Mind Games, From Texas to Brooklyn

On a recent visit to the Brooklyn Museum, I checked my backpack. When I retrieved it several hours later, I noticed a piece of paper tucked into its outside webbing. The page had been torn from a museum map and said this on it:

I caught you staring at me from across the room but you didn’t come right over. Were you being coy, well it worked. Maybe you felt the need to see the others, knowing that I would seize your full attention. You held your hands behind your back, resisting your desire to touch me. I longed for you to come close but we had to keep our distance under the watchful eye of another. You slowed, staying long enough to see all sides of me. You quietly traced my contours with your looking. I am wondering how I appeared in your eyes. I don’t know if I am projecting but you seemed to be trying to uncover something, as if I held a secret for you. So did you get what you wanted from me? Course I am left with the lingering feeling of our encounter.

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That’s all. No address, no name, no closure. After my pulse returned to normal, I wet a finger and ran it across a word to see if this was, in fact, an actual written note and not a pre-printed piece of performance art that some transgressive artist had photocopied and stuck into my backpack as performance art.

The black letter smeared slightly. The writing was real.

I thought about this mind game of a note, which did not match any reality that occurred that evening at the museum, where I strolled with my girlfriend the whole time. The only time a note could have been slipped into my backpack was when it was in the check room. Not even a Mossad super-agent could have done the drop in the seconds between the time I got the backpack and when I noticed the note.

I’m left with a mystery of identity and intent that cannot be solved.

This comes about 40 years after other mysterious notes blossomed in my locker in high school. The similarity in anonymous, teasing targeting is remarkable. Somebody knows how to get inside my head, first in 1975 when I was a teen, then 40 years later when I’m past middle age and relentlessly approaching senior citizen status. Times change, but the mysteries of human contact linger on.

I still have the notes from the years of high school confidential. They bore the initials “M.R.” The apogee came with the piece shown below. I thought I had saved them, but I can’t find them. Somehow I expressed my curiosity to M.R. and she responded with loopy adolescent female notes that eventually make references to her buck teeth. I’ve turned over every file and yearbook I have but can’t find anything but the piece de resistance, a piece of heavy mat card, colored on one side in a stylized “W” and written on the other.

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The back of the card said, “Someone lost something, all yours, FINDERS KEEPERS. This is a suviner from an admirer ‘M.R.'”

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I never heard anything else. I doubt M.R. used her actual initials. It could be one person, it could have been a group project from kids who wanted to see how I’d react. I imagine I reacted exactly the way they wanted me to.

Forty years later, the note in the Brooklyn Museum sent my musings backward to M.R. For all I know M.R. and I are connected on Facebook, or I’ll see her (and never know) at my fortieth high school reunion next summer in the pulsing humid heat of Hidalgo County, Texas. Maybe she’ll read this and come clean, if she even remembers.

In the age of Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging and the other digital toys, I wonder if the art of the handwritten anonymous mash note has been lost, dissolved and made beyond quaint in the waves of the Web. The Brooklyn writer must at least be in her 40s to have the wit and drive to actually write an anonymous note. I can’t see somebody raised on iPhones doing that. Writing a note and sticking it in a book bag or in a locker — that’s basic training in the emotional arena of mind games. The impulses must play out online, but I just don’t know. I can safely guess, however, that nobody is going to hang on to a tweet or IM for 40 years.

A Matter of the Heart

Last Sunday I worked with a community group at Westport’s new YMCA at an all-day Hands-Only CPR training event. I did the training as well, developed by the American Heart Association and I highly recommend it as essential knowledge for everybody. Besides hands-on CPR, attendees learned how to operated a type of simplified automated external defibrillator (AED).

I visited a table set up at the gym by a group called the Michael Vincent Sage Dragonheart Foundation of Hamden, Connecticut. The foundation honors Michael Sage. The website tells his story and its connection to the event:

 Michael was only 29 years old when he suffered a fatal sudden cardiac arrhythmia (SCA).  He was active in sports for most of his life and never exhibited any of the warning signs associated with SCA, such as episodes of dizziness, fainting, or seizures.  He arrived at work on a beautiful February morning, got a cup of coffee with his colleagues, collapsed and died.  People on the scene attempted to revive Michael using CPR, but there was no AED available, and by the time the paramedics arrived, Michael could not be saved. In a matter of moments, Michael was gone.

The foundation was formed to educate the public on AEDs and collect funds to support research and donate AEDs to places where they can be available to save lives, like schools and sports facilities. It has donated AEDs to groups throughout Connecticut, and outside of the state. More information about its finances can be found at the Charity Navigator site.

Michael’s mother was working at the table and graciously shared information about the group. I instantly liked her and the simple focus of the Dragonheart Foundation. Educate, donate, save lives. Nothing about it was flashy or overdone, just one group with one goal, based on the loss of one son, husband and friend.

If your group could benefit from an on-site AED, consider filling out the nomination form to get a donated AED. The nomination form can be found on the site. It’s better to be prepared than not. Knowing CPR and having access to an AED are things you never need . . . until the desperate seconds when you need them more than anything.

30 Days Without a Day-Timer

April wasn’t the cruelest month, but it was the first month I’ve arranged my life without the trusty Day-Timer organizer I have used faithfully since the 1980s. How did I survive without my scribbled-in sidekick, my companion since the later Reagan years?

Well enough. This marked a lifestyle change I never thought I would make, since I started using Day-Timers after I began a job as East Coast Editor of Video Store Magazine in 1987. I latched on to using the monthly version and just kept ordering it, decade after decade. I slipped monthly inserts into a leather holder of great sentimental value with my name embossed on it, where I also stored business cards (including that of the lawyer who did my will . . .  just in case), my Metro Card for subway journeys and inspirational items, like a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Like clockwork, the Day-Timer people alerted me each April to renew and each April I did. While worn and held together in one place with tape, the leather carrier dutifully carried the Day-Timer insert with me around the world, surviving moves among a half-dozen Lands’ End shoulder bags and now backpacks.

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Over the decades I scribbled dates, reporting notes, lurches of inspiration, song lyrics, phone call records, books to read and movies to see in the pages. Some pages became reminders of fateful occasions, and I saved those for September 11, 2001 and June 13, 2003, the latter the day I got divorced at the courthouse in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Even as friends ditched Day-Timers and Day Runners, inertia and a lack of alternatives tied me to my favorite organizer.

And then I finally, reluctantly, got a smart phone in October 2014.

I was way late to that digital revolution, having stuck with my LG Chocolate “dumb phone” for four years while everybody else snapped up iPhones. But ever the techno-Luddite, I stayed with what I had.

I stayed with it until I finally realized that lack of access to email and limited IM were causing me social problems. After loads of research, I settled on a Samsung S5 and entered the brave new world of smartphones.

When I leaped into the smartphone lifestyle, I still had eight months of Day-Timers left, and I kept using them, but I noticed what I used them for. To be honest with myself, note-taking took up more space than actual date keeping, given my simple lifestyle. My social calendar takes little upkeep.

When March came around, I downloaded a Google Calendar and then the Evernote app and bravely decided to ditch the Day-Timer.

I expected a blizzard of mail and even phone calls from the Day-Timer marketing team, alarmed that I had not renewed. After all, I had always heard that client retention drives businesses, that once you have a client, fight hard to keep him. I’d had that experience with the American Civil Liberties Union, which I joined for a year after losing a Facebook bet that the ACLU would support a particular party in a free-speech issue (I thought the ACLU wouldn’t support a group; it did, but it did, so I ponied up for a membership). I let my membership lapse after a year and have had the ACLU regularly sending renewals for years. The Forward newspaper, to which I’ve subscribed since its English-language edition debuted in 1991, always expresses alarm when I fail to promptly renew, although I finally do, but I delay just to see how hard the paper will work to keep me as a subscriber.

So what would Day-Timer do after over a quarter century of clockwork renewals?

Nothing.

No calls, no emails, no price reductions, no expressions of concern at the onrushing loss of an annuity stream of income, nothing to indicate I counted for anything more than a few easily ignored digital blips in the Client Relationship Management (CRM) database. How hard will Day-Timer need to work on new client acquisition to replace an old-timer who probably could have been won over with a price reduction, just for old time’s sake?

The silence says everything I need to know. At least the ACLU and the Forward tried, and the Forward always wins, I just like to make the paper work for my capitalist shekels.  My Galaxy S5 apps are keeping me on top of my schedule, and I have a yearly page-a-day diary at work as backup in case I need to supplement the phone with something scribbled down.

Despite the month without a Day-Timer, I still carry the insert around in the beloved leather holder. I’m realizing the concept and the holder (a memorable gift) satisfy some deep psycho-social need, far beyond practicality. Call it an office version of a security blanket. Forsaking the monthly inserts, I may try to find the notepad inserts at Staples and use those, for the moments when my reporter instinct kicks in and I have to start jotting notes.

Old habits may not ever die, they just transmogrify themselves to another plane of existence.

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