Jerry Adler

Stories by Jerry Adler

  • Their Amazing Grace

    It is vouchsafed to each of us, the gift of transcendence, if we but know how to use it. Justice Thurgood Marshall, who died last week at 84, surely did; seldom has the language been put to higher use than when Marshall appeared before the Supreme Court and by force of argument overcame the legal subjugation of 16 million of his--our!-fellow Americans. And Thomas Dorsey, born nine years earlier and buried on the same day ... well, he was a transcendent figure, too. From 30,000 churches across the land every Sunday, voices are raised in the music he put there, the words of salvation improbably joined to the rhythms of blues and stride piano to create the sound he called gospel. When Marshall opened the door to the promised land to his brothers and sisters, they were ready for it; they'd been singing about it in church for a generation already. ...
  • Loving Lorenzo

    Like most mothers, Michaela Odone was certain that her handsome, gifted son, Lorenzo, was destined for great things. That was before, at the age of 6, he began falling down and slurring his words, before his vision and hearing began to fail-baffling symptoms that were finally diagnosed as adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, a rare, inherited nerve disorder that typically causes death within months or years. Now, eight years later-eight years in which Lorenzo has not spoken a word or taken a step-she is more sure of it than ever. Out of his suffering, and his parents' perseverance in seeking a cure, has come a lifesaving treatment for hundreds of children like him, and ideas that may lead to a cure for multiple sclerosis. "You are special," Odone tells her son every day. "You are the most important boy in the world." This is the bedrock of her faith. If she had ever stopped believing it, he would have been dead years ago. ...
  • There's 8 Million Stories

    O you storied land of America: a nation awash in anecdotes, in monologues echoing from every street corner, in oral histories rising from every porch in the land. Statistics bear this out. America has more New York cabbies, Georgia filling-station proprietors and Oklahoma truck-stop waitresses than all of Western Europe. If current trends continue, by the next century every single person in America will be over 65, the prime years for reminiscence. To Will Ackerman, who made a tidy fortune peddling the glib chimes and bells of New Age music as founder of the Windham Hill label, all this undocumented anecdotage was a precious resource going to waste. Armed with a tape machine and a stack of contracts, he set out to record America's rich heritage of ... well, stuff that happened to people. ...
  • It's Not Easy Being Green

    The first environmental decision of the Clinton-Gore administration didn't involve endangered species, the greenhouse effect or the other high-concept issues facing the world in the 21st century. Instead, the vice president-elect injected himself into a local dispute over licensing an incinerator in a depressed industrial town of eastern Ohio-an issue so obscure that the protest movement had to settle for Martin Sheen as its official celebrity. Last week it wasn't so obscure anymore as full-page ads blossomed in The New York Times and The Washington Post calling on President-elect Clinton to allow the plant to open on schedule. The ads were an early warning of the problems Clinton will face in "putting people first," when people worried about their next meal square off with those who worry about their next breath. ...
  • Winter Of Discontent

    Too bad: it was shaping up to be a great season in Aspen, for those who call it their second home. The weather was great, and even if the weather turned lousy there were the holiday parties ahead, and even if the parties ended up being not so hot ... well, you'd still be rich, or you wouldn't even be there. Everything was fine until gay activists in Los Angeles called for a boycott of Colorado in reprisal for the state's narrow vote in favor of an amendment that would overturn local gay-rights laws. This posed what passes for a moral dilemma in the lives of people like Don Johnson, Vanna White, Jack Nicholson, George Hamilton and Goldie Hawn: whether to spend Christmas on the slopes of Aspen, or go to Tahoe or Jackson Hole instead. ...
  • Typing Without Keys

    As a financial writer for Newsday, a suburban New York daily, Susan Harrigan had what once was considered one of the safest jobs around: she sat at a desk and typed. The pain in her arms and hands began without warning in the spring of 1989, and soon she found herself unable to so much as hit a typewriter key. For more than a year, Harrigan, now 47, couldn't work, cook a meal or even turn a doorknob; she tied strings to her dresser drawers so she could open them with her teeth. "I didn't know I was capable of being in that much pain for so long," she says. She was given a variety of diagnoses, but they came down to this: that three years of typing against deadline on a word processor had caused permanent damage to the muscles, nerves and tendons of her arms. She was, as she contends in a lawsuit filed against the manufacturer of Newsday's word-processing equipment, a victim of her keyboard. ...
  • And You Thought Things Couldn't Get Any Worse

    In the end, when things go sour in a relationship it always comes down to the same thing, whether the parties are disposing of a pair of snow tires or a princedom: who gets what. Over the last few months, in an extraordinary series of meetings at Balmoral Castle, the world's most famously unhappy couple have worked out a tentative agreement to, in effect, live apart without benefit of divorce. And while the very royal are indeed different from the rest of us-they have their own retinues, for instance-in some ways they are no different from anyone else you might read about in the gossip pages, like the Trumps. She gets their apartment at Kensington Palace, in London, convenient to the San Lorenzo restaurant. He gets Highgrove, the stately mansion in Gloucester, 100 miles from the detested skyscrapers of the capital but tantalizingly close to the residence of his dear friend Camilla Parker Bowles. She gets to live the cosmopolitan life she enjoys, and to work for her causes: AIDS,...
  • Light Work If You Can Get It

    They are, literally, the unsung Americans. While John Henry was being a steel-drivin' man, Lord Lord, they spent the morning in the toolshed, complaining that their hammers just didn't feel right. Diego Rivera never painted them as heroic figures hanging out in the men's room reading the papers, and Studs Terkel missed interviewing them because they usually went home early with a headache. They are America's goof-offs, and if they noticed that Woody Guthrie never dedicated a ballad to the men who snuck away from building the Grand Coulee Dam to go tubing down the Columbia River. . . well, they probably were too busy with the crossword puzzle to care. Until now. ...
  • Beware the Glove Compartment

    The United States: Land of... well, states. This is so obvious that we hardly need think about it. Most maps don't show the United States as a distinct entity at all, but a crazy quilt of 48 assorted shapes filling the space between Canada and Mexico. Most of us get our notion of local geography from road maps, lushly depicting a nation composed of states whose principal features are state parks, picnic areas and rest stops. Highway maps are drawn according to a perspective unique in cartography, in which Vermont can actually take up more space than Oklahoma (24 by 36 inches, unfolded, versus 18 by 33). Beyond the borders are the shadowy regions where roads run off the edge of the paper; drab territories devoid of scenic routes or historic battlefields, places which might be labeled, like the early Renaissance charts that bore warnings of monsters beyond the sea: Here Be Strange License Plates. ...
  • Must Boys Always Be Boys?

    It's hard to be a little girl, going to school every morning with boys who believe in their wormy little hearts that girls stink. It was particularly hard for 7-year-old Cheltzie Hentz, who had to ride to her school in Eden Prairie, Minn., on a bus with boys who called her "bitch" and a driver who seemed to think it was funny. "These boys were making fun of the little girls because they don't have penises!" recalls her horrified mother, Sue Mutziger. Over five months Mutziger sent 22 pages of complaints to school officials, who lectured the boys and briefly suspended several troublemakers from riding the bus. With a new driver this year, the teasing stopped-but Mutziger still thought the schools weren't doing enough to protect her daughter. So she took stronger action: she filed a complaint with the state Department of Human Rights. ...
  • A CITY BEHIND WALLS

    In the whole, it's not too surprising that the Shatto Recreation Center near downtown Los Angeles survived last April's riots unscathed while buildings all around were looted and torched. There's not a lot to steal inside, except for some tennis racquets, and even an enraged mob would have to be exceptionally perverse to destroy its own basketball court. But it also is a building that defies you to burn it down, or even scratch your initials in it. Its roof rises from the ground in a graceful roll of galvanized steel, and the front and back facades are almost windowless expanses of textured brick--a surface designed to be as inhospitable to graffiti as a wall covered in English ivy. For many property owners, the lesson of the Shatto center in the wake of the riots is clear: if I had a steel roof on my house, it would take an atom bomb to burn it down. ...
  • From Sea To Shining Sea

    In midsummer, the waters off Maine are at the serving temperature of white Burgundy, but they hold no terror for me. Tom Bergh, the owner of the Maine Island Kayak Co., has equipped my body for immersion with the same care nature lavishes on the coconut. And although over the next two days we will never leave the sheltering arms of Penobscot Bay, skirting islands at about the average distance a Madison Avenue bus keeps from the curb, our kayaks are packed with enough survival gear to paddle to Iceland. I have on full-length polypropylene underwear, waterproof rubber pants, a wet suit and a Gore-Tex sea-kayaking jacket that all by itself cost as much as the suit I was married in. I have a sea-kayaking hat festooned with more zippers, grommets, snaps and pouches than a carry-on suitcase. The first rule of sea kayaking is to know your equipment, but the person who said that clearly never encountered a six-page instruction booklet for a hat. I have a life vest that could support a...
  • At Last, Another Bright Idea

    Consider a light bulb-the ordinary, incandescent kind, invented by Thomas Edison in 1879. It is a big improvement on the candle, but it works essentially the same way, by heating something until it glows. This obviously is not the most efficient way to produce light; some 90 percent of the energy consumed by incandescent bulbs is wasted as heat, and the filament burns out after six to 12 months of normal use. A fluorescent bulb, which produces light by the excitation of phosphor atoms coating the inside of a glass cylinder, eliminates these drawbacks. But the tubular model used in most offices never really caught on in homes. "Compact" fluorescents that screw into ordinary sockets have recently become available, but even they are too big to fit some lamps and fixtures, and cannot be used with dimmer switches. Last week a small California company announced that it had solved these problems. By next year, it plans to market the "E-[for electronic]Lamp," a bulb that will be completely...
  • A Life And Death Puzzle

    There are many puzzling and disturbing things about the outbreak of birth defects in Brownsville, Texas, in recent years, not the least of which is the way it was discovered. Connie Riezenman, the infection-control nurse at Valley Regional Medical Center, recalls being mildly surprised when two mothers showed up within 24 hours in March 1991, carrying fetuses with anencephaly-an invariably fatal condition in which the brain fails to develop. A month later, in a span of 36 hours, three more mothers were admitted with the same diagnosis. "It was very scary," she recalls. "We thought, 'Oh my God, when is the next one going to happen?"' ...
  • Abortion's Long Siege

    They see themselves as the heirs of the civil-rights movement, leading a great national crusade on behalf of the weak and disenfranchised-except for those who believe they are following the early Christian martyrs, or the Dutch Resistance. They draw inspiration from Thurgood Marshall's 20-year fight against school segregation. They do have one advantage over Marshall: he didn't get to pick the justices who would rule on his case. This week, as the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case that may well mark the penultimate victory over Roe v. Wade, abortion opponents hope to show that in the calculus of American democracy, battles are won on the depth of your convictions, the strength of your arguments-and the number of justices you already have on your side. ...
  • Splashing In The Gene Pool

    Radishes as big as yams! Skim milk right from the cow! Carrots that taste like apples, cucumbers that taste like something, cotton plants that taste like rayon (to boll weevils). In the early 1970s, when scientists discovered the principles of recombinant DNA, the only miracle that seemed beyond the reach of genetic engineering was the kosher pig. At the same time, environmentalists warned that science might accidentally produce a better kudzu instead. Last week, as the White House announced that regulations would be eased on genetically engineered products in the hopes of spurring their development, it was apparent that both the fears and hopes of the early years had been exaggerated. As far as is known, none of the plagues that have descended on the head of beleaguered humanity in the last decade was the product of inadvertent (or malicious) genetic tinkering. And as for revolutionary new vegetables ... well, at least one variety has gone on sale at some supermarkets. They are ...
  • A Minaret Over Manhattan

    The most impressive new house of worship in New York City sits askew the corner of Third Avenue and 96th Street, where the high-rises of the Upper East Side begin to give way to the housing projects and tenements of Spanish Harlem. It is a big, square granite building, with a vast copper-covered dome, and atop the dome is the thin golden crescent of a nearly new moon. It is a mosque, and for nearly a million Muslims in and around New York City it is--apart from small converted storefronts and brownstones scattered here and there-the first one they have ever had. ...
  • A Hard Lesson Or A Hoax?

    Something strange is going on in Red River County. Either six high-school students in rural Johntown, Texas, are infected with HIV, the virus that causes. AIDS-a rate of infection seven times higher than the national average--or an AIDS counselor in the area has wrongly identified a horrifying epidemic. Last week officials began an investigation both of the reported infections themselves and of AIDS counselor Dona Spence, who first made them public. Whatever the investigators find, the outcome will be shocking. ...
  • Was It Good For You, Too?

    If you've ever wondered if you have what it takes to be on TV...well, "Real Sex," Ion Home Box Office, proves that you do. The people having sex on "Real Sex" are human beings just as God made them. If you've forgotten what women look like without breast implants, the women on "Real Sex" will remind you. The men on "Real Sex" invite comparison to no other species. In answer to the question that Americans have asked since the start of the sexual revolution-do people really do that?-the show proves not only that they do, but that they use the same body parts you saw in the shower this morning. ...
  • Hey, I'm Terrific!

    The Latest National Elixir - Self-Esteem - Is Supposed To Cure Everything From Poor Grades To Bad Management. Instead, It Gives Feeling Good A Bad Name
  • Down In The Dumps

    Christmas-season evictions have been a staple newspaper item since the days when landlords wore silk top hats and waxed their mustaches, but even so there was something peculiarly unsettling about the picture of William A. Sullivan standing with his furniture on the street in front of his house in northwest Washington last month. It wasn't just the Oriental carpets, china and books filling the sidewalk, or the fact that the four-story brick house rented for $2,500 a month. It was the fact that Sullivan, 52, described himself to The Washington Post as an "independent consultant" in international business. All over the country business-school graduates are telling themselves that if they lose their fancy banking jobs, they can always become consultants in international business. If those guys can't make their rent, what hope is there for the rest of us? ...
  • The Miracle Of The Keys

    I've always believed I was born to play the piano, and so has everyone else who has heard me sing. This may have something to do with my training as a journalist, a profession that has banished tonal nuance in favor of a rigid insistence on accuracy. Of all the ways of translating the motions of a human hand into music, a keyboard is the most straightforward and mathematically precise. The keys bear a one-to-one correspondence to the notes, so that the infinitude of mistakes it is possible to produce on, say, a violin, is reduced to a discrete, manageable handful. In piano playing, as in writing, it's all a matter of pressing the right keys. ...
  • Safer Sex

    This is a story about the power of love, as it is understood by a certain 17-year-old San Francisco highschool student. Carmen had sex for the first time when she was 13, with a teenage boy from the neighborhood. She had symptoms of venereal disease-possibly chlamydia-at 14 and was finally treated for it a year after that, when she saw a gynecologist for the first time. Now, when she has sexual relations with her teenage boyfriend, she doesn't use a condom because she thinks she has something better. "Even if he was screwing around nothing would happen because he says he'll never do anything that would mess me up, and I believe him," she explains, changing buses on her way home from her Roman Catholic school. "We don't need no condom because he says he loves me."Love: next to the mosquito, probably the greatest disseminator of deadly microbes ever devised by the cruel hand of fate. Not only does it draw people into intimate contact, it addles their brains in the process. For the...
  • Living With The Virus

    We all die of something, and the only thing that changed for Magic Johnson when he tested positive for the AIDS virus is that he now knows what he will probably die from, if not necessarily when. There are, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control, between 1 million and 1.5 million people like Johnson in America, and roughly 10 million in the world--people whose blood conceals a minute speck of nucleic acid with the power to lay bare their immune defenses and leave them helpless in the face of the most ordinary infections. What sets Johnson apart, other than being famous, is that he knows he has it. Most of the people with the AIDS virus don't know who they are-and neither does anyone else. ...
  • Dining With Wolves

    When Noreen DiPlacido, a Florida nurse, arrived for a visit in Chicago last month, she thought it was a great opportunity to be in the audience for "The Oprah Winfrey Show." But tickets were booked far in advance, so DiPlacido got close to her favorite TV talk-show host another way-she bought lunch from her. DiPlacido ate at The Eccentric, Oprah Winfrey's restaurant in the River North neighborhood of gentrified warehouses. "I thought she might be there," DiPlacido says. She wasn't, but DiPlacido left happy anyway, having at least made the acquaintance of a dish called Oprah's Potatoes: mashed, lumpy, with horseradish. ...
  • Striking A Nerve

    They may be neurosurgeons or typists, police officers or telephone operators, construction workers or even members of Congress. Last week women around the country who disagree on a hundred other issues listened to Anita Hill's allegations and heard themselves talking. They remembered the boss who threatened them, the co-worker whose lewd remarks echoed for hours. They remembered how angry they felt and how they pushed that anger down deep and how they tried to forget-and how they couldn't forget. ...
  • What A Swell Ride It Was

    Like other eccentric hobbies-breeding unusual pets, say, or collecting early blues recordings--an appreciation for Depression-era architecture brings out the fanatic in people. It takes perseverance; art deco buildings tend not to be clustered in neat historic districts, but salted among the gas stations of early highway-strip developments or on the workaday fringes of downtown. They are frequently small, mundane or obscure structures, which makes the battles over preserving them all the fiercer. Not everyone accepts that warehouses and drive-in laundries are part of our precious architectural patrimony. ...
  • The Future Of The Bomb

    With a single order from the commander in chief, the longest continuous alert in the history of warfare was called off last week. For 42 years-the entire lifetimes of two thirds of the U.S. population--the bombers of the Strategic Air Command have been on either airborne or "strip" alert: armed and fueled, with pilots standing by, so that the final act in the history of human idiocy could take place with the mechanical efficiency of a pit crew changing a tire. Finally the crews stood down, the bombs were unloaded from the bays and the big B-1s and B-52s were parked off the runways. And do the 250 million people who were under their protection feel any less safe for it? ...