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Archive for Life

Jan. 8, 2020 — Elizabeth Wurtzel, 1967-2020

Remember this?

Yesterday, this happened. And it was because of cancer.

Elizabeth Wurtzel was a very complex person, and she had the right to be so. She had gone through a lot in her early life, details of which were in her memoir “Prozac Nation.”

She was a brilliant mind, attending Harvard for her bachelor’s degree and Yale for law school, graduating from the latter at the age of 40.

I identified with her — not only because we both worked for the same school newspaper at around the same time, but because we took our time in our educational endeavors.

She was a groundbreaking writer, pioneering unvarnished confessional tomes years before they became commonplace; heck, another one of my former newspaper colleagues self-published such a book a couple of years back.

She was one of a kind.

Rest in power, Elizabeth.

Dec. 31, 2019 — 176 right, 137 wrong

Today, I finished my Trivial Pursuit Master’s Edition Year-In-A-Box calendar, a calendar full of questions about everything from Cleopatra to grapes to the nature of spinal nerves. And this year’s collection of questions was hard.

This reflects in my percentage of correct answers this year was 56.2 percent, much lower than the last couple of years.

I still keep score.

Dec. 25, 2019 — Keeping the cup

Remember this?

Today, I’ll have cocoa in the cup again with my sisters as we gather for the holidays.

May you and yours enjoy the winter holidays, whatever you celebrate.

Dec. 22, 2019 — An age-old question

“Alexa, turn on the lights.”
(Dead silence follows)

A few weeks ago, as part of a magazine promotion, I received one of those digital hubs which run off your home’s wireless fidelity signal. I’ve done very little with it except ask for the outdoor temperature before going out for the day.

That is, until I saw an ad in an electronics store for these things called “smart bulbs,” which allow a digital hub to turn them off and on, or adjust brightness.

I wanted to install them in half of my apartment, not the whole thing (just in case of internet outage), and that half is controlled by a single lightswitch.

I put the three bulbs in and consulted the instructions, which were the so-called “quick start” instructions. The instructions, however, put me into a 45-minute cycle when I tried to pair the three bulbs using the cell phone, but I could not pair more than one at a time.

I consulted the Internet for some help. There were a couple of YouTube videos, entries on Reddit, and several threads on the website of the manufacturer of the bulb.

The question entered my mind: How many people does it take to screw in a smartbulb?

“Alexa, turn on Light 1.”
(Two of the three lights blink off)

The way I see it, the answer to that question has to near more than 100 people. There are the inventors of the bulb, the people who write the code, and, of course, former actress Hedy Lamarr, who invented wireless technology.

It also takes users to post their experiences as to what they did and make the instructions relatable to what I was doing.

The problem, of course, is getting all of those people to work together seamlessly, which wasn’t happening. At least until I ran across a Reddit post hidden deep in one of the conversation threads.

Turns out what I had to do was activate each bulb individually, then use the voice app to group the bulbs under one name.

“Alexa, turn on overhead lights.”
(All three bulbs wink on simultaneously)

Ah, progress.

Dec. 21, 2019 — A regrettable push of the judiciary envelope

PARENTAL ADVISORY: If you are a minor, you may wish to have a parent read this alongside you.


Part of the story of the advancing of field hockey and lacrosse across the country the last quarter-century is the fact that the demand for youth coaching is such that there is, frankly, a shortage of competent coaching to go around.

Low teacher pay and convoluted employment regulations in certain locations have led to some coaching positions being a revolving door, and others becoming open doors to potential criminals.

This space has chronicled more than a half-dozen incidents involving inappropriate relationships between coaches and students, but an incident revealed this past week goes far beyond morals charges.

Gary Reburn, the former girls’ lacrosse coach at Bethesda Walter Johnson (Md.), is currently awaiting extradition from the United Kingdom on charges involving an elaborate kidnapping scheme involving three other adults.

According to a news release from the Department of Justice’s Western District of Virginia, Reburn’s girlfriend hatched a plot to kidnap five children living in two deparate residences in Dayton, Va., to keep and raise them themselves after executing their parents.

The plot was seen through to a home invasion last summer, only to see one of the parents in the first house escape and notify police. The police took one of the conspirators into custody; that conspirator pleaded guilty last week and is now facing life in prison.

“Although the facts of this case read like the script of a bad horror movie, the defendants’ murderous plot was real and it posed a grave risk to their intended victims,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Curran said in a press release.

Reburn, who had resigned from his coaching position at Walter Johnson before the attempted kidnapping, was one of two gunmen who broke into the house and were presumably going to murder the parents of the five children. Once the plot was broken up, however, Reburn, his girlfriend, and the wife of the captured co-conspirator fled to Maryland, then to Europe.

As far as we can tell, none of the members of the Walter Johnson lacrosse team were in any kind of peril. The kidnapping plot was hatched only after Reburn had resigned from the job after the 2018 season.

However, I think the hiring practices for coaches in the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), one of the largest school systems in this country, may require a revisit.

Dec. 8, 2019 — Carroll Spinney, 1933-2019

You may not know Carroll Spinney by name, but you certainly know his work if you have been paying attention the last 50 years.

Spinney, who died this morning, was the voice of two of the most diametrically opposed characters on Sesame Street: the happy-go-lucky Big Bird, and the cantankerous Oscar The Grouch.

In that first year, 1969, both Muppets looked somewhat different from what they look like now. Big Bird looked a little threadbare in his head and neck areas, but since then the Children’s Television Workshop has worked to fill out his facial area with bright, wide yellow feathers. Oscar, in Sesame Street’s first season, had orange fur instead of green.

Spinney, for 49 years, voiced both Oscar and Big Bird. This also included him having to climb inside an eight-foot suit, extend one arm over his head to work Big Bird’s mouth, and having to share space inside of the suit with a TV monitor to help him navigate his surroundings.

It was the bulk and complexity of the Big Bird costume which may have saved Spinney’s life back in 1986. Spinney was invited by NASA to fly on a Space Shuttle mission to spark interest in science amongst children. But there wasn’t enough room in the cargo hold for the Big Bird costume.

That mission turned out to be the ill-fated flight of the Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds into flight, killing all seven crew including the first “teacher in space,” Christa McAuliffe.

Instead, Spinney would die of natural causes today — the same day Sesame Street is inducted into The Kennedy Center Honors.

Highly appropriate, and very poignant.

Dec. 7, 2019 — No one left behind

A group of four women approached the table, seeking entry to the event.

“We’d hate to give you our sob story,” the leader of the group said, “but this is all we have.”

She spread out an oddment of bills, and the amount to admit the four people was three dollars short.

The dance promotion with which I’m involved on some Saturdays is very much a mom-and-pop operation in many ways. One of those ways is that the promotion doesn’t take credit cards, which seems to befuddle many of the patrons.

But what often befuddles me is that there is now a growing segment of the U.S. population who have gone to paperless or electronic transactions. I was always raised to carry a little money around with me at all times in case of an emergency — “empty bladder, full wallet when you travel,” as they say.

“Three dollars?” I asked the group in front of me.

“Yes.”

Rarely have three bucks come out of my wallet so willingly.