Soapbox: A place for intellectual retirees

By Elaine Greene Weisburg

Members of The New School’s Institute for Retired Professionals are accustomed to hearing fellow members express their gratitude for this Greenwich Village learning center. This reporter, a member since 2005, has often heard the following comment in one form or another: “The IRP saved my life.”

Of the dozen or so IRP retirees living in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, several have been members for two decades. Among them are Rhonda Gelb who went from school guidance counselor to retirement counselor at J.P. Morgan; Harriett Zwerling, who taught two generations of fourth graders in Greenpoint; and Beverly Butler, a retired city social worker.

For over 50 years this arm of The New School has been an inspirational pioneer in the lifelong education movement, a movement that the aging of the baby boomer generation is actively fueling. The IRP, although a part of a university, does not draw upon its faculty. We practice peer learning which means we, the members, run our program and conduct our classes under the guidance of the IRP executive director.

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The Soapbox: Great Wall of China and Lady Liberty

By Susan Steinberg

A big wall will not make us safe. It’s been tried before.

Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of China, the Great Wall actually consists of numerous walls and fortifications. Originally conceived by Emperor Qin Shi Huang (c. 259-210 B.C.) in the third century B.C. as a means of preventing incursions from barbarian nomads into the Chinese Empire, the wall is one of the most extensive construction projects ever completed. But it was completed over hundreds of years and six dynasties.

Quick facts:

Length: 13,170.7 miles

Age: more than 2,300 years old

Existing remains: Nearly one-third of the Great Wall has disappeared without a trace.

Since 1644, when the Ming Dynasty was overthrown, no further work has been done on the Great Wall for military purposes. Emperor Kangxi (1654–1722) reasoned that the era of Great-Wall-building emperors and enmity with northern neighbors was over. Moreover, Great Wall construction cost lots of money and manpower, which was bad for his people. He believed that the only way to protect China was to gain international support, instead of border battles.

Though the Great Wall never effectively prevented invaders from entering China, it came to function more as a psychological barrier between Chinese civilization and the world.

Instead of walls, our nation’s most recognized symbol of enduring strength is our Statue of Liberty, whose beacon is welcoming, not repelling like a wall. The spirit of our nation was captured in the words of a poem by Emma Lazarus, whose lines are inscribed on the statue’s base.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emperor Kangxi had it right: build support, not walls.

Susan Steinberg is a resident of Stuyvesant Town since 1980 and the president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association.

The Soapbox: It’s (third) party time!

By Kenneth Chanko

I was in Philadelphia last week with my recently-of-voting-age son for the Democratic National Convention. During our march in support of progressive causes, we spotted more than one person wearing a T-shirt with the traditional donkey and elephant logos of our two major political parties emblazoned on it. The line above those logos read:

“Please Don’t Feed The Animals.”

For this presidential general election cycle, I will be following those instructions.

I was a champion of Bernie Sanders and his grassroots-fueled progressive candidacy. But since he won’t be on the ballot in November, for the first time since I came of voting age in 1976, I will be voting for a third party candidate for president.

I don’t think I will be alone.

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The Soapbox: What wouldn’t Jesus do?

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.


By John Cappelletti

When making a decision or criticizing decisions made by others, some people have asked, “What would Jesus do?”

Since all of the candidates running for the Presidency, or have dropped out of the race, consider themselves devout Christians (except, of course, for Bernie), we should not only ask these candidates What would Jesus do? But also What would Jesus definitely not do, or say?

(The scene is a mountaintop near Jerusalem. Jesus looks out at the thousands of people who have gathered to hear him speak.)

JESUS: Look! What a multitude! We should really do well today.

PETER: I bet we rake in a multitude of shekels from these suckers. We’re getting five shekels a head for this speech.

JESUS: My speeches are worth it. They’re great, like me. Did you bring the loaves and fishes?

PETER: Did I ever! Mary Magdalene got a good deal on stale bread. Also, she  got buckets of fish that’ve seen better days, but, not to worry, we cut the smell with spices so they should sell well at two shekels a pop, plus another shekel for our special homemade wine we call Gabriel’s Trumpet.

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The Soapbox: Polystyrene food ware can cause serious health risks

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood each week (space providing). All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 800 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By Michelle Deal Winfield

After reading that New York City has decided to ban polystyrene, I decided to lend my voice to the discussion. I will focus on the impact of polystyrene on human health.

Years ago, my husband was provided a polystyrene cup with hot tea and lemon. As the lemon wedge rested on the side of the cup, a hole visibly appeared. That was the first time my family and I became aware of the possible hazards of polystyrene products. That was in 1984.

Migration of Styrene occurs when foods containing acids, fat and/or alcohol, leech into the foods, more quickly when foods or drinks are hot.

Hospitals use polystyrene products. Inpatients in hospitals do not have a choice. Some of the patients are our most vulnerable populations in our community. When food is served on polystyrene products, the hazardous chemicals may cause the following health problems:

Fatigue
Nervousness
Lack of concentration
Difficulty sleeping
Mucous membrane and eye irritation
Depression
Hearing loss

These symptoms are often attributed to seniors.

Styrene is a volatile organic compound (VOC). The damage is cumulative.

In June 11, 2011, the U.S. federal government placed polystyrene on their “Cancer Risk list.” Similarly, in the 1990s hospitals stopped using latex gloves because irritations to people were discovered. Hospital boards moved ahead of the curve to protect their patients.

Therefore, I am calling on all hospitals, nursing facilities and senior centers to stand tall and immediately initiate policies to rid their closets and storerooms of polystyrene food service ware. Furthermore, I urge New York City not to grant hospitals, nursing facilities and senior centers exemptions from the policy to ban polystyrene products. I too, welcome the ban on foam.

Michelle Deal Winfield, is a community activist and resident of East Midtown Plaza.

The Soapbox: Baby Boomers come back to Stuy Town online

By Pat Hartnett Stone

It has been said that you can never go home again. Seven hundred plus baby boomers who grew up in Stuyvesant Town in the late 40s, 50s and 60s have proven that, indeed, you can go home again.

In 2010, Trina Bartimer Bruno, with the help of Susan Margulies Kalish and seven other friends, began a Facebook group (Stuyvesant Town & Peter Cooper Village: 1950s-1960s) and have been sharing stories of growing up in Stuyvesant Town ever since. I joined in September, 2013.

To quote Trina, “I realized that our experience was so unique. We grew up in a sort of village — sort of like suburbia in terms of the families and the schools and playgrounds with familiar faces — but all we had to do what step outside of Stuyvesant Town and there was the whole crazy quilt of Manhattan after the war. “This was a time of abundance in the U.S. and loads of new families starting up. Also, it was one of the only times of the strength of the large middle class. It was a time of Camelot and we were lucky to have lived this experience. I thought it was maybe worth it to mine this experience since none I knew outside of our neighborhood was experiencing this.” If someone wants to join, all they have to do is send a Facebook message to Trina Bartimer Bruno and she will take it from there.

One aspect of this group which attracted me was its diversity of membership. Growing up in Stuyvesant Town, you rarely explored friendships outside the circle or your grammar school of place of worship. I regret restricting myself in this way, but hindsight is 20/20. What is important now is that we have formed a “family,” if you will. We reminisce, laugh and sometimes argue. But isn’t that what families do?

Some of the group members still reside in Stuyvesant Town, some have moved as far as California and a few of us live nearby, which affords us the occasional visit “home.” One thing that struck many of us was how liberal the rules have become. When we were growing up, walking on the grass or riding an unlicensed bicycle warranted having your name taken by security. Your family received a warning if your name was taken several times, thus resulting in an official threat of eviction.

We share a common thread in the pictures of the décor of the times including starburst clocks, rabbit ears on our console TVs and the dreaded plastic slipcovers. Sharing pictures of the fashions of the 40s, 50s and 60s proved to be an interesting topic as well. Reminiscing about the simple games we played gave us all a good laugh. Skully was a popular game, similar to hopscotch. We would melt crayons in bottle caps and use them to play skully which was painted on the ground. There was always a good game of hide and seek taking place in the stairwells and some more adventurous activities, with mostly the boys, were riding the tops of the elevators or hanging on to the back of the area buses while on roller skates.

Recreational activities in the summer were plentiful. Several of the playgrounds turned on the showers so we could cool off. In those days, Stuyvesant Town did not allow air conditioning. Some took advantage of the 23rd Street pool while others took several trains to get to Rockaway Beach for the day. I would also like to add that a few of our members were recreational directors assigned to the various playgrounds.

Sam the ice cream man and Tony the policeman who assisted many of us crossing on Avenue A and 14th Street were just a few of those who were among our favorites. The structural change of the Oval fountains provoked many opinions, I can safely say that while the current fountain is lovely, the former design remains more popular among our group.

Many of us have read Eleven Stories High and it was excellent. However, that was one girl’s perspective. The wealth of information in our dialogues is a real treasure. Seven hundred-plus members represents 700-plus stories. I will end this by saying that, yes, change is good. Yet, in the minds of the baby boomers of Stuyvesant Town, the magic of our experience will never fade, nor will our memories. I only hope that the children who are growing up in Stuyvesant Town today will come to appreciate their “village in the Big Apple.”

Pat Hartnett Stone is a human resources manager at Manhattan College.