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New Article on Medium about The 64th Viennese Opera Ball
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New Article on Medium about The 64th Viennese Opera Ball

So I have posted a new article on Medium, a site I’ve never used before, about my experiences at the 64th Viennese Opera Ball.

I was invited by a dear friend who’s an Austrian Countess.

What a gorgeous gala! Filled with music, song, fashion, and delectable food. Not to mention the fascinating people I encountered. 

I loved the ball and enjoyed myself immensely. It was the most beautiful pageantry! It was truly a treat and I recommend it.

Read all about it on Medium.

HuffPo: Neurosurgeons Batting for Brain Tumor Research.
charity | gratitude | hope | Huffington Post

HuffPo: Neurosurgeons Batting for Brain Tumor Research.

Neurosurgeons

They’re an intense bunch, these gray matter operators. Also well-intentioned. Check out my article on the Huffington Post about the Neurosurgery Charity Softball Tournament.

***

Last Saturday morning in Central Park, I came across a uniformed male softball team, practicing intently before a game. A grim-faced player jogged out to shag a ball.

“Excuse me,” I called, “you wouldn’t all happen to be neurosurgeons, would you?”

“Yes, we are,” the player said. His eyebrows remained firmly knit and he didn’t crack a smile — the impending game was two minutes away — but he did kindly direct us to the field where I would find my friend Dr. Joshua Bederson, who heads up the Mt. Sinai neurosurgery department. My 7 year-old daughter and I giggled at the player’s gravity as we scampered across the lawn.

En route, we encountered some blue-uniformed Mt. Sinai players. “We’re playing over there,” pointed number 7, Dr. Andy Hecht.

“What chance do you have of winning?” I asked.

“Zero point zero,” said Dr. Hecht, grimacing.

“Good odds,” I commented.

Dr. Bederson, the neurosurgeon who recently saved a New York City cop stabbed in the head, had told me about this charity softball tournament over Szechuan fare the previous night. Dinner conversation morphed into a debate about whether or not the sublime fine motor skill coordination possessed by trained neurosurgeons would translate to the gross motor skills needed to hit and catch a ball.

In fact, neurosurgeons from around the country were in New York City for the tournament. Twenty eight teams of neurosurgeons had come to raise money for pediatric brain tumor research. Pediatric tumors have surpassed leukemia as the leading cause of cancer death in children; the Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation is committed to advancing understanding and treatment of childhood tumors through scientific investigation.

Let me tell you, when neurosurgeons commit to something, they mean business.

Mt. Sinai first played against the Columbia University neurosurgery department. “You’re keeping it in the city,” I commented.

“Columbia has been known to cheat,” teased another doctor, with a wink at the end that belied his words, and left Columbia’s sterling reputation unbesmirched.

“We usually win,” proclaimed Columbia pitcher Dr. “Goody.”

Columbia players had names emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys: “Han Solo,” “Angry Passion,” and “Deuce” among them.

My daughter asked why the Mt. Sinai players didn’t wear names. “It’s not what’s on the back that matters, it’s what’s on the front!” exclaimed young Dr. Ted Panov. “We’re Team Sinai!” Another doctor pointed out that the Yankees don’t wear their names. This befits the founding of the tournament, by a Columbia resident who went to George Steinbrenner in 2004 with an idea for an event, laden with camaraderie and fun, that would make a difference.

“Why do you drink all this Gatorade?” my daughter persisted.

“We want to feel like we’re actual athletes,” answered Dr. Panov.

I couldn’t help but notice that there were only men on Team Sinai, which surprised me. Bederson’s wife is a famed neurosurgeon in her own right–and a skier who competed at the national level.

“There used to be more women,” Bederson admitted. “It’s just become so competitive.” Indeed, watching as teams washed around the fields, I couldn’t avoid the testosterone-laden alpha-male fumes which ebbed and flowed like an insistent current. Nor have I ever witnessed a sports team playing with more extreme focus. These are men who don’t joke around when it comes to competition: they like to win.

Good thing, because they compete with death on a daily basis.

“Phoenix usually wins, they’re a very athletic department,” Bederson told me, scowling while also smiling at the Chiefy’s who waited to play the winners of the Sinai-Columbia contest. Games are four innings long and each batter starts with one ball and one strike, so the round robin turns over quickly. Bederson kept his eye on the Chiefy’s, the team from The Barrow Neurological Institute. “They’ve won the last two tournaments.”

The Chiefy’s did look professional, in their spiffy red uniforms. They’d brought dolled-up maidens to cheer them on to victory. I haven’t seen skirts so short and stacked sandals so high since an episode of Jersey Shore. The attention to detail was admirable.

I trotted over to get a quote from a Chiefy, any Chiefy. They were a tall, toned bunch. Uber alpha-males? “We’re looking to complete our three-peat,” stated Dr. Fusco, a neurosurgery resident at Barrow.

Team Sinai did themselves proud during the Columbia game, though a slide into second base by Dr. Gologorsky raised the question: was that a Shabbos-approved move? It was not resolved. But in the top of the third inning, score 0-0, Sinai was up and bases were loaded. Sinai batted in two runs. The good Dr. Bederson himself batted in another run.

Columbia joked about stage one versus stage two, a dark inside joke for neurosurgeons, though it seemed to alleviate the sting of 4-0, Team Sinai.

“Sinai dominates Columbia,” yelled Dr. Hecht. “That should be the headline of The Huffington Post tomorrow!”

Alas, gallant Team Sinai could not prevail over the illustrious Chiefy’s, who took the second game 2-0. Then Ohio State clobbered them 15-1.

But Team Sinai, along with all the other teams, was still heroic. These guys have lives full to overflowing, work days that last sixteen + hours, barely enough time for their families. Yet they’re out on a baseball diamond to help kids. It shines as an example of both generosity and professional commitment.

For more information, see www.neurocharitysoftball.org

 

beauty | charity | errors | freedom | hard work | healing | life model | marriage | past life | redemption | spiritual teachings

Bittersweet: About Karma

Earl: “Look! Shampoo that’s not tested on animals. I feel bad for those lab animals running around with dirty hair, but if it’s better for the environment, that’s the sacrifice they have to make.” Jason Lee as Earl Hickey, MY NAME IS EARL Karma is a funny thing

 
There are some humorless men in my life. A few months ago I sent an email to two of them. It was pretty funny: UFO’s, aliens, subliminal programming with muzak, ex-CIA agents who can be hired to forcibly waterboard someone, without their consent, and beating my rascally middle daughter with a stick in Riverside Park were all mentioned. Admittedly, my sense of humor is offbeat and irreverent. Still, this email was juicy. But did they respond to it AT ALL? Oh, nooooooooooo. They just pretended it didn’t exist.
 
This current husband of mine read the missive before I sent it. “Don’t send that,” he said, with a flat expression. Hmph. My third husband will have a rich sense of humor. He will be able to laugh with me. At me, okay, that’s gonna happen, alas. Even I spend plenty of time laughing at me. (Definition of ‘rueful,’ anyone?) But, definitely, also, with me.
 
Over the last few years I’ve been working with Buddhist concepts and with the Bhagavad Gita. In the spirit of “what goes around comes around,” I have to wonder, when did I not laugh at people that has reached fruition with this overabundance of humorless men in my life?
 
Should I rack what’s left of the gray matter rattling around my cranium to recall anyone whose joke I did not get, then make a list, seek them out, and make restitution by letting them tell me their favorite jokes, which culminates in my laughing uproariously? Will that plant new seeds for me, seeds that will sprout into men with some sparkle to their personality?
 
Maybe it’s a past life thing. I was an uptight guy in the 17th century who inflicted lethal self-seriousness on the long-suffering women in my life. Now I’m reaping my just rewards, and there’s no going back to pull the poker out of my former derriere. Karma’s a complicated thing, and hard to navigate exactly. Those of us like me who aren’t enlightened can’t parse it.
 
It’s easier to see the working of karma in other people’s lives. I tread carefully here, being mindful of Rabbi Jesus’ words, “Why worry about the mote in your brother’s eye when there’s a beam in your own?”
 
But I am a careful observer of people, both because people are a novelist’s raw material, and because I’m fascinated with human beings, those conscious and inconsistent creatures. While not positing myself as a perfect person, I can discern. I can learn from others.
 
There’s a man I know who’s recently had many business reversals. He’s brilliant, educated, competent, personable. Indeed, he exudes a charm that many people can’t see through. I’ve watched with breathless awe as he’s snowed them totally. It’s a virtuoso act.
 
Unfortunately, the charm obscures a negative side. He’s acted from that negative side over the last several years, threatening me and others with litigation, co-opting tactics of bullying and intimidation, twisting reality to suit the ends of malice, never using a kind word when hostility will make the point for him. And there seems to be no one in his life who will call him on his stuff. His family has always lent him blind entitlement, and his close friends only affirm his better points, of which there are many.
 
I suppose this is when I am grateful that my close friends hold me to a high level of personal accountability. “So Traci,” my friend Gerda will say, in her patient voice, “are you acting out of negative intent? Are you acting out of fear or out of love?”
 
Or even my friend Marcia will ask, “Yes, but is that about your self-esteem? Can you phrase that in a way that’s less ambiguous?” Rachel usually foists a zinger, with less concern for my vulnerability and more concern for the bull’s eye of painful truth.
 
But I don’t think the benighted man in question, may all the gods bless him, has anyone speaking this way to him. Nor does there seem to be anyone reminding him about the Law of Return, that whatever you give out inevitably comes back to you. So it is no surprise to me that, despite his many talents, he is suffering business losses that cause him personal anguish.
 
Not that he would or could ever see the relationship between his abusive actions and the unfoldment of his life. It’s hard for all of us. There is the real cause of things and the apparent cause. What is apparent is the economy, the paternalistic government, the state of the world, etc. But in this view that seeks to go deeper than appearances–and even the Talmud talks about “measure for measure” and “As one does, so they do to him”–we are all guided toward spiritual forces of cause and effect.
 
Which leads me back to the lab animals with dirty hair, making sacrifices for the environment. I can only hope they transmigrate species, and reincarnate as higher beings. Perhaps humorless men.