The Magic of Hurricanes

Hurricanes can be terrifying as Ian recently demonstrated on the west coast of Florida. Last week, a category 1 called Hurricane Nicole threatened the east coast. It was a major disruption coming soon after a minor one — the clock change from daylight savings time. Adjusting to sunup and the hour setback was always distressing when I wintered up north. Yet the threat of a category 1 did not raise my blood pressure. I believe when you live waterside you assume the risk. That is a choice one makes—perhaps it is a lifestyle or even a sense of adventure. I choose to wait out hurricanes. This time I was lucky.

The streets looked like a modern-day ghost town. Restaurants and shops closed early once the alerts started to spike between cell phones and the tv weather reports. An evacuation order was in effect in Palm Beach so roads emptied of cars and trucks as the trade parade started crossing west over the bridges that serve Palm Beach. As the transient working population left together with many of the island residents, many headed for hotels inland in West Palm Beach, everything quieted down except for the wind, which steadily picked up momentum. The periodic rain droplet fell yet many sidewalks and streets remained dry despite the scattered precipitation and wind gusts. The stormy, tropical air was refreshing. The temperature was a steady 75 degrees. It was a Caribbean Island feel. The waves along Ocean Road topped the hard revetment structures. Waves as high as 20 feet crashed onto the waterfront roads, where locals out walking recorded the wave action on their cell phones. It was a dangerous walk since a rogue wave could easily overwhelm anyone in its path.

The social life of this new Caribbean-like island continued on, with a few storm-influenced modifications. As restaurants were closed, friends took to each other’s homes and apartments for cocktails and quickly thrown together dinners planned in anticipation of the storm touching down later on. Locals are always prepared for a hurricane party. Extra umbrellas and flip flops are always on hand. Even the recent memory of Hurricane Ian didn’t scare off everyone from enjoying the evening. With storm shutters fastened down, candles and flashlights were standard hardware should the power go out. In preparation of full electric failure, ice was stacked in buckets and cold food was the fare on offer. The phrase “house buttoned up” was heard frequently. Cars were parked in covered areas to avoid falling trees. Patio furniture was brought indoors. “Why not” was the common response to an invite from the neighbor downstairs whom one never met in five years of residency in the same apartment building. We all watched the weather reports on tv, with its repetitive charts and projections. After nothing but midterms news the change was a relief. The counterclockwise spin of the hurricane drove the action northeast. On the tv screen, the white swirling mass moved two inches to the left and up. Those two little inches meant our Category 1 hurricane was just downgraded. The next morning, I awoke and thought I was still dreaming. Just like that a category 1 hurricane became a tropical rainstorm. That relief felt something like magic.

Showing Up

           Recently one of Patti’s tennis teammates was heard complaining about the fact that she was not selected for a particular match simply because she had not been present at the beginning of league play. Notwithstanding a valid excuse, the players that showed up ready and fit to play at the start of the season competed for slots in the lineup. Those that drifted in after several weeks found all the competition slots filled. Good reasons aside, showing up on time is Rule One on the competitive playgrounds of life. 

The incident brought to mind my experience with the Kodak Park Athletic League during the summer of 1951; I was 11 years old.   After tryouts for the softball team, I was selected for second base. I felt up to the task of defending my piece of the field.  My confidence was further boosted because our neighbor, the wealthy owner of the local Ford Dealership, had gifted me my own softball bat for the season.  Before the first game, there I was, bike ready to travel to the field off the Memorial Bridge and inside Kodak Park, the largest employer and possibly landowner in all of Rochester. The ten of us from diverse parts of Rochester all showed up well in advance of the opening pitch.  That game was the highlight of my summer.  However, the stars were not all in alignment. My softball career was interrupted abruptly and with very little warning and I had the uncomfortable task of telling my coach I was going to miss the next game.  The trouble started because my older brother, Marty, a senior in high school, graduated a semester early and headed to Alfred College to enter midterm in December–he was fearful of being drafted into the Korean War conflict and had hedged his bets by applying early for college. This would be the last summer my dad could count on Marty to run the parking lot in his absence.   For some reason my parents decided to take their one and only vacation of their lifetimes in the summer of 1951. Marty did not want to babysit me. He planned to work the parking lot during business hours and then party in the evenings with the cash he made during the day. How did Marty get away with this?  Well he was the oldest son and the prince.  I had no option but to join my folks, my sister and her husband on the vacation trip to Atlantic City. I am certain my sister did not want to go either, but without her my dad could not read the maps provided by Triple A.  So there I was, crunched between my sister and her husband for the non-stop drive from upstate New York to southern New Jersey. I should have stayed when I got there– in l958 I went back for college at Rutgers in nearby New Brunswick.  But that’s another story.  At the missed game, the coach handed out t-shirts printed with our team’s name in bold lettering: RUBY (coincidentally that was also my sister’s name).  Because I missed that game, I never got my t-shirt.  All for not showing up.

No matter the excuse there no substitute for being prompt and in place when your name is called. I learned a good lesson and it has stayed with me. Kodak is gone and I no longer play softball, and these days, as an attorney, it is usually others showing up to meet with me. On time.

Goodbyes

May 2022

The last several weeks have been scheduled with lunches and dinners for end-of-season goodbyes. The “season” in Palm Beach is from October to May, at which time everyone goes their separate ways for the summer and early fall. These goodbye get-togethers are both merry and bittersweet. One however, was a purely solemn gathering. A goodbye of a different kind, it was the funeral for the father of a good friend, a quiet refrain amid the more boisterous events this time of year. The service, an Orthodox program, included the deceased’s grandsons, whose heartfelt letters to their beloved grandfather summoned memories of my parents, who died some years ago. It was a reminder to visit the cemetery where they are buried in Rochester, which I have not done since pre-Covid days.

The goodbye dinner last night was a mostly happy occasion, with fond farewells to friends scattering to the north, to Europe and out west. Our talk turned serious at times, discussing the war in Ukraine, which led to a conversation about ancestry. So many of us have parents or grandparents from Ukraine, myself included, who emigrated to the U.S. during previous periods of turmoil. The war and refugee catastrophe in Ukraine calls to mind the historical tragedies of the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe and the inability of Jewish refugees to escape the brutality of the invaders. Those of us who are first generation Americans are fortunate indeed for our parents having left before the Holocaust. This morning I found myself on Google reading about the shtetl life from which my own parents fled prior to World War 11. How wrenching their goodbyes must have been, to leave extended family and community behind forever.


Though our group of friends will be separated for a few months, at my age-82-this is merely a short interval-and a considerable amount of living time. A lot can occur in five months, especially in the age of Covid. When I looked around the table last night, a lingering bit of melancholy from the funeral cast a shadow on my thoughts. The New Year’s Rosh Hoshana pronouncement “Who shall live and who shall die in the New Year” crossed my mind. So too as we pass through life, the days are few and time, like the late evening breeze, brings with it the clouds of past, present and future. But there is sun in between, when all is well, and we sit down again for an evening meal with dear friends.

Conversations III

March 2022

Last Friday after exercise class, I headed over to Aioli’s, my favorite sandwich shop. I was looking forward to more than just my usual lunch of chicken salad on a Greek salad. I planned to interview Melanie, the owner, the behind-the-counter master of the universe, as she has an interesting life story and I wanted to learn more about it. I was hoping to write something about her in these pages. But by the time I got to the restaurant at noon, the first-come-first-served line was out the door and Melanie was “in the weeds” as they say. I finally made my way over to her and she cheerfully advised me to be patient and have my lunch, that she would try to come over to my table during a lull. So, I found myself a seat next to a group of ladies. I noticed they were all in tennis gear. They assembled more tables together as their number increased in a steady flow, each carrying their lunch over from the counter. I was focused mostly on my salad and was almost done when one of the women near me asked me if they could use my table. I glanced over at Melanie. She had customers three deep at the counter. I turned back to the ladies, tipped my hat, and said, “of course!” However, as is my custom being a lawyer, I made it a negotiation. “I will happily give up my table if you agree to let me interview you for a column I am writing.” The women looked at me quizzically and whispered to each other. The one closest to me said, “Sure, but don’t get too personal.” “Certainly not,” I responded. I was now looking for an interesting hook for a column about the tennis ladies who lunch at Aioli’s in West Palm Beach, Florida. It might be a challenge, or it might be journalistic gold. You never know until you scratch the surface.


The first thing I learned is that they had all just finished a grueling three hours of tennis in 80 degree heat and humidity. l was impressed. I asked each one where they were from. They were forthcoming and enthusiastic, considering they were probably eager to enjoy their lunch and had little interest in my entreaties. The states represented included Michigan, Georgia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, plus an international contingent from Ireland and Canada. A geographically diverse group of women all brought together by their shared passion for tennis. And they had history–their group had been playing together for 20 years. In fact, two of the women were mother-daughter doubles teams. As I started to inquire further, one of women offered up that she was originally from Long Island. “Where?” I asked. “East Hampton,” she responded. I was taken aback. I decided to have a little fun. “Do you know Lenny Ackerman?” I asked. She looked at her friends before responding, not sure where this line of questioning was headed. “He is a lawyer in town,” I added. “Yes, 1 do know who he is. He is my parents’ attorney,” she said carefully. I debated how long I should carry on with the charade. l concluded the longer it went on the more embarrassing it might be for all parties. “I am Lenny Ackerman,” I confessed, grinning. The table erupted in laughter. “Oh my gosh,” she said, “what a small world!” She was incredulous that she would meet her parents’ attorney at a tiny restaurant with her tennis group, so far from her hometown. She and I had an animated discussion
about the people we knew in common, and 1 am certain that after I left she called her parents to let them know who she just happened to bump into at Aioli’s. Conversations with strangers can yield unexpected results. No matter how far we may roam there are connections everywhere, if we take the time to find them.

Couples Meet

January 2022

I sat across from a lovely couple last week at a friend’s birthday party, in a private room at a local club.  The couple were acquaintances, having met them on several previous occasions socially, but this was our first opportunity to get to know each other more personally.  In the course of our conversation—the usual background enquiries and more–I casually asked how they met.  Their story made me realize how fortuitous it is when couples meet and truly live happily ever after.

Harry and Miriam had met at Purdue University where they both were teaching in the mathematics department.  A mixer for single faculty members was planned, and they were each prompted by colleagues to attend.  At the event, the two met and seemed to click right away, to the point that Harry, the senior professor, was comfortable enough in asking Miriam, the young associate professor and future lovely wife, “Do you plan on having children?’  She laughed and responded, “Of course and many!”  That sealed the deal and shortly thereafter they became a couple.  They have been calculating the algorithms of their large family and careers ever since.  

After hearing their story, I was intrigued enough to ask the question of other couples Patti and I know.  Their answers have been wide ranging, yet all the stories seemed to share the element of fate in common.  Meets early on in childhood, high school, Hebrew School, holidays, family events, college and more currently on Match.com.  Especially interesting meets included one at a camp in the Adirondacks, where families went in the 1940’s to escape New York summer heat, while another was a beach romance in the south of France, where two families reconnected after the War.  Then there was reunion of two 80-year-olds prompted by the obituary column in the local paper.  Both lost their spouses at around the same time and saw each other’s name, as survivors of the deceased, in print on the same day.  They connected for the first time since graduating high school together in Palm Beach 60 years earlier.  Many of the meets are instant attraction, even as youngsters, yet it is what emerges afterward that creates the connection.  Words like “open” “friendly” “easy to talk to” and “always laughing” are often used to describe the attributes that draw two people closer together.   

I met my late wife when I was in the 9th grade and she was in the 8th.  I originally had a crush on her sister, Harriet, who was in my grade, but Harriet was more interested in older boys. She wisely offered to introduce me to her younger sister, Judie, whose locker happened to be across from my own.  And that is where we first met, Judie and I, a bit awkwardly, in the halls of Benjamin Franklin High School.  The awkwardness very quickly gave way to a mutual attraction that sustained our relationship for the next 63 years, until her passing in 2017.   

Recently, there was another meet in my life, but this time it was a gradual one.  There were no claps of thunder or love at first sight moments, but a somewhat distant friendship of 30 years turned into something more meaningful two years ago.  It happened over a few shared meals and through the encouragement of mutual friends, and now Patti is my new partner in life.  

It was touching to see the academic couple who, when sharing their story, spoke to each other – not over each other- while she lovingly lay her head on his shoulder.  Meets that lead to lifelong relationships are like that star forever in the sky that lights up every cloudless night.  

Fishing With Paul

December 2021

The morning was rainy in Palm Beach.  My thoughts drifted to fishing in Wales with my friend Paul Reddish, who had been in touch recently on my 82nd birthday.  Paul and I first crossed paths in 2007 while fishing in Alaska.  We met by chance while staying at Mission Lodge in Bristol Bay. He was with his longtime fishing companion Phelam, and I was with my nephew Richard.  We began a conversation that has lasted 14 years and continues to this day, usually in connection with a special event, like a birthday, or the fishing calendar.  I thought of all the fishing trips we took together after that initial meeting – to Wales, Scotland, Austria, Ireland, England, Spain, Slovenia and Iceland. Fishing companions are a special kind of person.  In my case as some of you know from previous columns, I am easy at striking up a conversation.  Paul is quieter and does not let on his extraordinary depth of knowledge of the outdoors, particularly about wildlife from around the world.  His background is fascinating and diverse.  He has been a professional photographer for the BBC in England, a professor of film arts, an author, he is an extraordinary flytier and, of course, one of the best fishermen imaginable.  His bucket list includes catching every type of trout that exists in the world.  With Paul I have fished for Coho salmon, Rainbow trout, Arctic char and grayling, exotic Iceland brown trout, Zebra trout and Marbled trout.  Fishing the mornings were never lonely with Paul.  Always anxious to get on the water and dressed well before breakfast, Paul was always the first in the car on the way to the stream.  His flies tied in anticipation of the day’s fishing were aligned in his little pouch.  His fishing boots were usually tattered as were his waders.  Not one for new Orvis duds he was all about the basics—catching fish!  Most importantly for me, Paul was my solace and escape during periods in my life when I needed quiet time to catch up from a hectic career. Paul provided that and more.  Our fishing trips were marvelous journeys not just destinations.  In 2007 and 2010 my family joined me on the trips to Scotland and England. My late wife Judie, was there, along with my daughter Kara and her husband Peter.  Those trips were wonderful intervals for me and my family that we cherish.  Paul made it all happen and for that and more I will be eternally grateful.  So on this rainy Palm Beach day, I look through the pictures on Shutterfly online of our fishing in Wales and elsewhere.  With friends, fishing the morning is never lonely.  

Florida Snow

December 2021

I had a most interesting morning this week. I went hunting-that is quail shooting with my buddy Chris and my old friend from college, Gerry. This was my third trip to the rural country west of Palm Beach, in Indiantown, Florida. Walking through the palmettos with the dogs searching out the birds is exciting. However, the best part of this morning was Bennett, our new guide and dog trainer. Bennett is a mother to a 2 1/2-year-old son and is a true local, born and bred in the area. She was raised hunting and fishing and letting things roll off her back like a light rain. As we ambled along, the ground dry from temps in the 80s, she chatted about the local history in her distinctive southern dialect. It was a new cultural experience for me and called to mind a classic book I recently read for the first time– The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In it, the author movingly captures the authentic voices of Cross Creek, Florida in phonetic dialogue, so I thought I might try to capture the charm of Bennett’s “native tongue”.

On meeting her, I noticed her hand was bandaged with duct tape. I asked her what had happened and if she was okay.

“Dog bite my hand thus morn,” she replied. “And my kid don’t sleep and fell ot bed. My early morn client shot a cow instead of a hog. Not good day sofr.”

I asked, “Did you see a doctor about your hand?”

“Naw-1 thraw some iodine stuff on my hand and use packing tip step bleeding.”

“Okay but you should go to Urgent Care after the hunt.”

“Yah, I guess.”

I had the feeling my advice was not relevant. Urgent Care is for the weak.

We all got into the bush truck to drive out to the hunting grounds. I sat in front with Bennett and peppered her with questions about her dog training and the hunting odds. When we arrived, things got off to a slow start. Hunting is a lot like fishing-the guides always have excuses for no action. “You should have been here yesterday” or “it is too hot” or “too cold” or “too wet” or “not wet enough.” When! remarked on the lack of action, Bennett had this to say:

“Well, Mr. Len, the dogs are too cited.”

“Should we let them run around a bit before we take them out into the fields?” I asked.


“Well Mr. Len this dog Melvin, he simple minded and can’t stay lert more than few minutes anyway.”
“It seems to me that if the dogs were exercised more before the hunt they would be calmer.” I added helpfully.

She paused. “Well Mr. Len, that’s good maybe we try sum time.” She was just being polite.

There are usually two dogs when we hunt. One dog circles the palmettos seeking out the scent of the covey. Once he is on the scent, he points his tail straight up and his nose is frozen in the direction of the covey. The other dog stays by Bennett’s side, waiting for his cue from her to go flush the birds out of the bushes.

“Go Melvin!” Bennett commanded and both dogs bounded toward the covey, flushing out the birds.

Suddenly there was confusion. Quail were in the air and flying away fast. Chris fired his double barrel and I raised my shotgun to follow the direction of flight, shooting somewhat wildly in the commotion.

“Mr. Len yus need not panic shoot!” Bennett shouted.

I looked at Bennett soaked with sweat and her taped up hand. After several more attempts, I shot exactly one bird. Gerry fired and hit a bird. Chris as usual came back with the most. I was ready to call it a day.
“Yup Mr. Len yuv had your shot. Made Florida snow with one bird. Pretty good for a panic shooter.”

“Florida snow?” I asked.

“Feathers Mr. Len. Come up like a cloud of snow after a hit. I hear Angle the Cook back at camp got pork chops for lunch. Boy am I hungry!”

Thanksgiving Reflections

December 2021

Thanksgiving lunch-dinner in Florida this year was a bit different than traditional family dinner up north.  At home in East Hampton, the long wait for the turkey to reach a certain temperature and for the side dishes to be ready is alleviated only by the distraction of the football game on t.v., and the pumpkin pie which, though intended for dessert, is my favorite appetizer.  This year, it was a restaurant Thanksgiving, family and friends gathered together, all unmasked except for the wait staff.  Rather than the usual cold northern winds, we enjoyed a sunny 70-degree day, typical of Florida this time of year.  Perfect for a Kennedy-esque football game in the backyard, and indeed a swim in the pool.  

The waiter said they were serving 400 plus Thanksgiving dinners this year – almost back to their regular numbers.  They were short-staffed of course, but our waiter kept things moving.  During dinner, conversation turned to a recent article in the Washington Post about the Pilgrims, and how they were saved by the Native American Wampanoag people.  One of our Thanksgiving dinner guests talked about her own Cherokee ancestry and how she was three generations removed from the Trail of Tears, President Jackson’s forced removal plan for Native Americans from the southeast to Oklahoma.  She was raised as a “Wasp” and was unaware of her family history until she was a young adult.  Her great-grandmother described what it was like when her family and fellow tribe members were uprooted from their homes for the long march to Oklahoma, during which some 4,000 Cherokee and other native peoples died from exhaustion and starvation.  The great-grandmother also reflected on the strange looks her family endured when later they travelled from Oklahoma to Texas, though they had no idea why at the time and thought they were no different than the people they passed along the way. 

The Post article paints a somber picture of the first Thanksgiving and provides some much-needed perspective.  Though the Pilgrims were saved by the Wampanoag, the United States continued to take from them and other tribes and has done very little in return for Native Americans in the centuries since.  Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude for the bounty in our lives, but it is also a day of reflection and remembrance, of our histories, both personal and as Americans, and of the losses and sacrifices made by the very people who were the original inspiration for this holiday.  

Beach Reads

November 2021

I went to the beach this morning.  After 24 hours of chills and aches from Friday’s booster shot, I needed the sun and ocean breezes to recover.  Setting the clocks back allowed for some extra reading time, so I dug into John LeCarre’s new book, Silverview–for the second time.  The first pass left me feeling less than secure in responding to friends’ requests for my opinion.  The beginning and the end were clear but how one led to other was not.  I read it in spurts and LeCarre requires focus.  The book was one of many I received for my birthday- a surprise 82nd birthday party with more than 100 people.  The gifts in their own way told me something about what people think of me or how well they know me, and everyone must know I’m an avid reader.  So aside from the current best sellers, of which there were many, the books of special interest mainly fell into two categories—car porn and fishing.  The car books, of course, were about Jaguar and Land Rover—histories and coffee table books.  Most people in my immediate circle know I have been restoring two classics: a 1971 Series III Land Rover Defender and a 1962 Mark II Jaguar, as I have enthusiastically shared many photos of the painstaking progress with friends and family. The new paint job on the Jag took almost a year, and though have been out in the car a few times around the neighborhood, it now refuses to respond to reverse gear.  Trouble backing out of parking spaces sure limits drivability.  I would have been better off with a standard transmission.  The Defender—an Out of Africa beauty, is being restored in Washington state and is destined to be my camp car in Maine.  

And the fishing books I received – so many terrific ones.  Of course, everyone in my orbit as well as any reader of this column knows I am passionate about fishing.  From memoirs to one special book of Hemingway excerpts on fishing, I have a whole new library to choose from now.  Though I am grateful for the generous and thoughtful presents, the gifts that meant the most were the accompanying cards and notes.  One that stands out, “I trust you Lenny” was most touching, from a long-term client whom I have guided in business for some 35 years.  

After my 80th birthday two years ago, I swore off birthday parties.  Enough already!  No one expects a huge birthday party for turning 82, which compounded the surprise quotient at this one.  It was given by a new friend, Heath, who had no idea about my “no more parties” vow and in hindsight I am glad he didn’t. It was the type of event I never would have held for myself, or for that matter have supported had I known about it. Yet it was one I will never forget. In one evening, I was surrounded by family, friends and colleagues spanning some 65 years.  

Getting back to today’s outing.  The surf was up and the boards were out en masse. Black clad surfers bobbed in the rough water trying to catch rides to shore.  The sun gleamed.  Seagulls feasted on mollusks at the water’s edge.  Another great beach day in Florida. Now back to my book.