrived at Floraine's Marina where Lorraine and Chick, the owners, greeted us at the gate. There was a stop sign there where they expected all customers to halt before proceeding to the waterfront so they could check the validity of the parking permit. Even though we had been going there for years and were virtually part of the family, we always stopped and they always checked.

Lorraine, a stern but fair matronly woman with a little extra weight, ran the business like a military boot camp. Early in the Spring, when most boats were still on land, we would receive in the mail an updated list of rules, regulations, and procedures that had been devised by the boss herself. First it was no open fires, then no charcoal grills, and that eventually led to no portable heat producing devices of any kind. When Lorraine's rules progressed to the point of being dictatorial, they were blatantly ignored by enough customers to make her reconsider. Even though the bureaucratic regulations were a slight nuisance, we understood the boss's preoccupation with the well-being of the business. After all, the name of the marina, Floraine's was a tribute to both Lorraine and her late mother, Florence. The land had been in the family for generations and it was Lorraine's pride and joy.

Chick (whose real name seems to be classified information) was Lorraine's husband and fully exhibited the rugged look: dirty army pants and work boots no matter how hot the temperature, baseball cap on his gray haired head, cracked skin on his fingers with black grit stuck under his fingernails (I think he didn't wash his hands because he liked the black grit there...it was impressive). We called Chick Superman. There was nothing he couldn't do. I remember once, when incompetent boaters almost sunk their small bow rider, Chick came to the rescue. The poor novices backed their boat down the ramp without inserting the plug, thereby ignoring the foremost caveat of the marine world. Everyone knows that you just don't forget to put the plug in! The couple became alarmed (rightly so) as the boat took on water and it was obvious that they could not haul the craft back onto the trailer. They called for help. Chick came marching down out of the snack bar, no panic visible on his battle-hardened face, and continued out onto the dock over the water, parallel to the launch ramp. He braced himself on the dock and, grunting like a rhinoceros at meal time, he heaved and pulled until the boat was safely on the trailer. "No problem," he responded to the thanks and praise, and he marched right back up to the stand to man his post at the stop sign. Chick was God.

Past the stop sign and past the ramp, just yards down the driveway, we rolled into the unpaved and weed-infested parking lot. Happy to have arrived, I would jump out of the car and simultaneously take in the view across the lake and the dust in the air stirred up from the ground by our black and gray conversion van. Looking toward the west across Callahan's Cove was not all that interesting unless it was at the time of sunset.

It varied every weekend evening but was familiar at the same time. On this particular Saturday evening, we had just finished eating barbecued chicken and corn on the cob (food always tastes better outside somehow) and I left the picnic table to begin cleaning up. I was the designated cook for my family when we were at Boat because my Mom needed a break from her weekly duties (that's how she looked at it) and my Dad wasn't much of a cook. I brought the responsibility upon myself but I enjoyed it, for the most part, so I never complained. Around this time, and always during clean-up, the sun was just above the forested rolling hills rising from the opposite shore of the lake. The brilliant fiery orange glow was blinding as it reflected off the calm surface of the water. The radio, playing softly in the background, was set to CBS-FM, my parents' favorite oldies station. My family at one table, Sherman and his wife Marion at another, and various other lake friends scattered about finishing their meals, I thought about how lucky I was and how comfortable I felt. I was glad that the sun was making me squint and that it was almost dark.

Nightfall. By this time the citronella candles had been lit and the black smoke from the candle pails curled up into the sky but never went unnoticed. Even to this day, the noxious citronella scent is sweeter to me than blooming flowers. The pungent odor signifies long summer nights sitting in lounge chairs drinking hot chocolate while the grown-ups were drinking beer. But I didn't think of them as grown-ups; they were my friends. Lying on my back and looking up at the Big Dipper, CBS-FM playing as usual but not really registering (I wonder if the radio even had a frequency control), I had no desire to be anywhere else. I listened for a while to my Dad and Sherman talking about the old days. Funny, since I now write about the old days as I know them. It was amazing that two people with as much in common(in their everyday lives) as oil and water could mesh so well. My Dad the stockbroker and Sherman the crate loader. Not only did they get along, but they were bonded somehow.

Not that Sherman was a difficult person to bond with. My Mom said that he was just a big kid that never grew up because he never wanted to. In retrospect, I cannot disagree. He was fifty-something years old and could still impress spectators with a reverse head stand while gliding over the water on his jet-ski at forty miles per hour. But to me he was more than just a big kid; he was my mentor. Sherman and I spent many hours of endless days in deserted canals with hook and line in the water, attempting to catch fish that probably didn't exist. It didn't matter that our bait was never taken because I was learning. I was learning the ways of an outdoorsman that aren't found in guide books or on trail maps. Sherman taught me how to look at the world, and at life, from a perspective that could only be gained from an adult who never grew up. Unfortunately, this very quality proved to be Sherman's tragic flaw. His immaturity and lack of responsibility eventually led to marital problems which caused him to sell his boat and leave the lake forever. I learned more than one lesson from Sherman.

While I could lie amidst the citronella all night and philosophize in my mind, my brother was much less patient. He wanted to play Ghost in the Graveyard which was actually just a fancy and more exciting ways of saying Hide and Seek.

One o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock, four
Five o'clock, six o'clock, seven o'clock, more
Nine o'clock, ten o'clock, eleven o'clock ... midnight!
Ghost in the graveyard!

I cannot explain the more or the mysterious disappearance of eight o'clock, but that is how the game was played. The counter would wander the marina in search of the ghost who, if he was as clever as I was, would never be found. I know the marina like my own house. I knew that you could follow the fence behind the bushes to the gate, leave through the gate, crawl down the road, and re-enter by climbing down the bridge. This put me back where I started while my brother was snooping in the opposite corner of the property. When we got tired of that, I resumed my position on the lounge chair and lost myself in star gazing while my brother slipped off to bed.

Being an energetic youngster, I viewed sleep as a waste of time. No matter how late I had turned in at night, I would wake up early because I didn't want to miss the mist. Every morning shortly after dawn, so long as the water was warmer than the air (which was almost always the case), a thick blanket of mist would envelop everything located between the surface of the water and five feet above. If the day was clear, rays of sun would be visible as they sliced through the moisture.

I could barely make out my Dad sitting on the pontoon boat smoking his Don Diego and reading the Daily Herald. He had been awake for hours. There was something special about these quiet mornings; maybe it was the fact that we temporarily had the world to ourselves; maybe we were just in awe of the mist. I felt as if we should have been having deep conversations; I think we both felt that way, but instead we just talked about what the day might bring. The pervasive scent of citronella seemed so far away but I know it would only be a matter of hours. The day would be an adventure, because it always was, until the familiar blinding light of the setting sun disappeared behind the hills.

Journal: My Freshman Year In College