My Good Name

© 2008 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine
Republished in Folks Magazine on 8/22/09.

TwoBrookes
“Hello”

“Is Brooke Allen there?”

“Speaking.”

“I’m sorry, I have the wrong number.”

Click.

When I first moved to New York City a well-meaning friend gave me a book about surviving in the city. It served no purpose but to destroy all pleasure in life: When pushed in front of the subway, lie down in the ditch between the rails. Carry your wallet in your front pocket since your back pocket will be sliced open with a razor. And by all means, install three locks so the burglar finds your neighbor’s door more attractive.

Immediately after moving to the city, phone calls like the one above were repeated every week or two.

I was convinced that someone was casing my apartment and the instant I didn’t answer I would be robbed. What’s worse, since the caller’s voice sounded different each time it appeared there was an inexhaustible supply of crooks.

Two years into my torture one of my mystery callers explained it to me. There was another Brooke Allen who lived on East 88th street. Her number was unlisted and mine was.

I tracked her down. We exchanged phone numbers and thus began a long and entertaining relationship.

I would call her answering machine and play her messages on my machine.

I became comfortable acting on the various party invitations that arrived in my mailbox every so often.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Brooke Allen.”

One year I held a Christmas party. My friend called to say, “I’m confused. My sister-in-law received an invitation from you for the same date but a different location.” It appeared we had both friends and party dates in common.

Eventually we just held a joint party: Brooke Allen squared. Everyone might as well meet each other.

She is an established writer. When her play, “The Big Love” with Tracy Ullman opened on Broadway, I taped her poster on my office door.

“I had no idea you were you were so accomplished,” a coworker would comment.

“There are many sides of me you don’t know.” Yea, like that I’m shameless and I’ve never written a Broadway play.

When I wrote a letter to the New York Times, she got the comments.

When she wrote an essay in the Nation called “Our Godless Constitution” questioning the Religious Right’s right to claim we were founded as a Christian nation, I got the threats.

When I went to register for my MBA at New York University, they told me I was unwelcome there. It appears Brooke Allen had once been pissed at NYU, told them to get lost and put a stop payment on a tuition check.

While I was on vacation with a girlfriend, a friend of hers called my apartment and was told by our house-sitter that “They are in Europe.”

That friend them met Brooke at dinner and told her of the stranger on her phone. Only after she and the policeman found her apartment untouched did it dawn on her.

Revenge comes to all those who wait.

So tell everyone you know about that great writer, Brooke Allen. Tell them to look up Brooke’s books on Amazon and order them. Just don’t tell them she is not me.

Take pride in, protect and promote your good name, particularly if you share it with others.

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Of Parks and People

© 2008 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

For this month’s Father’s Stories column I wrote a brief item about an incident in a park in Tokyo. I had wanted just one photograph of Arisugawa Park to illustrate my story but I could not find any.

So, I thought I’d write for help to some of the most wonderful people I know: members of http://www.couchsurfing.com (1.)   I will tell you more about them in a future article, but for now just know that this is a group of people around the world (about 400,000 strong) who build profiles describing themselves, as you might find on Facebook or Myspace. However, these people are exceptional; they are not into making “virtual friends” but real ones. They will meet you when you come to visit, show you around, perhaps take you for coffee, even put you up and more likely than not, stay up into the wee hours talking about the meaning of life.

I selected some members who live in Tokyo and who clearly enjoy photography. I wrote to them late the other day asking if they had photos of the park or if they lived near enough to go take some. By the next morning, a few had responded affirmatively and over the next few days the pictures started coming in; more than we could possibly publish here.

So now I have everything I need to tell you about and show you Arisugawa Park and what it means to me and to so many others.

Let’s begin with an excerpt from the Ministry of Education’s goals for the Moral Education of Children in Grade’s 1 and 2.  (2.)   Under “Things Primarily Related to Relationships with Nature and the Sublime” it itemizes:

(1) Feeling intimate with the nature that’s near oneself; being kind-hearted in treatment of plants and animals.

(2) Having a heart that values life.

(3) Having contact with beautiful things and feeling ennobled by them.

And under “Things Primarily Related to Oneself” is:

(4) Leading a life that is relaxed and ingenious, not dishonest or deceptive.

Arisugawa Park is clearly designed to help with all of these things.

The first time I entered the park was from the top of the hill. The children in front of me took off their shoes immediately; they knew this park is best experienced barefoot.

A bridge crossed a small stream that mysteriously flowed freely on the right but was not to be found on the left. (3.)  In a few short steps you were no longer in one of the busiest and most modern cities in the world. You felt like you’d come home to a time long ago.

There were birds to hear, trees to climb and hide behind, and flat open spaces for playing ball.

Then there was a playground. At first it looked like the playgrounds back home. But there was a difference. At home, the equipment was designed to avoid lawsuits; slides you can’t possibly fall out of, platforms with rails and all built on a rubberize pad.

It appears from the photos my Couch Surfing friends have sent that Arisugawa Park now has one of these too. This was probably inevitable given the number of Gaijin living in the neighborhood.

But I’m also glad to see all the old equipment is still there.

In 1990 the first thing I saw was a huge climbing frame with a tangle of children inside and on top. It is about 10 feet tall, and while you’d probably sprain an ankle jumping from it, your child would not. Kids are built to last.

You can watch children being ingenious and eventually you will learn that you need to relax.

The best place for a parent to park themselves is right in the middle on top. You can watch your child but you can not catch them when they jump. You can yell at them if you want but it will be purely for your own neurotic reasons since the other children will drown out your screeches. Soon you will discover that children are not idiots and they know what they are doing.

Then there are the swings. They look like swings in any other park in the world.

The difference between the swings here and the ones back home is evident only in the behavior of the adults. While tiny children can be strapped in to avoid injury, the bigger ones get a flat plank suspended between two chains that allow for some real fun.

On either side of the swings are some sort of painted metal pipes that seem to serve no purpose except to provide a hurdle to be cleared when a child jumps. Children soon learn that you can fly farthest from an upright position.

A path takes you down to a pond at the bottom of the hill.

Just looking at it is good enough for an adult but if you are a child you might want to go fishing. This is OK as long as you throw them back.

I wouldn’t try wading in if I were you. Nor would our sons; well – not twice.

Writing this story has been bittersweet for me.

Arisugawa Park, I miss you and I want to visit again soon.

I want to thank all the people from Couch Surfing who helped with photographs and suggestions for this piece: Niki, Yuval, Sarah, Aya, Mari, Alex, Jim, Takumi, Srini, Misaki, and Sylvie.

1. There is another group, about the same size, at http://www.hospitalityclub.org that is tied for First Place as having the Most Wonderful People.

2. Source: Catherine C. Lewis, Educating Hearts and Minds, Reflections on Japanese Preschool and Elementary Education, p. 46, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

3. Years later I decided to investigate and discovered that the water was re-circulated up to this point from pond at the bottom of the hill.


Advice for Grandchildren

© 2010 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

 

After my dad died, I went through his hard drive and found this in a folder named: adviceforgrandchildren

 

 

Title: Boys and Girls

 

 

Until about 2 years old

 

I have noticed that children at this age carry on soundless interested communication sometimes pointing and laughing and crying from their strollers regardless of whatever color (blue or pink) they are wearing

3 and 4 years of age

 

Very friendly to all their peers regardless of age sex or economic level. Not very intellectual communication except for world shaking statements, like ” Why?” and “If people believe in God and all the people die; What happens to God?”

 

5 to 12  years of age

A great age of discovery about boys and girls by boys and girls. Boys feel sorry for girls because they don’t have one. Both have long hair some times. Some boys notice older girls have bumps on their chest. Boys don’t like girls and girls don’t like boys. Sometimes they have separate school gangs or social clubs. Girls sometimes wear dresses but boys never do, except in Scotland and Greece. Both use separate toilets except in some countries that usually have a cement hole in the ground with two foot prints in the cement.

 

13 to 18 years of age

Boys voices change and they start (hopefully) growing beards, develop into couch potatoes with pot bellies and are slobs. Girls become attractive by taking care of themselves, working out and learning how to make up. Girls make better grades than boys. All are an absolute trial for parents – usually – but not always. Some teenagers are nicer than their parents were at the same age. At first, for boys and girls, is confusion then fascination or extreme dislike of either themselves or the opposite sex. Hormones almost take over completely, but not quite. There is school sex education but that is series of biology lessons and common knowledge which is usually incorrect.

What one must do is learn how to be a lover. This simply means making sure the other person is happier or more satisfied than you are. An adjunct to learning this is how to be a friend to boys and girls without a sexual meaning.

 

If you learn these lessons you will be happy or create happiness for the rest of your life.

 

 

19 to 22 years of age

 

A time to learn ‘HOW TO’:

  • How to think with and without the influence of your hormones.
  • How to get to know the opposite sex.
  • How to find out what you want to like.
  • How to court the person of your attention.
  • How to make a living so that you can support yourself and the result of all those hormones and frantic attention to the opposite sex.

23 to 60 years of age

 

Your internal clock goes off !

And you did not even know you had one.

It is called parenthood.

You will have to find your own way. There are some things you will find out all by yourself. We are all individuals – even our loved ones.

Some observations are classical and catholic:

Birds make much better parents than people; they know when to kick the chick out of the nest, after together knocking themselves out taking care of each other and the chicks.

Children cause one to appreciate one’s own parent.

Adulthood means accepting responsibility regardless of how you feel or resent it.

61 to 70 years of age

 

Freedom!

You can set your own schedule.

You can not get fired because you are retired.

You have little or no sex.

You can speak you mind, but few listen.

You realize how much you love your mate as they pretend to listen.

After 70 years of age

 

I have noticed that grown people this age carry on loud uninteresting communication sometimes  pointing and laughing and crying from their wheelchairs and canes regardless of whatever sex or color their hair is.

Hoping for death with dignity.

Love,

Your granddad Tom.

 

 

If someone is not ready to hear what you have to say, write a memo.

Imagine a Future

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

In January of 1996 our two sons were six and eight years old.

Being a dad wasn’t working out as I’d hoped.

I grew up on “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best”.

Our home was more like “The Simpson”s or “Married With Children”.

That January I found myself on an airplane sitting next to a woman who is a psychologist and an expert on rearing children. I asked her for advice on how to be a better dad.

We talked for hours and she had many sensible suggestions. As we approached Kennedy Airport, she said, “Well, there really isn’t time left to get into much depth, so let me ask you a simple question.”

“Sure.”

“Can you imagine you and your family in some idealized future setting?”

“Yes.” It wasn’t a hard question, “When I was in college I traveled around Europe on a rail pass by myself. On the one hand I wished that my parents had been with me as we explored things together. On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine that the experience would have actually been a pleasant one.”

“When we had our own children, it was my fantasy that we could be the kind of parents that our children would enjoy having with them on vacation. Right now the thought of spending time together is inconsistent with our concept of a vacation. I’m sure they find our company “no fun” as well. It seems like we spend our days making up rules and enforcing them. They resent all that we do for them. It seems likely I’ll have to give up on that fantasy.”

“That’s perfect,” said my traveling companion. “Imagine what the ideal rail trip would be like. Imagine all of you exploring new things together, sharing experiences, and enjoying each other’s company. Imagine what it would feel like.”

“OK.”

“Good. Have a concrete image in your mind of this trip and set it as a goal. Now don’t concentrate on where you will go, or what you will see, but rather on how you, and everyone else, will feel and how you will interact.”

“OK.”

“Now, as you go through your daily life, each time you are about to do something, think to yourself, ‘Is what I am about to do going to bring me closer to this goal?’ If it occurs to you that what you are about to do now might hurt your chances of reaching your goal, try something different instead.”

I took this to heart. Each time I was about to yell about homework, bath time, or bedtime, I thought again. We found better ways of motivating our children without the acrimony.

In the summer of 1998, less than three years after that plane trip, we planned a vacation in Europe. Other parents assumed we were going as a couple and offered to introduce us to the baby sitters they trusted with their children when they went away. Traveling with their children was inconsistent with their concept of a vacation.

But we wanted to see if we could make our vision a reality. We all remember that trip; we visited France, Italy, and Switzerland by rail pass. Eve and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute we spent with our children. They enjoyed their time with us.

I can attribute most of my disappointments as a parent to a failure to remember or apply the things I learned on that flight in 1996.

It is better to keep a goal in mind and make up rules along the way than to follow rules and lose sight of the goal.

Sublimation

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

“Granddad, something’s different.”

“What’s that?”

“I haven’t seen you smoking a cigar since we got here.”

“I quit a year ago.”

“Why? I thought you loved those things.”

“Nope. I hated them.”

This was puzzling. “If you hated them, then why did you smoke.”

“It started in the 1920’s. I was the head of the United Press office in Havana. The other men in the office told me that, since I was the highest paid man there, it was entirely appropriate, expected even, that I have a mistress.”

“When I told your grandmother that everyone thought I should have a mistress, she blew a gasket.”

“When she finally calmed down, she said, ‘I guess I have been too strict. I will allow you just one vice, but a mistress is out of the question.'”

“Since cigars were so cheap in Havana, I took up smoking.”

“You didn’t like cigars?”

“No. I hated those things.” He laughed, “I wanted a mistress.”

“So, why did you quit.”

“Anne told me that for my 80th birthday I could have a mistress, so I quit.”

That was interesting, “So, now do you have a mistress?”

“No. It is probably too late and I’m not really interested. But I’m sure glad to be done with those cigars.”
Find alternatives to doing the wrong thing.

Hobbies are good. Carcinogens are bad.

Shortness of Breath – Shortness of Time

© 2006 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

In November of 1995, my father, Thomas J. Allen, Jr. was admitted to Kings Hospital in London, England complaining of shortness of breath.

I flew over to see him and he seemed in good spirits though he was having problem breathing. It could have been from the 438,425 cigarettes he’d smoked in his life.

I took the train from London to Cornwall to meet up with my Uncle at my grandparent’s flat in Truro. I arrived to find a message. My dad had taken a turn for the worse.

The next day I found him in an awful state.

Every breath was a struggle.

His hands shook; a terrible thing for a sculptor.

His fever was high.

He was in considerable pain.

He told me he wanted to die.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I did not want him to die.

I began to cry so I wrote him a letter.

I wrote that I felt he was facing a choice between life and death and I wanted him to choose life.

I wrote that it wasn’t time for him to die. He did not know his grandchildren. We hadn’t spent enough time together.

I told him that I wanted him to want to live and to become healthier than he had been before. My parents lived on the penthouse floor of an apartment building in Dulwich, South London. The elevator only went to the 8th floor and they would have to climb the last flight. He would rest after every step. When he got out, I wanted him to forsake the elevator and climb all nine stories.

You might think I was too demanding. He needed sympathy, not orders. Perhaps.

I did not think it was time for him to die yet.

My mother was more direct. She shook him and said, “If you die, I will never forgive you.”

He went into intensive care that day. His emphysema had developed into pneumonia. Before the doctors could get that under control he caught a drug resistant bacterial infection. Natural selection is hard at work in our hospitals.

He stayed in intensive care for five weeks before it ended.

I felt I hadn’t been paying enough attention and now I was afraid it was going to be too late.

It was all over when he was released from Kings in January, 1996. He was feeble and emaciated, but he was alive.

He needed to learn how to use his legs. Climbing the stairs became part of his therapy. He soon stopped using the elevator.
He needed to learn how to use his hands. When a contest was held to design the “Millennium Mark” for the year 2000, my dad won. For 12 months, every piece of precious jewelry in the United Kingdom was stamped with his design. He received a 2,000 pound check as the winner. He gave the check to Kings Hospital as a gift.

When my parents moved back to the United States, we crossed the Atlantic on the cruise ship Maasdam. We went right through hurricane Cindy. It was a lot of fun. You should try it if you get a chance.

Fifty-five foot waves went crashing over the decks; seventy-five mile an hour cross winds. It was a wonderful week. Hurray for stabilizers and healing tanks. We did not get seasick.

During the hurricane the ship’s swimming pool developed massive waves. The children loved that.

They loved spending time with their granddad and hearing his stories.

My folks lived with us in New Jersey for a little while before they moved to Seattle to be near my sister. The weather in Seattle is like the weather in London. The busses smell much better in Seattle than in London.

The cigarette tar in his lungs wasn’t going to go somewhere else. Things became real bad real slow. Increasingly, he needed to exert a conscious effort to breath. Sleep meant no air. Breathing meant no sleep.

My mom and my sister went to the movies and suddenly my dad died.

It was time.

Love the living. Live for those who love you. Remember the dead.

How I Learned to Wiggle My Ears

OPD 07/01/2006

© 2006 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.net www.BrookeAllen.net
Originally published in International Family Magazine

You might be amazed to know that you have muscles that don’t get wired up to your brain unless you work at it.

When I was nine we moved to a new house that had a large field that had been used by a farmer to grow hay. Because we wanted to convert it to a lawn we had to remove many large rocks. We piled them behind the barn.

Ah hah,” my dad said one day, “We can paint the stones white and use them to line the driveway.”

He gave me a can of white paint, a brush, and the mission.

I began by painting one stone behind the barn. Then I carried it to the edge of the driveway. I did this a few times. It was a cumbersome process because the stones were quite heavy. And, it was annoying because the paintbrush kept drying between each use. And, it was messy because I wanted to get done that day so I didn’t wait for the paint to dry before moving each stone. A good deal of paint made its way from the stones to my hands and clothes.

After observing my efforts, my dad took one stone and the can of paint from behind the barn. He placed the unpainted stone beside the driveway and place the can of paint next to it.

I hadn’t seen him do that and it took me quite a while to discover what he had done. Who asked him to do that? Sometimes my dad would play cruel tricks.

After bringing the can and the stone back to the barn I continued to paint the stones and carry them to the driveway Then, for no apparent reason, my dad took a wheelbarrow out of the barn and parked it squarely on the path between the stones to the driveway. Navigating my way around an obstacle placed in my way was even more annoying.

Finally he put the wheelbarrow, inverted, over my pile of stones. I became infuriated. I angrily grabbed it by both handles and flung it a few yards out to the side. What was he trying to do to me?

It was back breaking work and I was exhausted by the time I was finished.

That afternoon my parents had a guest who stayed for dinner. The guest congratulated me on how hard he saw me work. He said I must be very strong.

My dad said, “He was working a lot harder than he needed to. He’s got to learn to use the muscle between his ears.”

That angered me. I wouldn’t have had to do any of it if he hadn’t made me do it.

As I went to sleep I thought about his comment about the muscle between my ears. I knew some of the kids in the school could wiggle their ears. Perhaps that is the muscle he was talking about. It took me a very long time to find that muscle, but eventually I did.

I was so excited and could hardly wait till morning when I would wiggle my ears and tell my dad that I finally figured out what he was talking about.

My dad had a really good laugh.

Years later so did I.