Tuesday, January 17, 2006


As many of you know, my mother, Sylvia, is an attorney in the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Public Defenders Office. After raising three kids, she went to law school, beat out all those twenty somethings and made law review, clerked for a judge, and then went to a large law firm where she worked "part time" 60 hours a week. Eventually, she switched to defending poor people and has to her credit a major decision on cross-racial identification in the New Jersey Supreme Court. She is currently working on a death penalty case. In between her briefs for her regular clients and requests for sentence reductions, she also took on a particularly sick and deserving prisoner who was probably innocent in the first place and certainly had served sufficient time. Almost blind with a severe heart condition, Bobby Cumber was a worthy candidate for clemency. A brilliant and moving clemency petition by Sylvia Orenstein, esq., prompted New Jersey Governor Codey to grant clemency to Mr. Cumber. To read about it, check out http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-2/1137304018259080.xml&coll=1 In the clemency petition my mother stressed the severe questions about Mr. Cumber's guilt (at best he was a bit player who had no idea a murder was being planned), his frail health, and the fact that the prison system medical care had not been adequate to his pressing health needs. As you can imagine, the genre is a delicate one -- the primary argument for clemency is mercy for a sick person, but she also managed to demonstrate the possibility of innocence and hint at the terrible care he received in prison (without highlighting the possibility that he could sue the state when he gets out). Bobby Cumber's wife, Myra, has stood by him the entire time, although he has been in prison over twenty years, more than half their married life. The good news came while Sylvia was in Israel celebrating our cousin Riku's 90th birthday. She called Myra from Jerusalem. When Sylvia told where she was calling from, Myra Cumber who'd had her share of surprises in the last few days said flatly: "You're kidding." But kid you not, criminals and evil-doers of New Jersey -- as well as those opposed to the death penalty, falsely accused, or inappropriately sentenced -- Sylvia Orenstein is on the case.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Flu, The Strike, the Absent Sun & that Wet Dog Smell

Before I left, I read an article about adjustment to foreign living: first euphoria about the newness and coolness of it all; next, discouragement and dejection as the realities of life sink in and invidious comparisons are made to the beloved home country; and finally, acceptance and adjustment. Well I seemed to have whizzed through phrase one, and I can only hope that phase two is equally short.

To be fair, my mood has been influenced by having the worst flu of my life (with the possible exception of January 2000 when Szonyi poured me into a car service New Year's day and took me back to NJ where my mother could minister to me). At night, I had dreams that my body was a match stick and my head was on fire. Happily, my moaning didn't seem to disturb Szonyi. Although one side effect of my high fever was a paranoid belief that Szonyi and Ben were out to do me harm (I'm still not so sure about Ben) I have to acknowledge that Szonyi has been wonderful or as we here in London would say, "brilliant," making multiple trips for water, medicines, and, when I was up to it, reading to me from The Whore's Child by Richard Russo, recommended by both Lesley Davis and Ruthie Cohen, an unbeatable literary team.

This morning, Ben's second real day of school, and the first day we had any genuine hope that he could get there on his own without incident, there is a tube strike. Szonyi and Ben ventured out
with a bus route in hand but not quite songs in their hearts. We are still not adjusted to the time, tired and cranky, and totally unprepared for tackling a new transportation system before having mastered the old one. I was hanging around waiting for our groceries to be delivered, accompanied as always, by my death rattle of a cough.

The sun "rises" around seven and "sets" around four, but believe me folks, we are talking shades of grey. Szonyi, whose last move before bed is to check the next day's weather, so far hasn't been deterred by the fact that the forecast is always the same: low thirties and rain showers. I totally understand the impulse to colonize India, and also get why Englishmen never come out of the mid-day sun...they have never seen it before and don't know what it is.

My grudge match with the dryer is taking on mythic proportions. Everything half dries and all my stuff -- hell the whole country -- smells like wet dog. I don't even like dry dogs.

Please write to me and I will post some news of Mike and David soon. Today is my orientation day at school and then back home to collapse.


Thursday, January 05, 2006


To all my dedicated readers (those 4 spammers who made comments to the blog and my true, apparently shy friends and family who don't have self-promotive instincts to write comments):

After an unreasonably long hiatus, 3901 News resumes its postings from London, where Szonyi, Ben, and I will live until June. Our address is 24a Courtney Rd, N7 7BQ, and we welcome visitors with a bit of notice and tolerance for a sofabed. We are currently living in Islington, the less posh part [please note the subtle Britishism substituting posh for fancy, there will be much more of that, so carry on] off the Holloway Rd. You won't find it on a standard map of central London, we are just North of upper street, where most maps cut out. Our neighborhood is very diverse and it is just as common to hear foreign languages as it is English. Standing on a very long line for the post office, I heard what sounded to be Hebrew -- the woman clearly had said lo naim li (it's not pleasant for me) in Hebrew, but then made a lot of sounds I couldn't recognize. Ben figured out that she must be Falashin, Ethiopian via Israel, and she was chattering in some kind of combination of the two languages into her cell phone. I have heard a significant amount of unadulterated Hebrew, but mostly from the security guards at Ben's school who are thoroughly not amused that they could be busted so easily by a parent. I think they are comfortable using Hebrew as a secret language (sort of like the Navaho transmitters in World War II) and are aghast that with names Uri and Ido, wires in their ears, and crepe soled shoes, they could be so transparently identifiable.

Our apartment is nice, but small. Two bedrooms downstairs, a livingroom, bath, and kitchen upstairs. It is painted very bright colors -- living room is two toned orange and red -- the only part I really don't care for is the lime green hallways. The kids of the owners have put sticklers on everything, a fact that calms me down about the standard of care and cleanliness that would be expected. Other than a grudge match with the dryer -- it works on a principle of condenscation and not so much heat -- I think the place will suit us fine. We are just two blocks from a huge soccer stadium. Last night when there was a game there was a significant police presence in our subway stop and when a goal was scored you could hear the crowd cheer.

Ben is attending the American school in London where he'll take US history, Japanese, journalism, English, maths, and world geography. Ben has a 10 minute walk and then a half an hour tube ride to school (the ride is longer if you start by going the wrong direction on the tube, as we did this morning). He has to change trains front he Victoria to the Jubilee line and ends up in one of the fanciest sections of London, St. John's Wood. The stores on the high street are very expensive (about double what we pay in our much more modest neighborhood for a chocolate croissant, my personal measuring stick.) Ben insisting that he never gets cold, refused to take a real winter coat (just a sweatshirt jacket and a thin leather jacket). I reminded him of this fact as he froze on the was to the tube this damp chilly morning, remarking that lucky for him, I am not the type to say I told you so, and even lent him my hat. It heartened me a bit that even the Brits were complaining about the weather. Four years of living with David M. Szonyi has prepared me for lengthy discussions about the weather, including an ability to discourse about the merits of a late fall versus early spring jacket. Meanwhile, I have developed an impressive consumptive cough. I'll let you know when the bird flu hits.

After dropping Ben off, I went to shop near his school -- kosher food, shabbes candles, challah and bagels are all available there and not in my neighborhood. I noticed that a lot of the expat Moms congregate at Starbucks after dropping their kids off. Much as I'd like to meet them, I have a policy against entering a Starbucks unless a colleague is paying (just ask Fred, Hannah or Leandra). Instead, I had a cafe mocha at a very upscale joint where two neighborhood ladies and I struck up a conversation. I was telling them about Ben's commute and they observed that Ben would be able to drive in a year. I was stunned that they assumed schlumpy old me owned a car, let alone that I had a spare one to give to a teenager who is still, like me, learning to look right when crossing the street. The mention of Ben's school identified me as a member of the privileged class. Little do they know that I am a poor professor who just happened to raid her kid's college fund to cover the extremely pricey tuition. College is overrated anyway.

So far, no sight seeing, but we are lucky that the apartment was internet read to go. Ben has spent a lot of time editing his article on the history of hip hop on wikepedia, negotiating with would be editors suggesting changes and vandals defacing the page. Between sleeping off jet lag and early morning school for Ben, we are basically just getting by doing laundry and buying groceries. We have had some fabulous Indian food. Soon things will pick up. The main thing I am dreading is possible tube strike this Monday.

Please check out the blog -- I have back info to post about David and Mike as well as some pictures of my adorable nephews.