Wednesday, October 20, 2010

All clear...

Good news today.

I went in for my six-month recheck on the mammography. Technically, it was my 'annual,' but it was the first time since my biopsy that I was going to get checked.

I made the appointment last week and then didn't think about it until today. Then this morning I started getting kind of emotional about it. What would I do... how would I feel... if something showed up on the film? By the time I got to the imaging place, I was antsy about just getting the damn thing done.

Long story short, everything's okay. I don't have to go back for another year. What a relief.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No matter where you go, you end up somewhere*

In the time I've been volunteering at Ellis Island, I've heard about various notables coming to visit from politicians to Bruce Springsteen... yet I've always heard after the fact, so I couldn't plan to be there to possibly see them.

This time was supposed to be different.

About a month ago, we were informed that the Bob Hope Library would be rededicated on October 12. It's the main research area in the museum and is also home to the park's oral history library. And, of course, it's named for one of the most American of 20th century entertainers, who just happened to emigrate from England, through Ellis Island, as a youngster in the early 1900s. Hope's family would be on hand for the private ceremony, joined by a host of luminaries, including, we were told by reliable sources, George Clooney.

Now, I don't regularly go ga-ga over celebrities. In the early part of my career, I met several through my work and never saw the reason to idolize any of them, but I'll admit that there are a couple that get my interest up. George Clooney is one of them. Forget that he's impossibly good looking; he's got a great sense of humor, and he's true to the same friends he had as a struggling actor more than 20 years ago. And he gives a shit about worthwhile things. I'd still want the chance to meet him if he looked like Yogi Berra. (Admittedly, I wouldn't want to date Yogi the way I'd like to have a few dates with George, but cut me a break... I'm only human.) And yeah, I wanted a photo with him for my Facebook page. I've already got Mr. Met and Thomas Edison, so I need a third. I'm weird like that.

You can imagine that I woke up yesterday morning with some anticipation. Fortunately I didn't have to think about what to wear, as the Park Service shirt was de rigeur for volunteering. As I was getting ready, I was trying to figure out what time the ceremony would be, and, thus, what time the celebs would be getting to the Island and how they'd arrive without causing a ruckus among the populace. Then I saw that George was on the Today show, talking about Sudan. At 7:45 in the morning, during the show's usual hard news hour. Clearly that meant he had to be somewhere that required him to be on the road by 8 a.m. Knowing the traffic I faced to get to the Island, I got out the door early.

The big question was whether the celebs would be coming by boat or by land... which meant that Mr. Clooney would either face annoying traffic down to the Battery or a slightly easier route through the Lincoln Tunnel from Rockefeller Center. Things looked good as I drove through Liberty State Park and saw a sign pointing VIPs to the temporary bridge to Ellis. A black town car with New York plates was leaving the security check to cross the bridge just as I drove up to have my car checked by the Park Police.

I got through security and across the bridge just in time to see three people who were Not George get out of the town car, so I figured we were safe. My fellow volunteer for the day was also eager to see Mr. Clooney (I think his exact words were, "He's the only man I'd go gay for.") and reported he hadn't had any sightings yet, either. A ranger confirmed the plan for the day: the notables were coming by the island by car and taking the same back hallways we do to get to the public area, but they'd be sequestered on the third floor near the library until the 11 a.m. ceremony. Everyone was expected to be on the island by 9:30.

Then reality came crashing down. One of our ranger buddies came by to tell us that George wasn't coming. No joke. He was headed down to Washington to meet with the president on Sudan. NO! Say it ain't so! Well, I guess a potential civil war is a bit more important than meeting me, but at least tell me it came close...

After lunch, we were subjected to a stream of self-important-looking people walking past the information desk, back to the staff-only area on the way back to their town cars. One had a profile that seemed to indicate he was Bob Hope's son, but mostly these folks weren't faces you recognized.

Until... who walked by but... you guessed it...


Yes, the fabled Yankee walked right past our desk, waving and smiling to us as we called out his name. Somehow I squelched the urge to plead for him to manage the Mets. And then he was gone, with no other notables to follow.

So... the day wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be, but at least we got one nice-guy legend out of it. One wonders whether he'd called Clooney in advance and warned him, "Nobody goes to Ellis Island anymore. It's too crowded."

*I was tempted to use the quote "Wherever you go, there you are" and attribute it to Yogi. However, a quick Google search brought up questions about the statement's origin, and the "you end up somewhere" is more reliably attributed to Berra.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Six degrees of history

Once in a while, I get a ‘six degrees’ experience when I volunteer. It’s happened a lot over the past several weeks. Someone comes up to the information desk at Ellis Island, or chats me up in Edison’s library, and tells me their dad or grandmother was there when the place was in operation… or maybe even they, themselves were there.

Everyone knows Ellis Island as the portal for the great immigration that took place in the first few decades of the 20th century, but fewer people know it was used as a detention facility before and just after the Second World War. Not only did the government hold resident enemy aliens there, but the army also held some prisoners of war at Ellis. That’s why I wasn’t totally surprised when a pleasant young German man approached me to ask if he could see the building where his grandfather might have been held. Unlike many other German POWs, he’d never returned to the US following the war, but he told his grandson he’d been treated well during his stay on the island. That was good to hear.

About a week later, a woman in her 60s came up to ask about the dormitory building. When she and her family emigrated from Scandinavia in 1949 by airplane, her father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and brought to the Ellis Island Hospital for treatment. Thus, she, her mom and sister were held in the island’s massive Baggage and Dormitory building until dad was cured. Having been only three years old at the time, the visitor couldn’t remember much of any of it, but she still wanted to check everything out. After my tour, I saw her wandering all around the main building, seemingly trying to place herself through a toddler’s eyes.

Then there was an older woman who told me her father had been one of the Public Health Service physicians stationed at Ellis Island. Their role, besides caring for the sick, was to examine every immigrant for signs of disease that could cause contagion, or disability that would prevent them from supporting themselves through gainful employment. The woman herself was born after her dad had been stationed on the island, and she took a look at the few staff pictures we have, in hopes of finding her father in one. She came along on my tour, and I noticed the hint of a smile on her lips when I told the group about the PHS doctors’ care and concern for their immigrant patients.

While none of the Ellis Island visitors had much information of their own to share, I was tickled to talk with a gentleman at Edison National Historical Park who wanted to speak at length about his father’s experiences working with the great inventor. He had quite detailed recollections of his dad’s stories, both in working on research, and in managing aspects of Edison’s radio business. (Incidentally, TAE never went whole-hog into radio, and the business was short-lived, never having much success.)

Talking with these folks always reminds me how much I don’t know, and how many facets history ultimately has. As children, we tend to take what we learn as fact, when it’s often just one person’s perspective on what happened a long time ago. Talking with someone who might actually have lived it gives me the chance to learn more, and hopefully get confirmation on some of my standard tour dialogue. Yeah, I live a little in fear of having gotten it totally wrong, but after a while you just have to let that go.