David K. Farkas
Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "david_k_farkas" journal:
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The unexamined opinion is so easily shed!|
I read that Hillary Clinton, raised a Republican, began her shift to the Democratic party in high school when she was required to play the part of Lyndon Johnson in a mock election. This reminded me of my days as a graduate student teaching Freshman Composition. Prior to the “argument and persuasion” assignment, I asked the students to hand in a brief statement of their opinion on a short list of big issues—capital punishment, abortion rights, civil disobedience, should should the Communist Party be outlawed. (You probably couldn’t do this today.)
Then, I assigned each student to write their paper taking the opposite stance on one of these issues. The first time I did this, my goal was simply for the students to construct their own arguments, not just repeat the ideas they’d grown up with. But I discovered, from the class discussion and private conversations with students, that maybe half or a third had either switched over completely or at least developed a much more nuanced view of the issue.
Bouquet of Flowers|
I was at the Safeway picking up a few items, and I saw bouquets of spring flowers. I thought, “Oh, Jean will like that!” and I grabbed one.
Just ahead of me in the checkout line was a man, about 40, with nothing but a bouquet. Without looking closely, I said to him, “Looks like we had the same idea.” He turned to me, and his face was terribly sad and grim. He spoke softly, “Maybe this will help.” Then he receded back into his own thoughts.
So grateful to be on my end—and not his end—of a bouquet of flowers.
Final Remains: Newspaper clippings|
In his retirement years, Professor John Hobart had become a laughingstock and irritant in the College of Engineering. No one remembered the important book on the Civil Rights Movement he’d written decades before.
John showed up in the basement of Loew Hall most Friday afternoons with stacks of newspapers that he’d spread on classroom tables so he could clip out news articles relevant to some obscure project he never finished. He packed up Sunday evening. Some weekend nights he slept in Loew. He had longer work periods during the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring breaks and before the start of summer-quarter classes. A shopping cart was supposed to be available for his use, but it seemed to disappear frequently, and John would complain angrily to the staff in the Dean’s office.
I also spent long, quiet days and evenings in Loew, working in my basement office, and I’d help John when I saw him. I’d go to his car and carry his newspapers and the box with his crackers, cheese, and fruit juice.
He knew his health was failing but he wanted badly to finish his project. “I’ll stay alive in 95,” he told me. And a year later: “I won’t cross the Styx in ’96.” But he did cross the Styx in the spring of 1996.
Shortly after he died, I was teaching a class in Loew and spotted one of his cans of apricot nectar on a bookshelf. When class was over, I opened the can and toasted John—one scholar to another.
Final Remains: The Professor|
Jean and I, college seniors and engaged to be married, took a long stroll through the large old cemetery that adjoins the University of Washington campus. We came upon a small gingerbread-style building with a tall smokestack. The door was open: It was a crematorium, and the fellow inside was glad to have company. He opened the oven door to show us the flames rising through someone’s whitened ashes. He pointed to a red ceramic urn with the unclaimed remains of the man he knew only as “The Professor.” The Professor had been hanging around for many years, and the crematorium operator apparently was tired of him.
“You two are from the University. Would you like to have The Professor?” His logic seemed strained, but I was eager. Jean vetoed the idea with a fierce gaze. Perhaps just as well: If we had taken The Professor, he’d have been ours, to have and to hold, in Chicago, Minneapolis, Lubbock, and Morgantown, and he’d be with us today in the Seattle suburbs. But though his life and mine joined and separated in an instant, a certain bond was created. Oh Professor, You are not forgotten!
Final Remains: Riders on the Storm|
A researcher at a Florida university spent many years examining the maritime news sections of old newspapers to collect data about the dates, locations, and severity of ocean storms and hurricanes. His data improved the accuracy of mathematical models for predicting severe weather. At some point his funding dried up, but even as a homeless derelict, he continued to work. Often he slept on a couch in the university library. Sympathetic librarians brought him food.
When he died, the hurricane-forecasting community remembered the man and his work. They took up a collection for the cremation of his body and entrusted the ashes to a NOAA flight crew. They waited for the next hurricane reconnaissance flight and spilled his ashes into the eye of the hurricane.
Final Remains: The Log Book|
Over dinner yesterday evening, my friend Sheila told us about her aunt who, during World War II, when the men had gone to war, became a pilot and delivered mail in a biplane to towns on Vancouver Island. After the war, the men returned and her flying days were over.
When she died, her son wanted to have her ashes scattered from an airplane like the one she’d flown, and he located a pilot who owned one. The pilot remembered his aunt! As a boy, he used to wash her plane. He was honored to scatter her ashes, and he wrote the final entry in her log book.
If the fool |
. . . would only persist in his folly he would become wis. If the fool would only persist in his folly he would become swie. If the fool would only persist in his folly he would become esi. If the fool would only persist in his folly he would become iwse. If the fool would only persist in his folly he would become swei. If the fool . . .
William Blake is always worth heeding, but for some fools persistence is just an endless loop of error.
Finishing the Job—2|
Let’s say you’re a wildlife biologist in Alaska, and you need to take blood and urine samples from migrating caribou.
The easiest way to do this—and it’s not at all easy—is to lasso a caribou from a small motor boat when the herd is crossing a river. When the caribou reaches shore, you and your team at least have a few ropes around its neck. Then you just need to wrestle the beast down, tie it up a bit more, take your samples, and let it go.
The fellow who told me this had been doing it a long time. He’s suffered many injuries and walks with a limp.
Finishing the Job|
The roofer came highly recommended, although “he’s Mexican and you can’t communicate with him too much.” He agreed on the phone to a written warrantee, but the vague tone in his voice told me there’d be no warrantee. I gave the go-ahead anyway.
Geraldo showed up with a family crew that included two sons, and they put in a long, hard day. I liked the way he wanted me up on the roof with him so he could show me some problems he’d have to deal with and—later—how he was doing the new roof. It looked like high quality work, and the roof has been fine for many years.
On the second day, at 8:00 pm, they were still going hard, and I could foresee several hours more hours of work, mostly clean-up. I said, “Geraldo, there’s no need to do the job in two days. Finish up tomorrow or another day.”
“No do tomorrow. Hospital, early in the morning. Open-heart surgery.”
Private moments made public |
A secret from the attic
I was home on vacation helping my parents as they prepared to move from New Jersey to a retirement community in Florida. I took some old, dusty hard-shell suitcases down from the attic. Looking into one of the suitcases, I noticed that one of elasticized cloth pockets wasn’t quite flat. I pulled out a thin paperback, The First Night of Marriage. A startled look passed across Sally’s face. Al, saying nothing, quickly relieved me of this burdensome thing.
A bat mitzvah toast for Rebecca
Tipsy from champaigne, Rhonda, an old friend of Rebecca’s parents, told us all that she remembered THE particular night when Rebecca was conceived. Then she provided evidence: The parents had been staying at her apartment. Bill had been away on a two-week business trip. He returned . . . As Rhonda made her case, Rebeccas’s eyes opened very wide, and her pretty little head snapped back.
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