House Hunters, Part Deux

By

Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly When I wrote about the show House Hunters a month or so ago, I didn’t mention that I myself was, at that point, a house hunter. Or, rather a condo-hunter. Anyway, after about six months’ of searching, I found one, made an offer on it, had the offer accepted, and sealed the deal on July 22. I am now a woman of property, having not been one since 1999. It feels good. Not because I want to be a real estate magnate, but so I can have my own place that I can make my own. That it’s a condo means that I don’t have to shovel my own snow.

So…let me tell you about my condo and what it doesn’t have in terms of those things the show House Hunters deems essential in terms of civilized living:

  • A “spa tub” in the “master suite.”
  • Double sinks in the bathroom of the “master suite.”
  • Anything resembling a “master suite.”
  • Granite counter tops in the kitchen.
  • A “desirable open floor plan.”

I must confess that the condo does have a walk-in closet, but not in the non-existent “master suite.” It’s situated in an alcove off a hall that leads to the entrance to the kitchen on the east and the living room on the south. And that forms yet another alcove.

The condo is in fact lousy with alcoves, which is one reason I decided to buy it, literally twenty seconds after I walked into it. It also has eleven-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, working light fixtures from 1910 (they’re up to code), and big windows. The building dates from 1900, and was constructed originally to house the executive offices of a woolen mill. It was converted to apartments sometime in the 1930s (I think), and then into condos sometime in the 1980s. Every antique feature that could be preserved or restored has been. The building foyer looks like that of the Palais Garnier, and was probably modeled after it. (Look up Palais Garnier on Google images. The resemblance is astonishing. Really. I am not exaggerating.) There’s a mail chute on each floor that actually works, and each apartment/unit door has a functioning transom. When was the last time you saw a functioning transom? Don’t tell me. It was Humphrey Bogart’s office in The Maltese Falcon. And the Casablanca fan hanging from the living room ceiling is straight out of….Casablanca. It’s all so noir I could just scream. Put that together with the Palais Garnier foyer and…we’ll always have Paris.

What could be better?

I’ll tell you what’s better. The kitchen is small. Really small. It’s perfectly equipped, with much better cabinet space than I’ve had in larger kitchens. But it’s only big enough for me. This is the opposite of the House Hunters ideal, of course, which mandates that you can’t possibly prepare a meal in a kitchen that’s not big enough to hold all your family and friends milling around and hanging over your shoulder while you’re trying to broil their lamb chops and bake their potatoes. Or toss the salad. In this galley, the salad might get tossed on you.

So…guests be warned. There is no room for you in my new kitchen. You’ll just have to sit in the living room drinking your vodka martinis, gin martinis, Scotch on the rocks, bourbon and soda, wine, whatever floats your boat, and chomping on hors d’oeuvres while I gracefully excuse myself, waft to the oven, and put the finishing touches on dinner. You can’t follow me there.

I’m thrilled.

ZACH ON ZACK THEN BACK

By

Zachary Klein

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About thirteen years ago my cousin Frank’s son, Scott, called to ask if I would mind if he and his wife, Christine named their son “Zachary.” (According to Jewish custom, parents do not name their children after living relatives. Which is why you don’t see many Jew Juniors.) As soon as he assured me that I wasn’t dead I quickly assured him that I not only didn’t mind, I was flattered. A pause on the line, then, “Uhh, not really after you. We just like the name.” Scott is nothing if not honest.

And I love that. But I still liked the idea and like it even better since I’ve had a chance to spend time, over the years, with the family: Scott, Christine, Rachael, and Zack.

Good people,  sweet kids.

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Thirteen years after Zack’s birth, and it’s bar mitzvah time.

ZackNow, I hadn’t been in a synagogue (marriage and funeral chapels don’t count!) since Frank’s youngest son, Ben, had his bar mitzvah twenty-some years ago. Having spent most of my childhood attending yeshivas—the last of which was Hasidic—I feel I’ve done my time. Hard time. So it wasn’t surprising that I walked up to the Brooklyn brownstone temple with a belly clench…

Which continued inside its small sanctuary that reminded me of my old Hasidic “learning room,” a somewhat dark medieval kind of place. Trying to keep a tiny new-age neoprene yarmulke on my big head while listening to the cantor strumming on his guitar, did nothing to ease my gut. I’d just landed in what seemed like a cross between the ancient yeshiva world and the Catholic guitar masses I’d occasionally and uncomfortably attended when married to my first wife, Peggy.

For about fifteen minutes I was the standing embodiment of cognitive dissonance. Which finally subsided when the senior Rabbi, Rachel Timoner, urged the congregation to join in with the cantor’s If I Were a Rich Man. (Not really. Just a singing chorus that sounded like yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.) Somehow his voice, which was tenor wonderful, and the familiar happy/sad sounds chilled me out and I finally relaxed…

Only to be jolted to attention when a baby naming ceremony was announced and two men walked up front with a newborn. This was not my father’s shul. My experience, either. The entire congregation went silent as one father talked emotionally about his and his husband’s happiness and their love for the child. I saw tears streaming down my cousin Marcy’s face which, at that moment, perfectly reflected the collective heart of the congregation. It was a moving and amazing few minutes—despite my continuous struggle to keep that damn yarmulke on my head.

Turns out Beth Elohim was founded in 1861 and, remarkably, has kept pace with the rational world. I know there are other reform synagogues that have women rabbis, but my experience with them in past left me pretty cold. Those places were pretty cold. But this was different. The service combined Hasidic joyousness through song (though the Hasids never used guitars or pianos) with a modern day message and commitment to social justice. The Temple’s progressiveness and humanity was reflected in Rabbi Timoner’s interpretation of the Torah portion Zack read along with the cantor—and left a smile on my face.

Zack1Rabbi TimonerNow that I know something about her, Timoner’s interjections and sermon were not surprising. As an Associate Rabbi in LA, the rabbi sought social justice in public transportation, affordable housing, and health care. She also raised funds to rebuild a community center for low-income women, and founded two leadership programs and a peer hotline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth. (After the bar mitzvah we visited with my son Matt and his family who live in Brooklyn. We talked about the day and I mentioned Timoner. Matt told me that he knew her from college and described her student activism back then and the reputation she had in the borough. Small world, eh?)

Let me be clear; I have no inclination to begin believing in god. No desire to belong to a temple—no matter what type. No interest in High Holy Days, Passover, or anything to do with religion of any sort. Especially when I have to fight with a yarmulke. Still, if I need to spend a couple hours on a Saturday morning in prayer and Talmudic elocution, Beth Elohim would be the place to go. Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.

Happy Bar Mitzvah, Zack, you did great. And mazel tov to my cousin’s entire mishpocha.

Every act of perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination. ~ Oliver Sac

Don’t Like Me on Face Book; Don’t Follow Me on Twitter

By

Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly       …And, for Gawd’s sake, don’t expect me to post any photos on Instagram.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I should get with the zeitgeist. But for whatever reason, I just can’t. At least in terms of social media.

It’s not that I’m a Luddite. I love technology. I love the Internet. I love being able to take my cup of morning coffee to the computer, sit down, and read any newspaper in the world that has a website. (I lived in Scotland for four years while in graduate school, so anything going on in the U.K. is interesting to me personally beyond the regular attention I pay to world affairs.) I love being able to go to the Mayo Clinic or Massachusetts General Hospital online for medical advice. I love IMDB for movie reviews, goofy as some of them are. I love the website that told me that one of my ancestors, whose name I never knew before the site posted it, was injured at the Battle of Gettysburg, mustered out the following September, and then re-enlisted in the Union Army the following December, presumably having recovered from his wounds. (Either he was a true Union man, or he thought being shot at by the boys in gray was better than facing another Vermont winter. But no matter.) I love email. I’ve participated in some lively political, literary, and cultural online forums. There are many more things I love about the process of instant worldwide communications. It’s made my life so much richer.

But I just can’t get into social media. All writers are supposed to have Facebook pages, or sites, or whatever you call them. Publishers insist on it. In fact, I have one. It’s there for the sole purpose of advertising my books. I don’t think it sells many books. When I glance at it, which may be once every six months, if Facebook is lucky, the “news feed”—whatever the hell that is—is filled with messages from total strangers posting photos of baby animals, places they’ve been to, birthday parties they threw for their two-year-old kids, some fabulous bargain they got at T.J. Maxx, a review of some restaurant I’ll never go to because the cuisine sounds appalling, and painfully (as opposed to painstakingly) detailed instructions on how they trained their kitty-cats to use the litterbox. I don’t know these people. They don’t know me, but they insist on sharing the intimate details of their lives with me. I live in dread that the next time—maybe sometime in 2018—that I check my FB page, I’ll be treated to a graphic description of someone’s menopause, supplemented with captioned photos of clots. Or a home video of a prostatectomy.

I have been assured that there is a way to control who sees your Facebook page, and who posts there, and who doesn’t. But the point is, as an author with a product to sell, I’m supposed to keep the page open to all comers. Perhaps there’s a way to limit the comers to people who want to talk about books. But if there is, at this stage in my life, I’m too bored and busy to find out what it is.

I have a Twitter account. I have posted exactly one message on it, which instructs people to visit my website (www.susankellywriter.com). As far as I know, I have no followers. I also have a LinkedIn account. When I started it, I got bombarded immediately by people advertising their self-published self-help books. There would be—and I am not kidding—at least 40 messages apiece from the same three or four people, none of whom, of course, were known to me. The same message. Over and over and over again. I resented the fact that they were using my account to advertise their products. That put me off looking at my LinkedIn account for at least a year or two.

As with Facebook, there’s probably a way to control LinkedIn and Twitter. But again, as with Facebook, I’m too bored by the whole prospect to do whatever work is involved to find it. And, mind you, this is coming from someone who has been asked by others to fix their computers when there was some sort of glitch, who’s test-driven academic software, and who has the kind of psychotic patience required to read through an 800-page trial transcript and take notes on it.

I used to blog on my website. But I got bored with that, too, because it seemed as if I was talking to myself, although I knew I wasn’t. And I am still very happy to respond to any questions or comments people post there. I ignore, of course, obvious raving lunatics; those who promise to tell me who the real Boston Strangler was if I meet them in a dark alley at midnight; and any person who asks me for a date that involves the deployment of squirt-can whipped cream and chainsaws.

Here’s the final irony about my Facebook site: People I actually know, personally, who’ve looked for it say they can’t find it.

So if you want to read me, follow me, like me–I’m here at Zach’s website, which seems to me more like a small magazine for a select readership, one to which I’m pleased to contribute.

And remember: No canned whipped cream, no chainsaws.

“SOMETHING’S HAPPENING HERE…”

By

Zachary Klein

zachI’ve read a ton of articles about how my hippie-dippy brothers and sisters from the 60s and 70s accomplished “nothing” during our period as activists. How my generation set the stage for right of center (being polite here) administrations and repressive laws. How my generation failed to block Reagan’s revolution. How my generation ultimately opted into the capitalistic status quo—worried only about upward mobility and shekels. These analyses must be true; I’ve seen them on CNN. Problem is, these analyses are bullshit.

Not gonna put lipstick on a pig. We didn’t stop Nixon from gutting Great Society programs. Certainly didn’t stop Reagan from funneling great amounts of wealth from the middle/working/poor classes to the rich and powerful under the guise of “trickle down” economics. Weren’t able to push Clinton toward progressive policies, or stop the upward flow of money under Democratic governance. Couldn’t even slow the egregious wars that occurred after the seventies. Nonetheless, it’s still bullshit…

Because our legacy continues to march on. Women’s equality, LGBT rights recognition, and yes, the anti-war movement. Does anyone actually believe that 30+ percent of the population would have initially objected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had we not fought against the war in Vietnam? Truth is, the 60s and 70s continued to lay the foundation for today’s real political struggles (and no, I don’t mean the presidential race). Our work and commitment, like all foundations, often goes unnoticed, overshadowed by our “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” reputation.

While my intention is not to pat my generation’s back, I also want to point out that a large number of our children have followed in our footsteps. Not necessarily taking to the streets, but you can find them working in social service agencies or inner city schools, or as medical family practitioners (among others) and exposing the underbelly of intolerance and injustice in books, music, journalism, and art.

And not just our children. Folks fighting today are connected to those who came before. As were we. Each generation does not re-invent the wheel when it comes to the struggle for peoples’ dignity and rights. Or against oppression, wars, and dehumanization.

In truth, people who are currently striving for what we, of the 60s and 70s, believe to be right and true, have built upon our work and burrowed into the heart of our country’s societal madness.

Two issues immediately jump to mind—not including climate change, which our Republican presidential candidates refuse to acknowledge.

#BlackLivesMatter is not simply a response to current conditions, but the next step in a long bloody road that stretches from our birth as a nation to Roberts v. City of Boston (1848), to reconstruction, to the founding of the NAACP, to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Black Panthers to today. But until recently, the keyword was racism and racism just doesn’t do justice to the brutal, scarring oppression that African-Americans have faced throughout their entire US history. (For an up close and personal, please read Between The World and Me, an extraordinary depiction of present day African-American life by Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

White supremacy, the belief that White people are superior to those of all other races, especially the Black race, and should therefore dominate society, dates back to the 1500s. And yet the United States has made it our own. White supremacy is imbued in our culture, is our culture, and exists inside each and every one of us so called White people.

During my lifetime I’ve seen an expansion of civil rights, an amelioration of discrimination, but until now I hadn’t experienced White people slowly inching toward acknowledgement of White supremacy and how it has affected and contemporaneously affects the lives (and deaths) of people of color–especially African-Americans. I’m beginning to see that today. With shame, it took a drumbeat of police shootings and mass incarcerations to finally slam that reality onto the table. If nothing else, this, in and of itself, is damning evidence of our willful blindness.

Although the Occupy movement is no longer in the streets, its fading light continues to shine on the current, horrific reality beneath the rather bland words of income inequality. Again, if not a direct descendent, a descendent nonetheless of movements whose candles often flicker but will not be extinguished. When a society passes the Robber Baron redline something has to give and it CAN’T be 90% of our country. We now live in a society that rewards a company’s stockholders rather than its workers who are paid so little they often need to supplement their income with food stamps. Please.

We can only hope they have gone too far, or we can be effective enough, to believe in a sleeping giant. If only 60 percent of that 90% actually suffer day-to-day from this “income disparity” (a disproportionate number of sufferers being African-American), that giant has the potential to be awakened by this or the next generation who pick up Occupy’s torch, who itself picked it up from…

And if awakened (admittedly a big ‘if’), woe to those few who have stolen and hoarded our nation’s wealth.

No, it’s not the sixties anymore and it sure ain’t Kansas. I’m no Pollyanna or soothsayer but what I see around me, what I experience coming from this generation, gives me hope. The issues mentioned (and there are many more) represent a frontal assault on the engine that drives this country. And that engine will not go quietly into the night. But “a journey of a thousand mile march begins with a single step,” and we took that step a long time ago.

It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept. ~ Bill Watterson

Why I Wrote The Boston Stranglers

Susan KellyBy

Susan Kelly

Well, as the man said when they asked him why he climbed Mount Everest: “Because it was there.”

That answer might require some back story. Longer ago than I want to recall—oh, okay, it was 1981—I was embarking on my third attempt to write a mystery novel. (The less said about the first two attempts, the better, I assure you.) I wanted to know about investigative work as it is done by actual police detectives. So I made an appointment to talk to a lieutenant of detectives in the Cambridge Police Department. I remember the day itself well; it was one of those typical Massachusetts November afternoons when the sky looks like a dirty old mattress.

When I got to the station, I had to wait; the lieutenant was interviewing a witness to a crime. So I cooled my heels in the anteroom to the chief’s office. Sitting there with me were two detectives, socializing with the chief’s secretary, very genial white-haired men who introduced themselves to me as “the two Billies.” (Each had the first name of William.) They asked me what I was doing here in the police station. I explained that I was researching police procedure.

They told me that they’d been detectives for thirty years and had some great stories. I assured them that I was very, very eager to hear anything they wanted to tell me.

I added, then, that I was particularly interested in serial killers.

“Like Ted Bundy,” I said.

The two Billies looked at each other with odd little grins. Then one of them asked me, “Who do you think the Boston Strangler was?”

The question was a little startling, because I thought it had been long since settled. “Albert DeSalvo.”

Both Billies laughed.

“Albert DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler like my dog was the Boston Strangler,” one of them said.

Oh, my.

I asked them to tell me about it. And they did.

Well, the upshot of this conversation was that I kept on interviewing people involved, one way or another, in law enforcement: cops, district attorneys, defense lawyers, etc. And always, the subject of The Boston Strangler arose. And inevitably: Not one of these people thought DeSalvo was the guilty party.

It was one of the strangest disconnects I’ve ever experienced: A received truth was being roundly denied by those people in the best position to know the facts of the matter.

Well, anyway, I filed all this away, and went on to write novels, and my novels got published. But the Strangler story always stayed in the back of my mind. And so, in 1992, I decided to do something about it. I did the research, did the interviewing, and wrote the book. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun.

(Maybe it wasn’t work. I love writing. It makes me feel really alive. Nothing involved in the process is tiresome to me.)

And…doing the book accorded me a rare privilege: that of revising a small piece of history. I read every single one of the case files regarding the murders that took place between June 1962 and January 1964, and my position on the case remains the same today. These murders were not serial killings, although a quite reasonable case can be made that the first four victims—older white women—might have been murdered by the same person.

Now I realize that some of you—with absolute justification—will point to the DNA testing done in the summer of 2013 on a blanket found in the apartment of Mary Sullivan, the final Strangler victim. It indicated that DeSalvo’s DNA had been found on the blanket. And I would understand perfectly if you concluded that this proved DeSalvo’s guilt of, at least, the Sullivan murder.

But…there were two samples of DNA found on Sullivan’s body—one in the pubic area–that did not match DeSalvo’s. One of them matched the DNA of the original prime suspect in her murder, who was not DeSalvo. The state declined to test these samples.

I should also add that DeSalvo’s DNA was not found on the blanket during any previous testing. I should further add that there were plenty of other reasons to assume that the prime suspect was guilty, such as the fact that he flunked two lie detector tests.

I believe that DNA is an incredibly useful tool in crime investigation. It is unique to an individual, and therefore irrefutable as a means of identification. If you find the DNA of a suspect in the vagina of a rape/murder victim, and under her fingernails from shreds of his skin that accumulated there as she tried to fight off her assailant, and on her face or anywhere else that his saliva or sweat or mucus or semen may have dripped…well, that’s very inculpatory. But the presence of DNA at a crime scene does not necessarily indicate guilt, particularly if it’s not on the victim. Let me tell you why.

We drop our DNA, in a variety of ways, everywhere we go. You’ve just returned from a trip to the grocery store. Your DNA is on anything you touched there, including that head of Romaine you returned to the produce bin because it didn’t look quite fresh enough. It’s on that bottle of ketchup you put back on the shelf because you just remembered you have an unopened bottle of ketchup in the cupboard at home. It’s on the money or credit card you handed the cashier at the check-out counter. And your DNA is all over the cart you used.

In the course of the day, did you go to your dentist? Your doctor? Your lawyer? Your DNA is all over their waiting rooms, consultation rooms, or examination rooms. If you went to the public library, you left it in their stacks.

Okay. Suppose you visited a friend and had coffee or a drink with him or her. Your DNA would be on the cup or glass you used, on the chair or sofa where you sat, in the bathroom if you used the sink, toilet, tub, or shower…it would be on anything you touched. And so would your fingerprints, for that matter.

Now suppose—horrific thought—your friend is murdered shortly after you leave his or her house or apartment. Your DNA is all over the place. It may also be on your friend’s body, if you hugged or kissed or shook hands. Suppose you and your friend engaged in some form of sexual activity. You have left your DNA all over your partner’s body, and on the bed, if you used the bed. Does that mean you’re the murderer? Of course it doesn’t. Sure, you might be. But more is required to prove your guilt. And that is exactly as it should be.

Well, I am not going to try your patience with a long list of reasons why Albert DeSalvo probably didn’t kill Mary Sullivan, nor anyone else. If you like, you can read the book (The Boston Stranglers). Or the article I wrote and posted on my Amazon author page (amzn.to./18wHstx; just type that address into your browser exactly as I’ve written it). Get back to me with any questions.

The Strangler case is fascinating for a lot of reasons. It became a social and cultural phenomenon, generated in large part by press hysteria. Boston had more newspapers then than it does now, and they were all competing for the same audience. (Sample headline from the time: PHANTOM FIEND STRIKES AGAIN.) The case also became a political football, and an opportunity for various people to make names for themselves. It was the perfect venue for showboaters. And, as the late Robert B. Parker once observed, for psychics and dancing chickens as well. In all this, the victims became…just bodies. They deserved better than that.

I am not an apologist for Albert DeSalvo. He wasn’t a good guy; he was a serial sex offender. But he wasn’t a serial killer.

So here’s the thing: We are all innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.