Monday, May 31, 2010

So now I have my new hearing aids. They’re free from the V.A., as compared to my old ones that cost nearly $3,000 commercially. And they don’t plug up my ears, the way the old ones did. As the audiologist explained it, these units will just boost the higher frequencies, which I have trouble with, and leave me to hear the lower ones on my own. With the old ones, I could hear nothing except what the contraptions fed me. For all I know, there could have been little, tiny radio receivers inside and someone was telling me, subliminally, what products to buy and whom to vote for.
Also, these don’t hurt. When I first got the other ones, the man told me to wear them all the time to get used to them. But, since I’m alone all day writing, and since, when my wife comes home, she speaks in a clear voice, there was just no point to it. All I would be doing is burning those tiny batteries and building up calluses in my ears. The only time I used them was in a social situation, when certain people didn’t speak loudly enough, and when I gave my talk and couldn’t hear questions from the back of the room.
Bur these new ones sit behind my ears with just a wire leading inside, so they don’t irritate, and I can wear them all day, if I want to. That way I hear birds singing and crickets chirping. And I also hear the stairs creaking, as I climb them, I hear strange noises from my car’s engine, and I turn around, thinking someone is talking to me, whenever someone across the street says something. Of course, when I turn on the tap in the kitchen sink, it sounds the way Niagara sounded to me the last time I was there.
As for my wife, she’s delighted that we don’t have to have the television so loud anymore – probably the neighbors as well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One evening last week I gave a talk about my two books to a group of women at the Westport, Conn. public library. My wife came with me, as she often does, and we came away particularly pleased. The crowd had been smaller than we had hoped for, but they were very attentive and asked really insightful questions. To celebrate, we decided to have dinner out, and we ended up at a restaurant in Westport that I knew from when I lived there, some thirty years ago.
As we were getting back into our car, after supper, I heard something fall out of my jacket pocket. Looking down, I saw the little blue plastic box in which I carry my two hearing aids. I am slightly hard of hearing and I carry the hearing aids with me on such occasions in the event that I can’t hear the questions that people ask. With our small crowd, that problem did not come up, and the hearing aids had stayed in their box, in my jacket pocket.
How the box got out of my jacket pocket was a mystery, since I was wearing the jacket, and I had never known of anything falling out of a side jacket pocket, while someone was wearing it. Nevertheless, I picked it up, put it back in my pocket, and we drove off.
It wasn’t till the following evening, as we were getting into bed to watch some television, that I had occasion to avail myself of the hearing aids (I hate the damn things but they make television more intelligible), and when I did, I discovered the box to be empty. It was quite clear that the box must have snapped open in the restaurant parking lot, spilled the hearing aids, and snapped shut again.
It is by the rarest coincidence, that next week I am scheduled to take possession of a new set of hearing aids from the Veterans’ Administration, at no cost, so the loss of these was not such a tragedy. They had cost over $2,000, two years ago, before I knew that the V.A. had begun giving them out for nothing, but, as I said, I hated them and saw no difficulty getting along without them for a week.
Still, $2,000 is $2,000.
Westport is two towns away from here, at a distance of around eight miles. By the following morning it had been some thirty-six hours since I had dropped the hearing aids in the parking lot, and countless cars must have had the opportunity to grind them into the pavement. With the new aids arriving soon, it didn’t make sense to make the trip.
Then I remembered a scene from my coming book. In Book III of my “Mother and Me” memoir, “Loves of Yulian,” (due out next March) as those of you who go on to read it will learn, I describe a scene in Rio de Janeiro, in 1941, when my mother and I were on our way to safety in the United States after escaping the Nazis and the Bolsheviks in Book I. Our journey from Poland was being financed by my mother’s diamonds, which she managed to sell, one at a time, along our way. At this point, she was down to her last diamond ring, and it had to feed us and pay our way to New York. After returning from a morning at the Copacabana beach, my mother discovered that her ring was gone. It must have, we assumed, come off at the beach and either buried itself in the sand or some sun-worshiper was one diamond ring richer.
I was nine at the time, and volunteered to go back to the beach and look for it. Mother said it wasn’t any use, since I would never find it. But my mother and a friend of hers were in such gloom in our hotel room, that I wanted to get out of there and went down to the beach and dug around. As I dug, I fantasized finding it and rushing back to our hotel , a hero.
Of course I didn’t find it, and came back dejected to report my failure. And then my mother did a strange thing, but one that was characteristic of her. “What’s the point of sitting around with a long face?” she said. “All right, the ring is gone, and that’s a very serious loss, but we aren’t going to bring it back by crying over it. Let’s go downstairs, have some tea, and cheer ourselves up.”
Leaving our room, we found the elevator out of order, and had to walk down the stairs. The stairs had windows on an alley between the hotel and the next building over. And, as we passed the bottom window and saw a man sweeping the alley, we also saw Mother’s ring lying there. “Quick, Yulian, get out there and grab the ring!”
I clambered out the window and retrieved it. The ring must have flown off Mother’s finger as she was shaking the sand out of her beach jacket, outside our bathroom window overlooking the alley.
Now, remembering that story and my mother’s unshakable optimism, I climbed into my car and drove to Westport. I even had a lawn rake in the trunk, in the event that I had to rake underneath some cars. But, at ten in the morning, there were only two cars in the lot and, right where we had parked two evenings ago, were two pink plastic hearing aids. One had a piece out of its housing, but seemed to work. The other showed no damage, but didn’t work. Well, it was damp from the rain and might work after drying out.
I now have a piece of Scotch Tape over the broken housing, and, after drying out, the other one does work. When I told my wife about my find, she couldn’t believe it. “I would have just given them up for lost,” she said.
“I would have also,” I answered, “except that I remembered the story of Mother’s ring.”
“What story?”
“The one in ‘Loves of Yulian,’ in Brazil.”
What I had found is something considerably more valuable than $2,000. Thanks, Mom.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In my last posting, I questioned whether anyone was reading this blog, since I hadn’t received any feedback in some time. I said that, unless I got a response from somebody, I would not continue.
This morning I received an e-mail from a woman named Alejandra in Argentina, who asked me to continue since this blog helped her with her English. Thank you for your interest, Alejandra. This story is for you:
As I was running a few days ago, another runner caught up to me (at 78 I don’t run very fast) and we ran together for a mile or so, talking. Being neighbors, we tried to find out if we knew any of the same people, but we couldn’t find any. But we did get onto the subject of the “six degrees of separation” theory, meaning that, supposedly, if you count “someone who knows someone” six times, you can reach anyone on earth. This reminded me of a story that I went on to share with him.
You see, I came to America at the age of 9, landing in New York in May of 1941. My mother and I moved in with an aunt and uncle of mine who had an apartment on the West Side of Manhattan. And on November 11th, Armistice Day, which we now call Veterans’ Day, I walked to Broadway to watch a parade.
There was a band and units of soldiers in helmets, with rifles on their shoulders. Behind them a group of WW I veterans marched proudly, in their puttees and Smoky Bear hats. And behind these veterans there were several open cars containing bearded old men, mostly in blue uniforms, but some in gray ones.
Now, I didn’t know much about U.S. history, at that time, so I took these men to be retired city and state policemen. It was some time later that I realized that they were soldiers from the Civil War.
Thinking back over that experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that some of these Civil War veterans must have, certainly, laid eyes on Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Gen. Lee’s father was Light Horse Harry Lee, a soldier in the Revolutionary War and a personal friend of Gen. George Washington. Which means that I’m separated from the “Father of our County” by only three degrees. It’s an interesting thought to ponder on a quiet evening.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The good news is that I heard last week that “A Ship in the Harbor” placed second in the Connecticut Press Club’s annual competition. Not only is that very nourishing to the ego, but it will give me the opportunity to send out press releases and get some more exposure for the book.
The bad news is that it’s been some time since I’ve received any feedback to this blog, and I wonder if anybody’s actually reading it. So I’ve decided that unless I hear something encouraging from somebody out there, I will assume that no one is reading and quit writing it.
If you’re out there and want me to continue, please let me know either by responding here or by e-mailing me at
Over and out,
Julian Padowicz

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Last week I had the privilege of doing a book signing at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
My wife and I had been through the exhibits some months before and found the experience overwhelming. I didn’t see anything that I hadn’t seen before, but seeing it assembled the way it was made me wonder again how human beings could treat their fellow human beings with such viciousness. Then I remembered the way some of our fellow Americans used to treat African-Americans just a few decades ago, and I stopped wondering.
In any event, a few days ago I was sitting at a table in the Museum Bookstore with books of mine to the right of me, books of mine to the left of me, and a periodic announcement that a real-life survivor of the Holocaust was sitting at the back of the store, signing books. I wasn’t very comfortable with this characterization, since my own experience had been nothing like what was portrayed inside. My story wasn’t in enduring the Holocaust, but in escaping it. But here, on this afternoon, for the people who happened to be visiting that day, I was the embodiment of the Holocaust experience. It was a heavy load to carry.
Hundreds of people trooped through, mostly high school groups with teachers and chaperones, many glassy-eyed after what they had experienced inside. Some bought one or both of my books and had me sign it. Some just wanted my signature. Many wanted their picture taken with me. Some just stood there and looked at me.
One highschooler took one look at me and exclaimed, “Albert Einstein!” I explained to him that many older Jewish men tended to look like Einstein. Another, a high school junior, stopped by and, when we got to talking, she showed me a sample of a “T” shirt that her class was selling to raise funds for Darfur. Her name was Jessica Royce, and she had designed the logo herself. It was quite beautiful and professional looking, and she gave me one as a gift. If you want a beautiful “T” shirt for $12 and/or to donate to Darfur relief, contact her at
At the end of my three-hour session I discovered that we had sold every one of the 52 copies of “Mother and Me” that they had on hand and some 15 of “A Ship in the Harbor.” As I walked back across the Mall to our hotel, I was exhausted by the experience, but encouraged by the feeling that, when my generation is gone, there will still be people who believe that the Holocaust really happened.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Some time ago, as I started on my run, I felt an electric shock across my heart. I knew what electric shock sensations in that area mean and stopped immediately. As I stood there, for a minute or so, the shocks stopped as well.
Cautiously, I started walking, and the shocks did not return. But as soon as I took an experimental running step, there they were again.
I turned around and walked home. Then I got into the car and drove to an immediate care center. There, they did an EKG, which they pronounced perfectly normal. When I asked the doctor what the electric shock had been, he said he had no idea, but that I should take the EKG to my primary care doctor.
My primary care doctor did an EKG of his own, found everything normal, and had no idea what the electric shock might have been. He did, however, suggest a stress test.
I always enjoy stress tests, as the doctors have trouble stressing me on the treadmill. This one was no exception, and I got another clean bill of health. “So what was the electric shock all about?” I asked the cardiologist. If anyone would know, I figured, he’d be the one.
The cardiologist shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and admitted to having no idea. I resumed my running with no further shocks.
A couple of weeks later, I was seeing my chiropractor for my monthly adjustment. “A funny thing happened when I was running, the other day,” I said, as he did his usual thing on my back. I was hoping that a little conversation would remind him that there was a human being on his table and he should be gentle.
“You thought you were having a heart attack,” he answered.
“Yes, I did, how did you know?”
“You have a rib out.”
Some weeks later I was at a cocktail party and found myself talking to a lady chiropractor. For want of something better to say, I launched into, “I have a funny story to tell you. I was running the other day and felt this electric shock across my heart.”
“You had a rib out,” she said.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Last week I had some minor surgery. It was a painless, outpatient procedure that forced me to spend a few days being waited on at home by my wife, Donna, while I watched old movies on television. But it brought to mind a very different experience from some thirty years ago.

I was riding my motorcycle home from work, that time, and anxious to see the final game of the World Series. The Yankees were playing somebody, and I am a Yankees fan. But it seems that the previous owner of my BMW had put the wrong tires on it and, at 65 mph it went into a “high speed wobble” that culminated in me flying over the handlebars onto the concrete pavement of the Merritt Parkway.

When I came to, there were people telling me not to move and assuring me that I would be all right. Both an ambulance and a pickup truck were on their way, the pickup being to bring my motorcycle to the repair shop. It wasn’t till the EMS crew started to lift me onto the stretcher that I had any sense of my injuries, and that was excruciating pain in my chest and collarbone. As long as I lay still, I was all right, but the moment I tried to move or someone else tried to move me, no matter how carefully, the pain was terrible. As the ambulance backed up to the business end of Norwalk Hospital, I wondered whether I might be dying. If so, I remember hoping to live long enough to hear the outcome of the Yankees’ game.

In E.R., when I was helped to stand in front of the x-ray machine, I passed out. From then on, as I lay in bed in the Intensive Care Unit, it was a matter of coming to for short stays, then, for no apparent reason, passing out again. On the other side of the white curtain on my right, an old man was fighting for breath, groaning and gasping, possibly for the last moments of his life, and reminding me that, if I survived this, I still had that to look forward to, down the line. And, when I asked about the World Series score, no one seemed to know. I began to suspect that the Yankees had lost and they were withholding the news from me so that I might die in peace.

In addition, I was in a difficult place at the time. Earlier that year, my wife of 23 years and I had separated, much against my will, and I was trying to build a life without her. When the hospital people had asked me whom they should notify, I had named the lady that I had recently formed a relationship with, but said that they certainly should not call my estranged wife. But the hospital had played it safe and summoned my wife anyway, I suppose in the event that her signature was necessary for something. She had brought my thirteen year-old-daughter, as well, a decision I didn’t consider wise under the circumstances. And now, as I came in and out of lala land I would find my lady friend holding my hand on one occasion, my daughter on another occasion, my wife on a third occasion, and, sometimes, just a solicitous, six-foot tall, white rabbit, wearing scrubs.

It was determined that I had broken my collarbone in two places along with a liberal quantity of ribs, as well as rupturing my spleen. The ruptured spleen, I was told, was hemorrhaging into my body cavity and causing the loss of consciousness. And, if it wasn’t repaired within the next two hours, I would bleed to death.

At that point, with jolts of pain each time someone tried to move me, bleeding to death didn’t seem like the worst of my options. But someone signed the release, and I was told that that I would soon be going upstairs to Surgery. Being moved from my I.C.U. bed onto a gurney for the trip upstairs seemed like a “via dolorosa” that I would just as soon pass up.

Then a miracle happened. A woman in the colorful scrubs of the O.R. appeared at my bedside, introduced herself as my – my very own – O.R. nurse, who, she promised, would be with me through the entire procedure. Then she went on to inform the orderlies that I was going upstairs in my own I.C.U. bed, rather than the rinky-dink contraption they were anxious to transfer me on to. Taking her outstretched hand, I felt as though I was holding hands with an angel, and we proceeded to ascend into the higher regions of Norwalk Hospital.

I’ve never seen that nurse again, nor would I recognize her if I did. But I do remember the feel of her hand in mine and the wonderfully comforting sense that a caring person had just committed herself to being “with me” through the entire ordeal.

Last week, as Donna, and I sat in the waiting room for what was to be much less of an “ordeal” and under far less stressful circumstances, instead of the usual technical person struggling with the pronunciation of my name from across the room, an O.R. nurse in the colorful scrubs of that profession came to where we were sitting, introduced herself, and explained that she would be “my” nurse for the procedure. She didn’t offer her hand this time, so I don’t know if it would have felt the same. But that wonderful sense of a total stranger appearing out of the blue to care, was there again.

By the way, the Yankees won that Series as well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Recently, I told you about my undistinguished, fictional friend Kip, rattling around in the back of my head, and the book, “Writer’s Block,” that I had to write in order to get rid of the rattling. What I didn’t tell you was that the rattling didn’t stop with the end of the book. It seems that I got so deeply involved with Kip and his friends that I found myself suffering withdrawal symptoms and immediately set about writing a sequel. After finishing the sequel and some wondering what to do next, I still had so much unfinished business with Kip that I decided to do a trequel.

In writing the original sequel, I began with Kip and Amanda in Europe, where I had left them, and proceeded to bring them back to the little Village of Venice, Mass., where Kip is now a local hero because of what he did in the original book, plus the book he has written while in Europe. This immediately set up a broad range of possibilities and I began writing the opening chapter without bothering to do an outline, but with the confidence that, with all the possibilities, something would develop.

And it did. But, as I approached the trequel, I did not see the natural plot possibilities ahead of me, and decided to do an outline so that I would know where I was heading. And that outline required a dramatic ending in which Kip confronts the abusive father of a troubled fourteen-year-old boy, whom he is mentoring, that convinces the boy that he cares about him.

This gave me a very confined stage to work on. Being seventy years old, Kip is not about to get into a fist fight with the man, and I just could not come up with a way of resolving the conflict between the two men that would be in keeping with the tone of the story. Usually, my run/walks produce solutions to such problems, but no ideas that this technique developed seemed to fit the situation.

Then I asked the advice of a friend of mine, who is a therapist. “Is there some exercise for extending your creativity?” I asked him. “Something to help you to think ‘outside the box’?” My wife has a wonderful capacity for thinking outside the box, which I very much envy.

“What you do,” my friend suggested, “is tonight, before going to sleep, you ask your unconscious to help you.” My friend is a disciple of Milton Eriksen, the famous hypnosis therapy guru, and I should have known that he would suggest this approach to the problem.

“You tell your unconscious how grateful you are for all the ways it has helped and protected you throughout your life,” he continued, “because the unconscious is very susceptible to flattery, you know, and then ask it to help you to find a solution to your problem.” He also explained that the unconscious is generally quite inclined to help you in life since it knows that, “if you’re out of business, it is out of business.” Then he added, “You may wake up with a solution.”

That night, I tried my friend’s technique. I was, of course, skeptical, but I had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. As my wife turned out the light, after watching one of the BBC comedies that we enjoy so much, I turned my attention to my unconscious and, following my friend’s instructions, said something like, “I want to thank you for all the ways that you’ve helped me and protected me in the past.” As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy saying that, even silently and in the dark, but I continued. “But now I need your help in a small writing problem. As you probably know, I’ve got to come up with some kind of dramatic conflict between Kip and Erik’s father that will convince the troubled Erik that Kip cares about him. I’ve been looking for a solution for a couple of weeks now, and I need to start thinking more outside the box.” Then I went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up with a headache. The temptation was to take that as a “Do not disturb.” I could visualize my unconscious playing Chinese checkers with my libido. I was tempted to say, “I knew it wouldn’t work,” but didn’t dare to, just in case someone was listening.

Later in the morning I went for my run and, about a mile and a half into the run it occurred to me to introduce a third element into the confrontation, along with Kip and Erik’s father – a hurricane.

In a more serious drama, introducing a hurricane at this particular point would be considered gimmicky. But this is a humorous story and, in that context, I felt it would be acceptable. So I wrote in a hurricane and Kip’s concern for his new sailboat which needs to be secured against the wind, but he is not willing to leave Erik alone with the abusive father, and I had a dramatic climax.

In the week or so since then, I have found myself coming up with solutions to other problems that I consider to be from “outside the box.” As you can imagine, for a writer of fiction, this is, indeed, a valuable ability. In the past I have considered myself a good “storyteller,” that is someone who can do a good job dressing up a story, once there is a story to dress up. But I have considered myself weak in the area of actually creating a story. Now, hopefully, with the help of my new internal friend, this will all improve. You might give it a try.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It seems that I’m making history.
The other day a relative e-mailed me some information she had dug up in “Google” about my family. Among other things, the article said that my mother had two sisters-in-law, named Edna and Paula. Edna and Paula are the names that I assigned to my two aunts, in my book, “Mother and Me.” Their names weren’t Edna and Paula. As I explained in the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book, I assigned fictitious names to some of the characters, since I could not rely on my sixty-plus-year-old memory to treat them fairly and didn’t want to embarrass anyone. Apparently the author of the article did not bother to read that disclaimer, and my two aunts will go down in history under assumed names.
Then there is the matter of my father. Those of you who read “Mother and Me” may recall an incident along the road from Warsaw where we encounter a Polish military convoy with a broken-down truck and a young lieutenant who wants to commandeer ours. To stop him from doing that, my mother tells him a big fib about the truck belonging to my father and about my father being a senator. I believe that I made it quite clear in the book that this is one of the fibs that my mother would use to solve problems and which drove me crazy. But, apparently, the fib fooled not only the young lieutenant, but the author of the “Google” article as well. My father, who had been a businessman in the textile business, is now duly ensconced in the annals of Polish history as a senator.
I can’t help wondering how accurate the rest of the supposedly authoritative articles on the Internet really are.

Monday, January 11, 2010

‘T was a dark and stormy (not really) Thursday or Friday afternoon, some twenty-five years ago, when my late wife, Phyllis and I set out from Greenwich, Conn. for the Berkshire Mountains. A senior early-childhood educator, Phyllis was friend and mentor to a young elementary school teacher named Arlene, teaching in a well-heeled town on Long Island. Somewhere along the line, Phyllis had advised apartment dwelling Arlene to invest in some real property, and it was Arlene and her husband’s new summer house in Austerlitz, NY that we were on our way to visit.
Arlene and Jerry’s house turned out to be a comfortable, three-bedroom ranch, built on a slope, with a garage underneath, nestled in the woods, off a dirt road, and, the following morning, I dutifully took to that dirt road for my daily run. It was a dark and cloudy morning (for real this time), and, as I passed a particular stretch of woods, I could glimpse a body of water, gloomy and forbidding, beyond the woods and clicking my imagination immediately into high gear.
What my imagination concocted was a vicious murder that a passer-by might witness through the trees, in which a man was beating another man to death with his bare hands. The man witnessing it has the option of intervening or calling for help or ignoring the whole thing, but the one that he chooses to follow – and this was the creative part – is a fourth and quite unusual option. I’m not telling what this option is, because I may want to re-visit it one day, but it could have lead to a rather original thriller.
Of course it would take a certain kind of man in a certain set of circumstances to choose this particular option, and over the next days, while visiting with our friends and later, I set my mind to creating such a man and such a set of circumstances. I named him Kip and made him an undistinguished literature professor at an undistinguished college in the Midwest, dealing with some unique identity problems.
But Kip wouldn’t stop growing on me, and the more real that he became, the more interested I became in him, to the extent that pretty soon I considered him far too interesting to be subjected to the requirements of a “thriller” plot. But other matters called. Not having yet retired to my present full-time-author state, I had a business to run and a living to make, and no time to give to Kip’s problems. Then I got involved in writing my “Mother and Me” memoir series, finding a publisher, and promoting the books. Kip kept rattling around in the back of my mind, but never settling down to some constructive thinking. It wasn’t till a couple of years ago that I had the time to return to my undistinguished friend and build him a novel worthy of his personality.
I took Arlene and Jerry’s Austerlitz house, moved it to a coastal village in Massachusetts, and placed it near a woods, with a river flowing to the ocean beyond. Kip inherits it from a colleague, almost as a challenge to sit down and write a book. I gave him a beautiful postmistress named Amanda, whom he lusts after, and a beautiful married woman named Lill who – well, you’ll need to read the book to find out. There is also a large sailboat, named The Black Dog, being built for a cantankerous local, named Tillman. Recognized to be the best sailor in these parts, Tillman has designed the boat himself and intends to sail her, as soon as she’s ready, down to Florida, where he plans to go into the chartering business. There is speculation among the villagers as to the Black Dog’s seaworthiness. The boat isn’t ready till the November chills and storms, and Tillman has invited newcomer Kip to sail to Florida with him, since no one in town will sail with him, even in good weather. No sailor, Kip, nevertheless, believes himself to be in a situation where honor compels him to accept. Then there is the matter of a married lady’s hot tub and…..
Anyway, the book is entitled “Writer’s Block” and it is due to be released by Fireship Press later this winter.
Phyllis passed away in 1986, but Arlene and Jerry were among the first people I introduced my present wife, Donna, to and the friendship continues. How that’ll fare after they find their house so shamefully abused, remains to be seen.