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UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Horror Hotel [City of the Dead] (1960)

I saw this movie as a child and for many years all I remembered about it was that when the clock struck THIRTEEN, a woman was about to plunge a knife into a blonde student’s heart and the film suddenly cut to Susie slicing into her birthday cake. And that was all I remembered. I think I was about ten when I saw this on either Creature Feature on channel 5 or Chiller theater on on channel 11.

Then I spoke to a co-worker about it in 2000 and he said it sounded like Horror Hotel and finally 18 years later it was on TCM!

The only actor I recognize at all here is a younger Christopher Lee. The film is in black and white but possibly the most atmospheric b/w I have seen. John Moxey sets up an atmosphere of encroaching danger nicely as a mob comes through the fog to “burn the witch!” As a horror film, it works really well, quite likely because there are not a lot of bodies piling up and the action moves quickly and logically. There aren’t a lot of jump scares or twists and turns here. And not a lot of stupid stuff happens here, either, like going upstairs when you should run screaming to safety elsewhere.

The witch burning scene that opens the film is actually a dramatization of a history about the witch Elizabeth Selwyn being read by Professor Driscoll to his class. Student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is interested in doing more research into witchcraft and the witch Elizabeth Selwyn. Driscoll recommends she go to the tiny town Whitewood, and recommends an inn.

There is a LOT of FOG in Whitewood and a lot of extras with no dialogue staring at Nan as she walks around town, and it gets even creepier when her brother comes looking for her after she mysteriously disappears. It’s also hard to imagine this movie in anything but black and white. It just aids the creepy goings on at the Inn, like people dancing in the lobby but disappearing once Nan opens the door and decides to join them.  And of course there’s a mute woman. And the innkeeper looks so much like the witch killed back in the 1600s!

There are some stupid moments as most horror movies have, like picking up creepy hitchhikers. But people did stuff like that in 1960. Horror Hotel is a very effective horror movie without a lot of slashing or gore (if you don’t count three dead birds and a human sacrifice). And like Psycho, which came out the same year, the blonde heroine of the movie dies in the first half of the movie and is never seen again.

Some actors sound very British; the film was filmed in England. The actual title of City of the Dead, based on the notion that during Satanic holidays the dead rise up and take over the town.

LAST SEEN: 1973.

UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — That Hamilton Woman (1941)

Fresh off her success as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, we have Vivien Leigh in the title role of Emma Hamilton. Well, she did two other movies in 1940. But That Hamilton Woman takes advantage of Leigh’s figure and beauty and we see her in an endless parade of shimmering gowns and big hats, and that might almost be enough for me, quite frankly. But there’s an actual story it’s a good one.

The film starts out with Emma down on her luck in Calais, tossed in jail for stealing a bottle of wine.  Actress Heather Angel as “a street girl” is in the brig with her and Angel urges her to tell her story, “whether it’s real or not.” And she tells the girls about how she came to Naples with her mother, was practically sold off by her fiance to his rich uncle, the British Ambassador, and how she married him, learned French and Italian, and wound up best pals with the Queen of the Two Sicilies. Eventually, Horatio Nelson shows up needing 10,000 troops to trounce Napoleon and Emma succeeds in 10 minutes where her husband would have failed in a week.

It takes a while but (married) Admiral Nelson (Laurence Olivier) and Emma become lovers. Josiah, his stepson, seethes and writes home to mother complaining about “That Hamilton Woman.”

As things progress, the Two Sicilies are overrun by the French, so Nelson goes back to Naples to “save the Royal Family” but it’s all about Emma. The whole thing is a wonderful fantasy until they get back to London and of course, the vinegary wife of the Admiral and of course society are keeping a close eye on these two.

There are also a LOT of speeches about how awful Napoleon is and how all of Euopre is cowering and that the only way to deal with a dictator is to SMASH HIM, and of course, the movie is  filmed in 1941 so all these speeches against Napoleon are all about Hitler.

CASUAL MOVIE RACISM: Since this is Italy in 1799, there are no black servants to denigrate, but Emma’s mother later complains about how all the Italians “smell of onions,” and how the smell gets worse when they are excited about something. This reminded me of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life complaining about “those garlic eaters.”

SPOILER ALERT: After Nelson dies, we cut back to Emma in jail, looking like a very haggard Greta Garbo, and Heather Angel says, “And then what happened?” and Emma doesn’t give a real answer, so we never find out how Emma, who rose from being a dancer and a courtesan to helping Nelson destroy Napoleon’s armies and ships more than once, wound up falling from grace and stealing booze in Calais!

LAST SEEN: I think I only saw part of this movie while in high school, on a Sunday afternoon at Grandma’s house.

Cinema Non-Paradiso

A few weeks ago I went to see The Favourite at the Regal Union Square, which requires designated seating for everyone in the audience. Sigh.

I get to my seat and there’s someone in it. I start to mention that they are in my seat, they probably just need to move one over, and the younger of the two women immediately and dripping with entitlement starts a screed. “Look, my grandmother is 88 years old and she want to sit HERE, so why don’t you just sit THERE,” indicating the empty seats in front of her. I start to answer, “Well, I don’t need to deal with the problem of whomever has THOSE seats,” and she immediately yells, “For God’s sake, those are our seats! Just take them. What is your problem?”

“My PROBLEM is your attitude. Why are you screaming at me?”

“Well, I don’t have an attitude and I am screaming NOW.”

“Why are you screaming AT ALL?”

So I take their seats, and as I am getting settled, the preview on screen is pretty loud and the younger woman starts to talk to me so I just replied, “Look, I can’t hear you, and since I don’t really care what you have to say at this point, STOP TALKING TO ME, IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?”

Of course, I get a look from her like,”What’s HIS problem?”

Now, if the woman had just said to me, “Oh, my grandmother is settled in here and those are her seats just ahead of us. Do you mind taking our seats?” of course I would have agreed and there wouldn’t have been a single extra word about it. This is why I hate assigned seating in movie theatres. You’re stuck if you get jerks nearby, and who in New York City wants to start the “you’re in my seat” problem

Luckily the movie was wonderful and except for a few times when Grandma behind me kept kicking my seat, there was no further incident.

NOW, in the old days in New York City, if I didn’t want to sit near anyone for any reason, I just got up and moved to another seat. I once changed my seat three times before a movie started because I just KNEW the people near me were going to be a problem. (Cell phones, loudness, odor, you name it.)

I really do prefer seeing movies in cinemas but I really don’t like having lots of people around me. The once time I have gone recently to a Saturday night film, it was A Star Is Born and two women next to me started talking loudly, and gesturing wildly, the moment the movie started. I gave them “the look” and a quarter turn and they stoppedat

I don’t get it. You’re paying anywhere from $11 to $15 to see this movie. Why the hell are you talking!? Just shut up for two hours. It’s not that hard. Just put your lips together and keep your eyes open.


From the start, this movie has an unrelentingly positive attitude about teenagers, and I suspect it is because there were so many movies about reckless teenagers in the mid- to late-1950s. Here, teenage Steve (played by 27-year-old Steve McQueen) witnesses the Blob overtake a doctor, and he tries in vain to get the cops to take him seriously. Later, he has to round up other cleancut, wholesome teens to help get the authorities’ attention–the highlight being when they convince the school principal to help them bust into the school for the much-needed fire extinguishers to vanquish the Blog.

I saw this on TV back in the 1970s like everyone else. Some friends remember being terrified by the Blob as kids, but the Blob itself doesn’t have much screen time. The movie seems to spend more time on the well-intentioned teenagers. Aneta Corsaut, who played Helen Crump on the Andy Griffith Show, is Jane, the female well-intentioned team.


Some folks seem puzzled and even confused about UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA, and it’s two older sisters, BROKEN ANKLE CINEMA and UNEMPLOYMENT CINEMA. It’s pretty simple: When a windfall of extra free time came along, it gave me a chance to watch more movies. It started earlier in 2018 when I broke my ankle and had to stay off my feet and lived in the living room 24/7.

I went back to work in May and then two months later, the powers that be fired half the editorial staff at the New York Daily News and all but one of the library staff. I was head librarian; I was not kept.

So while I was unemployed I started recording a lot of movies to my DVR–mostly from Turner Classic Movies but also some from Fox’s FXM channel and some others.

ACTIVITY THUS FAR: I have been posting small capsules on Facebook with screenshots off the TV.

CRITERIA: I have been trying to watch movies that I have either never seen or those I saw once but quite a long time ago.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: There are MANY classic movies that I have never seen. I have never seen Casablanca (except for the last five minutes). I have never seen the Godfather. I have never seen The Graduate! There’s just a lot I have never seen, for a variety of reasons. First, growing up in the 1970s, we tended to repeat viewings if a movie was on TV. Maybe you saw a movie two or three times in the cinema if you were really crazy about it. Unlike kids who grew up in the 1980s, we did not have VCRs so we could re-watch a Disney movie every blessed day.

Another problem was film-student snobbery. In college I came to learn that movies on TV were chopped up (like much of the first third of Psycho) and some movies were meant for viewing on the big screen. And in the 1990s, our TVs in general were much smaller and reading subtitles was more difficult. I mean, I would read them, but a 13-inch screen is not the way to see a lot of these classic movies.

But now, we have 50-inch screens and a million and one things streaming, and my part-time job is only 15 hours a week, so… UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA!


The Year That Was: 2017

Ironically, a year that nationally has left so many of us bilious with rage has also been a pretty nice year, personally. Eric and I got to see a lot of our family this year, both in New York and New Jersey, and out in Portland, Oregon and Seattle. In November, my aunt and uncle and three of their kids came to NYC to be honored by Keshet, a Jewish group that raises LGBT awareness. My aunt and uncle have been activists in all things for more than 70 years, and were active in PFLAG in Seattle in the 1990s. Their daughter Janet nominated them for an award. Since Uncle Jack doesn’t come out East as much as he used to, he wanted to see “as many cousins as possible” and we did that at a nice lunch on Veterans’ Day this year.

Since my aunt, who lived in Queens for 60 years, moved to Seattle, it is on us to go out to visit her, and in the process, I got to see all of my Seattle cousins (who live in various parts of the world) come in to Seattle for our summer visit. We got to see Eric’s cousins a month before they became grandparents, and I got to see the baby that made my cousin Susan a grandmother as well. Earlier in the year, Andrea, John, and Jason came to NYC for a visit and we got to see them as well.

Eric and I also went to visit Tony in Champaign-Urbana, but we actually changed our plans thanks to a DNA test. A cousin in the Goldberg family tested fairly close to my aunt and uncle who also did AncestryDNA tests. So instead of driving straight to C-U from Indianapolis, we spent the night in Indy and wound up having lunch with Annette at an Indian buffet. Genealogy takes you on some interesting detours!

Meanwhile, because AncestryDNA has practically doubled its database of testers in a year, I wound up finding and visiting third and second cousins in my (still unknown) birth father’s family. I am moving a lot slower on this search than I did on the search for my birth mother’s family. First, because this information probably means more to me than it would to the people I think are possibly my first cousins or siblings. Second, my birth mother’s siblings were such a suspicious and paranoid bunch, I figure I can take this one a lot slower.

Work was busier than ever this year since a veteran of our library retired. I taught at CUNY again in the Fall, which I loved, but I was very tired in the end. The students were great and I loved teaching again with Lisa (third Fall in a row), but when the Daily News was bought by tronc, a lot of “integration issues” took up a lot more of my time than I thought it would.

Eric got involved in a second chorus, and he wound up directing a play at the local Historic Edison Valley Playhouse, across the street from the Italian restaurant where we got married (it’s now an Indian place). So I now have several earworms related to “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”

I have also been very inspired by the many friend I have on Facebook who have renewed their activism and have shared many wonderful experiences and ideas in this “current era.”

Happy New Year!









When I speak to Eric’s cousin Liese about her own grandmother, Karolina Wolf (died 1932), she always says, “She was a real grandmother type.” I know exactly what she means. My grandmother, Sadie Bookey, was just that type. My father would take us to see her and my grandfather every Sunday, first when they still lived on Montgomery Street in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, and later in Little Neck, in Queens, about 20 minutes from our house in Great Neck. Grandma did many of the typical Jewish Grandmother things. She would bake cookies and send them to us when we were up at camp in Connecticut. Every Sunday we pretty much had the same meal–chicken noodle soup, meatballs and overcooked peas, roasted chicken, challah, and more. She was upbeat and positive and if you brought your friends to see her, she liked them also. And if you weren’t so keen on something, neither was she. She often invoked the Shma prayer as she was always thankful for so many of the blessings in her life–and even for smaller things, like our rental car in Seattle in 1979.

Grandma lived to 100 and I got to have her in my live for 33 years. So most of the time I knew her, she was retired from the workplace. My grandfather had had a stroke and her job was looking after him 24/7. But it didn’t seem like a job to her. This was her life. She never complained and she probably should not have, in her 80s, been the primary caregiver to another senior. She did have some help. My aunt and uncle lived nearby and helped her with much of the shopping. A woman from Haiti, Suzette, would come by a few times a week to help out also. Grandpa could barely walk or talk by 1980 but Grandma would get him out of bed, to the bathroom, to the table, to the couch.

Grandma was the third child to be born to my great-grandparents here in America. Before her were twin sisters, Gertie and Rose, born two years earlier. All three of them were born on the Lower East Side. But before her parents came here, the had three children back in Radzilow, Poland. Annie, the oldest, and two boys, Avram and Nisl. Their father came here first and then Baba got on the boat with three children, and disembarked with only one. The two boys died of an illness going around the ship, and were buried at sea. It’s impossible to imagine how any of them felt when Baba and Annie met Zayde at Ellis Island and he asked, “Where are my sons? Where are my sons?”

Zayde was a butcher and had his own butcher store on Henry Street. At one of the buildings were they lived, the entrance to their apartment building was in the middle, between two stores. His butcher shop was on one side and the Shers had a grocery store on the other. In the 1990s those stores were a laundromat and a videogame store. The building is still there. In 1900, living in one apartment was my grandmother, two parents, the twins, Annie, her brother Irving, and the baby, Sarah, who was born in 1899 and died in 1900. Also living with them were Baba’s brother, a furrier, and his son. In 1910, two cousins, the Levines, were living with them.

Their father had asthma problems and it was advised that they move to Williamburg, where the air would be better. Probably bigger apartments, probably a few less people per apartment. They lived on Roebling Street and you could see the statue of George Washington on horseback in the park near the bridge. Zayde died in 1915 and his dying probably saved Grandma from dying, as she had a bad appendix and he was deathly afraid of her having an operation. He died and she got  the operation. Baba then had a chicken store–handling larger animals proved too difficult. At some point, Aunt Rose, one of the twins, was teaching piano and singing, and a neighbor above or below them (I am not sure which) heard the singing and decided her ten-year-old daughter should get lessons. That woman was my aunt Mary. At some point my grandfather Sam Bookey got a look at my grandmother and to ask her out, he wound up asking out Grandma and her twin sisters Gertie and Rose. I think by the third date it was just Grandma and Grandpa. By 1922, they got married. And three children followed in the next five years.

What also followed were many apartments. The Depression led to the entire family moving in with her sister and her four children at some point. When things were better, Grandma would go up to the country with the kids and by the end of the summer, my grandfather found them a new apartment. It wasn’t until the 1940s that they spent longer periods of time in one apartment.

When my father was six he contracted polio. A telltale sign was being unable to touch your chin to your chest. Grandma bore the false burden of believing he was actually fine when she took him to the hospital and felt he contracted it there; but my father says otherwise. Part of the reason the family moved around in the 1930s was to have my father closer to his doctors. Sometimes, the one relative with a vehicle, Uncle Toby, would take them to the doctors in the truck he drove to deliver butter and eggs.

In the 1930s there was no real awareness of disabilities and there were a lot of stupid people and their comments. My grandparents didn’t treat my father like he was any different from anyone else. When the forerunner of the March of Dimes was founded, Grandma was involved on some level raising money. Grandma also worked, sometimes as bookkeeper. Not sure if she worked in my grandfather’s businesses where he made women’s and children’s clothing, but she worked. When I would visit her for dinner on my own in the 1980s, she told me her first job was to paint small designs on the handles of brushes and combs. Her father had taught her to write and one job she had was just writing numbers on shoeboxes at a store. Her earliest job was to deliver meat from her father’s butcher store to the Upper East Side, on the Second Avenue El, to a customer who had done well financially but moved to a neighborhood without a single kosher butcher shop. Grandma was about 8 at the time. People would ask her, why she wasn’t in school; she did go to school, but after she made this delivery. She took the El because the subway didn’t go to the Upper East side yet! Another early job was looking after her oldest sister’s children. Aaron, her nephew, called her “Mama” before he figured out Annie was his mother, not Sadie.

Grandma believed in Judaism and she believed in America and its  institutions. She always voted, and she believed in public officials, and was genuinely horrified when they fell from grace. Even decades later, she remembered names of teachers and other educators. She sometimes mentioned a woman named Julia Richman. I was surprised one day, after moving to the Upper East Side, that the school at Second Avenue and 67th St. is the Julia Richman Educational Complex. Grandma kept kosher at home but was never very heavyhanded  about it. As I got older I saw that she lived by a lot of Jewish principles without lecturing. One thing she never liked to do was gossip. When she lived in Little Neck, she kept away from a group of women who would sit in the courtyard and gossip about everyone. We certainly had relatives that were gossip-worthy but Grandma rarely had a bad word to say about anyone. The only time I heard her complain was about a bad cab driver and a repairman who seemed nasty. “I don’t know what the problem was. I think he was a Catholic Jew hater!”

Even in her late 80s and early 90s, she did some traveling. When she went to her granddaughter’s wedding in Seattle and was still dancing when the marimba band was ready to call it quits. We went to another wedding, on Staten Island. We left at 1 am. Grandma wasn’t ready to leave until 3 am.

I could go on and on about my grandmother, but I can say this without reservation: She was the major source of unconditional love in my childhood. My mother had a variety of problems, and my father came from a conflict-free background that didn’t make it easy for him to protect us from her anger. But Grandma was a constant source of positivity and a role model for loving. In recent years I discovered my birth mother’s family and have heard very little good about my birth mother’s parents. A relative told me, “They clothed us, they fed us, that was about it.”

I was always thankful to have Grandma in my life, but finding out how horrible my life might have been if I had been kept in that family? I feel thankful 100-fold now.


She Was an Immigrant


Meant to write this in time for #tbt and International Women’s Day. This photo shows my great-grandmother Dora Stoler (l), her daughter Rochele, and her first husband and my great-grandfather Zvi Hirsch (r) and her mother Maita Abramowitz (standing), probably taken in 1917 before my great-grandfather was killed in the marketplace by a soldier on a horse.

It’s hard to imagine what people’s lives were like back then. And my great-grandmother, from what I can tell, was clearly what we call “indomitable.” The Stollers lived in Karelitz (known today as Karelichy in Belarus) and the town, like many towns in that area, suffered the ravages of pogroms, World War I, a revolution or two, and then a civil war and a war with Poland. By 1921, her son, who had come to America, had to locate her and her daughter via the Red Cross. My mother told me that when they were finally found, “They were surviving on potato peels.” There was also a famine in those years, and the Russians were happy to let other nationalities starve.

Most third-generations think that everyone back home was poor, but indications are, she might have had some money back home. That’s often why people didn’t come here. They might have been better off not working like a dog here. In the 1950s, a man showed up at my grandmother’s house to say that he had been a servant to the family back in Karelitz. Poor people don’t have servants. My grandmother gave the man my late grandfather’s tools so that he could work here. Stoliar in Russian means carpenter, and many in the family were carpenters.

My mother recalls that when Dora Stoller came to America finally, the first thing she did was complain to my grandmother that she wasn’t rich already. “If I had come to America when you did, I would have owned all the property by now!” Not the words of a poor woman.

It has been hard to find records for Dora. She appears on no census records, nor does her son. She wound up living with her son and his family at some point, driving his wife crazy. When Uncle Ben died of his mustard gas injuries in 1934, she “blamed” his wife, who promptly cut Dora out of her life and her daughter Toby. Dora married at least once more, if not twice more, while here. Her second husband was Wolf Mechanic. Wolf lost his first wife in March 1930 and by August he was marrying Dora. On her wedding certificate and her marriage license, she signed her name in English AND in Yiddish, which I have never seen anyone else do in America, and I have seen many death certificates.

Life in America was not easy. Her youngest daughter, Rochele, had some sort of mental illness. Possibly PTSD from seeing her father killed, or worse. Rochele got married and had children, but at some point she wound up hospitalized, and her husband was notoriously alcoholic. Her two sons wound up in foster care, and not with family, which is odd.

My mother had no real fond memories of her grandmother–she probably was not the grandmotherly type–but her grandson, Rochele’s son, did have good memories. Somehow, she made sure to visit with the boys. According to the oldest of Rochele’s sons, she got married a third time in 1944 (Wolf had died in 1937). He asked her, “You’re 77! Why would you get married NOW?” and she said, “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.”

I have found no record of this third marriage. It’s possible she never married him but said she did. Either way, by the late 1940s she was living with her daughter. She probably had Alzheimers. She would wander, but a cousin told me, “a little girl at the end of the street caught her before she hit Coney Island Avenue.” And she wound up dying in a hospital on Wards Island in 1950. She is buried in the Karelitzer Society’s plot at Mt. Judah.

It’s hard to imagine what her life was like. But she seemed to be a real survivor and she knew who she was and had a real sense of herself and where she came from. And she shared that with a grandson who for whatever reason was taken from the family while his mother languished in institutions.

And, she was an immigrant.





“Good Things Are Happening in South Plainfield”


From December 27, 2012

Something I didn’t notice on previous trips to our borough hall; the main hallway has a painted inscription that says “Good Things Are Happening in South Plainfield.” I didn’t notice it, but it was pointed out to me the night Eric and I went to have our civil union ceremony performed by the mayor of South Plainfield last Thursday night.

What was very nice about the entire event, beyond the inherent goodness of the event that marks our ten years together and giving it an actual, legal, recognized status, is that everyone involved at the town was very helpful and positive. Not a single odd comment or look. Quite a different experience in general than visiting the Village Hall where I used to live. Or when I went to the bank to change an account and the officer couldn’t seem to process the notion that my beneficiary is my partner.

Despite some homeowner problems, like needing a new furnace and a new air-conditioning system, and repairing damage done to the house by a mover about 90 minutes after we bought the house, good things are happening in South Plainfield. We have very nice neighbors, one of which was our witness for the civil union license. The house has withstood a few weather events, like Hurricane Sandy. We have a lot to be happy about, in a year that was, quite frankly, very trying.

In addition to the general rancor of the election cycle and the horrible destruction brought about by Hurricane Sandy, Eric and I lost a dear friend to cancer. Another acquaintence also passed on, also cancer. About five friends went through the rigors of cancer treatments and luckily, they are all doing well.

The big event of the year, beyond being joined in civil unity, was moving. Closing up a home that has been in our family for 45 years was quite difficult. Looking at homes and trying to figure out where to move? Also difficult. Someone should have blogged about it!

So, we are very happy to end the year on a high note. We’re grateful to have great friends and family, many of whom we have seen this month, and we are also happy that the house in one piece, the heat is working (and if it’s not, I have a LOT of quilts), and we have jobs. My own job went full time in September, which is a very good thing, although I am still getting used to working nights exclusively.

Happy New Year everyone!

Light, and Connection: Remembering Our Dana Gordon (1961-2012)

Every now and then, we meet people in our lives who seem to have an effortless way of being sensitive, of understanding what’s really important, and really enjoying the good things in their lives. And they often have this approach to life that comes off as elegant, simple, natural, and beautiful. I had a friend in college who was like that, who was the “Grace Kelly” of our group.

danaMany years later, after working in publishing for 25 years and after getting my Masters of Library Science, I met another “Grace Kelly,” and that Dana Gordon.

I had known Dana for years as a Newsweek co-worker of a friend, but the Great Recession put me into a special orbit with her. She helped create the Employment Task Force of the Special Libraries Association New York Chapter in 2009. Dana preferred action to being a bystander when our profession suffered endless layoffs. She put together a list of online job resources, and of course, being a New Yorker, included links for free or inexpensive activities in the city.

In Judaism, we talk about tikkun olam–fixing the world. I think Dana did this in many different ways. If she could help you get hired, by giving you a job or being a reference, or reading over your resume and cover letters, she did it. Dana mentored interns at Newsweek and Crain’s. She taught students Simmons, Rutgers, and TCNJ. She was an active participant in our professional organization. It’s no surprise she was honored by our program at Queens College as an “Alum of the Year.” [Something I only found out via online eulogies.]

Another thing I learned in the week since Dana’s death: She was admired by dozens, maybe hundreds, of people. Her joie de vivre affected us all positively—she enlisted in an exploration of happiness, and sharing it. That is part of tikkun olam. Helping others, making a personal connection, sharing a meal–all endeavors that mend the cracks in our busy, 21st Century lives, where we are often “connected,” but often not in real ways. You always parted after an outing with Dana, and her husband Steve, thinking you were very lucky to know them and be their friends. There was light–and connection.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “A person will be just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness can be a choice, and I think Dana made that choice every day. That choice did not mean being oblivious to her compromised health, even when it took a horrible, irrevocable turn.

I cannot fully comprehend what Dana went through since her diagnosis last fall, but she had only one request: “Just don’t cry in front of me.” She did not shy away from telling me when things were bad, or getting worse. She told me, before the very bad downturn last month, that she would probably still be alive a year or two from now, but she couldn’t be sure about ten years from now, or five. I cannot even the mechanics of having to say any of that aloud. I promised her I wouldn’t cry, and I didn’t. But she is gone now, just four months after that conversation.

I have been crying all week.

I feel very blessed to have known someone, even just for a few years, who embraced life with such seemingly effortless grace, with admirable and genuine vigor. I will miss so many things about her: Always eager to see people no matter how busy she was, being so informed on so many different topics, and always enjoying a good meal out with friends. When I wanted to surprise Eric on his 40th birthday, Dana delighted in being part of a day of surprises. That wonderful laugh and smile of hers remains with me. And, the time she came to my town pool and still had on her favorite gold necklace.

It wasn’t all cakes and hors d’oeuvres. She read over my resume at least a dozen times. She was on hand to commiserate about bad interviews and exult when I landed a news library job. She was there when I lost my cat. She was there when a tree fell on my house. She and Steve were there when my mother died.

Over and over again, she was there.

No one person can fix the world. It’s a group effort. Tikkun olam begins at home. It starts with you, and if you can do that, it’s a glow that helps others. If everyone who knew Dana can understand this, and learn from her happiness, it can be something akin to Liberty Enlightening the World, for us and everyone in our lives.

Thank you, Dana.