Jerry Adler

Stories by Jerry Adler

  • A Matter Of Faith

    Driving hime from Thanksgiving dinner in New London, Conn., to Spencertown, N.Y., the Kirsch family talked about the tree. They've had one every Christmas since Claudia Ricci and Richard Kirsch got married in 1978--even though a rabbi helped marry them, and even though their three children are being raised as Jews and even though Claudia herself, baptized a Roman Catholic, became a Jew eight years ago. Over that time the tree has come to seem increasingly out of place in their home. ""How would I feel if the rabbi saw this?" Ricci wondered. ...
  • The Screeching Halt

    Orville and Wilbur Wright had barely touched down on the North Carolina sand when military strategists began plotting ways to fight in the air. There had already been a few experiments with hot-air balloons as scouting devices. While the U.S. Army contracted with the Wright brothers for the first military airplane, the navy appointed a captain, Washington I. Chambers, to invent naval aeronautics. His problems were the most basic: how to enable pilots to take off from, and land on, a floating ship's small runway? The landing was solved first. A civilian pilot, Eugene Ely, flew a 50-horsepower Glenn Curtiss plane onto the armored cruiser Pennsylvania on Jan. 18, 1911. The landing platform had been rigged with ropes attached to sandbags. Aviation pioneer Curtiss had suggested a hook on the tail of the plane that would snag the ropes and stop the plane. Thus the "tailhook," now greatly strengthened to stop jets, was born. Chambers's idea for the takeoff was a catapult, driven by...
  • The 24-Hour Banker

    Now that practically everything in life is a 24-hour-a-day proposition, we forget that there used to be such a thing as "banker's hours," and many of them were spent waiting in line. It was in just such a line that a Dallas marketing executive named Don Wetzel was standing impatiently in 1968 when he had the inspiration that turned into the ATM, or automatic teller machine. Mechanical cash dispensers had existed in Europe. But they were clunky affairs that generally required paper vouchers that the machines, in a foreshadowing of ATM headaches to come, would "eat." Wetzel, with the help of two engineers from Docutel Inc., developed an ATM that operated with reusable plastic cards. Their magnetic strips contained a personal code that the user had to enter on a keyboard, along with instructions on what the computer should do (anything, evidently, but break a 20). The first such ATM debuted in 1969 in Rockville Centre, N.Y. But true networking didn't take hold until banks hooked up to...
  • Clip And Save

    Nobody's quite sure who came up with the first paper clip, but it's a good thing somebody did. Imagine having to tie papers together with a ribbon threaded through a series of holes, or being forced to fasten documents with rust-prone steel pins. These became indignities of the past with the introduction of the modern, bent-wire paper clip around the turn of the century. A Norwegian named Johan Vaaler may be the man responsible: he ginned up a few clip designs--including one that looks similar to the now standard Gem design--in 1899 and patented them in America in 1901. But by that time, a few other paper-clip patents were on the books. In 1900 Cornelius Brosnan of Springfield, Mass., patented a similar device called the Konaclip. A year earlier a patent had been issued to William Middlebrook of Waterbury, Conn., for a machine to manufacture paper clips, and its output, too, resembled the Gem. "When all is said and done, any attempt to sort out the origins and the patent history of...
  • Three Magic Wands

    As a teenager, his biographers tell us, Henry Ford loved to fix pocket watches. He would open up the backs and poke around inside that marvelous universe of balance wheels, springs, gears and ratchets, then put them all together again to witness the miracle of their motion synchronized to the spinning of the Earth itself. Mass-produced watches were one of the highest achievements of 19th-century ingenuity. In the 1700s, the English inventor John Harrison had labored for a lifetime to make a single clock accurate enough to keep time on an ocean voyage; Ford, before he devoted himself to the motorcar, calculated he could build watches by the millions at a cost of about 30 cents each--although he doubted that many people would ever need to own one.If he were alive today, Ford would find the world awash in clocks and watches, silently blinking away the minutes of the night from every coffee maker and microwave, but the exercise of taking them apart would be pretty unrewarding. He would...
  • Bundles Of. . .Joy?

    MANY PARENTS, LIKE THE MCCAUGHEYS, regard their children as gifts from God, which is very good for the children. The implied corollary--God wants you to get out of bed and warm up that bottle--is one reason most babies make it past infancy. Even though she hadn't had any children yet, Brooke Zacher of Florida, 31, understood perfectly well that a gift from God comes with strings attached, which is why she remembers crying for three days after being told last spring she was pregnant with triplets. That's about all she remembers of 1997, in fact, having gone almost without sleep since she brought Tyler, Jacob and Grant home in June. She thinks the McCaugheys may have been carried away with the thrill of having septuplets. Or, more bluntly, ""I think that woman in Iowa is totally nuts. And if she's not nuts now, she will be.'' ...
  • Nobody Beats The Pentagon

    IT WAS A BOLD STRIKE BY the U.S. Air Force, in the one theater where American supremacy has never been challenged: military procurement. Only the world's remaining superpower could rise to the challenge of buying 21 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets it doesn't need, at several million dollars a copy, just so another country wouldn't get them instead. But for the men and women who sign the checks for the B-2 stealth bomber, it was all in a day's work.The operation began last February when the former Soviet republic of Moldova, a nation of more than 4.4 million near the Black Sea, bounded by Romania and Ukraine, advised the United States that it was negotiating to sell what amounted to virtually the entire air force it inherited at independence. The prospective buyer: Iran, which already owned 30 MiG-29s, but none of the nuclear-capable S models, the most advanced fighter in the Soviet arsenal. Moldova had 14 MiG-29 S's, along with a few older models, and thought it could make better use...
  • The Civil Warriors

    THEY WERE THE FIRST American heroes after the Revolutionary War, and the models for all those who came after: fearless, supremely competent and self-reliant, even while living off a government expense account, which they overspent by some 1,500 percent. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark went, literally, off the edge of the map. At a time when the United States essentially ended at the Mississippi River, they walked, paddled and rode across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and back again. With the bicentennial of their expedition approaching in 2004, and with a best-selling account in the bookstores (Stephen E. Ambrose's ""Undaunted Courage''), Lewis and Clark have emerged from the shadow of Disneyland legends like Davy Crockett. They stand at the intersection of such potent trends as multiculturalism (they had a Native American woman translator, Sacagawea), regional cuisine (they were the first Americans to eat grizzly bear and prairie dog) and, of...
  • For Humans, Evolution Ain't What It Used To Be

    AMONG LARGE LAND animals, there's one species that eats the others for breakfast, and you know which it is. The rise of human beings to the top of the food chain was so astonishingly swift and decisive that it's natural to view the evolution of intelligent mammals-us, in other words-as preordained, the working out of biology's deepest principles. And natural, also, to assume that the same trends will continue, filling the future with ever more perfect humans. If you like Homo sapiens (so cute, the way those thumbs work! so clever, they never run out of stuff to say!) you'll love what evolves out of them. ...
  • How Kids Mourn

    THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY,'' SAYS Geoff Lake, who is 15 now, and was 11 when his mother, Linda, died of a rare form of cancer. He is only starting to realize it, but at each crucial passage of life--graduation, marriage, the birth of children--there will be a face missing from the picture, a kiss never received, a message of joy bottled up inside, where it turns into sorrow. His sleep will be shadowed by ghosts, and the bittersweet shock of awakening back into a world from which his mother is gone forever. If he lives to be 100, with a score of descendants, some part of him will still be the boy whose mother left for the hospital one day and never came home. ...
  • We'll Take Manhattan

    TOUGH TOWN, NEW YORK. BEFORE leaving Sarasota, Fla., for last week's free concert by country singer Garth Brooks, Mary Steele took a few sensible precautions, such as leaving all her jewelry home and telling her mother who should get it in case she died in a suicide bombing in the subway. Then she and her boyfriend, Paul Rinehart, drove right past New York to a motel 50 miles away in Connecticut, having been warned that it would be useless to look for parking any closer to Central Park. From Chippewa Falls, Wis., John Kloss, a truck driver, and his wife, Roxanne, a schoolteacher, drove straight down 57th Street en route to the North Meadow, keeping one hand on the window crank as a first line of defense against carjackers. But they made it safely through the gantlet of giggling high-school girls lined up to get into Planet Hollywood. Later, relaxing on the grass amid 250,000 fellow Americans in cowboy hats and a handful of local TV reporters attempting to mimic a slack-jawed country...
  • Chariots Of Fire

    stock-car racing, that if they didn't have a race to go to, they would be just as happy to spread a little 10W-40 on the street and watch the neighbors crash into each other. But anyone who goes to a race can see that's not true anymore, now that ticket prices have been raised enough to keep out the riff-raff. ""No sir, I don't come here to watch a wreck,'' says one man, wedged into a folding chair on a bluff above the straightaway at New Hampshire International Speedway, where the Jiffy Lube 300 was run earlier this month. He is a model stock-car fan, a living monument to American prosperity, glad to fork over nearly $1,000 to park his RV on this hillside and watch the race without the risk of ever running out of beer. He has on a Dale Jarrett T shirt that, spread out, would just about cover the hood of Jarrett's Ford. ""I don't want to see nobody get hurt, that's for sure,'' the man says. ""Even if it's Jeff Gordon.'' ...
  • Where The Books Are

    THEY ARE WHAT ANGKOR WAT IS TO Cambodia, or Disney World to America: the very souls of their countries, rendered in glass, wood and brick. In Paris, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France - four towers at the corners of a vast plaza - opened last winter with an exhibition whose title (""All the World's Knowledge'') suggests that whatever library might occupy second place, you don't need to know about it. And in London, passersby can at last glimpse the shape of the British Library, whose architecture Prince Charles once famously likened to an academy for secret police. It is the most expensive building in Britain and its foremost monument to the national pastime of muddling through. Or it will be, if it's ever finished.For architect Colin St. John Wilson, the British Library has ruled his life since the fateful day 35 years ago when he was asked to design a new home for the book collection of the British Museum. Over the next decade and a half he did two completely different plans for...
  • 'Road Rage': We're Driven To Destruction

    In the simple act of merging into traffic on the highway you can see how evolutionary history has failed to prepare human beings for life in the 20th century. It is there that humanity's powerful instinct for territoriality, designed to operate at foot speed, is tested in the split seconds that separate a merely assertive maneuver from a provocative one at 60 miles an hour. And it was at such a juncture that the lives of a 24-year-old mother named Tracie Alfieri and 29-year-old Rene Andrews came together for a few fateful seconds last fall, at an on-ramp to I-71 near Cincinnati. Apparently enraged by the manner in which Andrews pulled into her lane, Alfieri, according to witnesses, attempted to pass her on the right shoulder, then pulled around Andrews's car on the left, cut in front and hit the brakes - causing Andrews to swerve into a stopped tractor-trailer, resulting in multiple injuries and the loss of the 6-month-old fetus she was carrying. Convicted on May 2 of aggravated...
  • Coming Soon On The Thames: A Giant Whoopee Cushio

    AS A TOURIST ATTRACTION, the prime meridian, passing within a few miles of central London, is one of the world's great unexploited natural resources. Rich in historical associations and scientific significance, offering people the unique experience of standing with one foot in each hemisphere, it still somehow fails to make most visitors' "must see" lists. Tourists, perhaps, are put off going to see something whose description invariably begins: "An imaginary line..." But it is precisely the imaginary nature of the meridian that gives it marketing synergy with another great abstraction, the millennium. Jan. 1, 2000, will arrive locally at dozens of instants around the globe, but by agreement of the 1884 International Meridian Conference it becomes official for the entire world "at the moment of mean midnight" in the London suburb of Greenwich. More or less in the same spirit in which Columbus, Ohio, welcomed tourists commemorating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America,...
  • Magma Force

    IT'S A QUESTION ONLY HOLLYWOOD--which can make up any answer it pleases--would dare ask: why are there no volcanoes in southern California? To the north and south of Los Angeles, the "Ring of Fire" stretches for thousands of miles of Pacific coast; underneath the city and its surroundings, the earth shakes and cracks, but nothing erupts out of it. If "Volcano," which opened last week (review), suggests that the forces of nature were just waiting for mankind to build a subway under Wilshire Boulevard--well, science offers a more reassuring explanation. But geologists also warn that even though, in most years, as many Americans die from volcanoes as are abducted by aliens, a major disaster is only a matter of time--human time, not geologic. It will kill not by fire but by ice, mixed with rocks, mud, dust and ashes--less photogenic than the movie's roiling, 2,000-degree lava but just as deadly, and even harder to escape. ...
  • Rudy To World: Drop Dead

    IT'S ONE OF THE LONGEST-RUNNING diplomatic disputes of the century: New York versus the rest of the world. Even after the retirement of famously combative mayor Ed Koch and the breakup of his nemesis, the Soviet Union, New York remains the only American city with its own foreign policy. The difference is that with the defeat of communism, current mayor Rudolph Giuliani has been free to focus on an issue dearer to New Yorkers than freedom itself, namely parking. Just last month, he got the State Department to agree to take away the license plates of diplomats who haven't paid their parking tickets in more than a year. At the United Nations, this was widely regarded as one of the gravest abuses of diplomatic hospitality since Philip IV moved the papacy to Avignon for most of the 14th century. Work on the great issues of war and peace ground momentarily to a halt as the Committee on Relations With the Host Country last week voted, 13-1, to refer this outrage to the General Assembly. In...
  • Two Days On Top Of The World

    IT IS ONE OF THE CRUELEST SURPRISES of middle age, that life holds challenges for which no amount of time on the StairMaster can prepare one. Climbing Mount Everest, for instance; the eight men and women who died there on May 10 and 11 last year were all fit, experienced climbers, and two of them--expedition leaders Rob Hall and Scott Fischer--were considered among the best in the world. But the mountain claims whom it will, the strong and the struggling alike--which is the essential lesson of Into Thin Air (293 pages. Villard. $24), journalist Jon Krakauer's firsthand account of those two fateful days on the highest place on Earth. ...
  • Unbeliever's Quest

    CARL SAGAN, THE FAMOUS SCIENTIST and author, never asked for anyone to pray for him, although in his final illness many people did anyway. For two years prayers for his health filled the great Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. They rose (if prayers do rise) to the heaven Sagan had never seen in all his years of searching the sky, and were heard (if prayers are heard) by the God Sagan never called on. And God (if he exists) let Sagan die anyway, late last year, at the untimely age of 62, leaving behind a wife, five children and much unfinished work on the earth he loved so well. But he died in what amounted, for him, to a state of grace: resisting the one temptation to which almost everyone submits in the end, the temptation to believe. ...
  • The Nus Of The Weak

    One Jew said to another: ""They say a poor man has no mazel. Do you believe that?'' ...
  • 'Your Baby Has A Problem'

    THERE IS A PROBLEM," THE doctors say. But even before the words are out you've seen it in their eyes, sensed it in the way they peered at the baby as it struggled into life, bearing the mark of a moment when, in the twining dance of chromosomes that we call conception, something microscopic stuck or came undone. A problem. Two soft folds of tissue, groping toward one another in the darkness of the womb, failed to meet, somewhere in the three-dimensional complexities of the embryonic heart. Or the skein of nerves, spreading intricately from the bulb of the brain, left an unaccountable gap where no sensations flow, no muscles feel the impulse to move. And of all the things you might have wished for your child--wisdom or beauty or simple happiness--you are left forever after with one simple desire, a word that now embodies all your hope and longing: normal. ...
  • It's A Wise Father Who Knows. . .

    His is often the face the newborn sees, looming out of the dimness of the delivery room, open-mouthed with wonder at the creature springing into being from his wife's very body. Men who witness the birth of their child almost invariably react the same way, says Dr. Kyle Pruett, a professor of psychiatry at the Yale University Child Study Center; they are "taken over" by the experience, electrified to realize that they have brought a human being into the world, a new life whose fate is inextricably and eternally bound up with theirs. Women, he adds, "describe the experience quite differently. Long before the baby's born, they've already been taken over." ...
  • He Gave At The Office

    DOES CHUCK FEENEY EVER WON- der what it would be like to be a billionaire? Someone, say, like Robert Miller, his college friend and former business partner. According to newspaper accounts, Miller has homes in New York, Gstaad, Paris and Hong Kong, as well as a 32,000-acre estate in Yorkshire, England, where he is restoring the grouse moor. When his daughter married Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, Queen Elizabeth II hosted a party at Claridges. The same accounts describe Miller as ""obsessed with secrecy,'' although when you throw three-day parties where your wife arrives in a hot-air balloon dressed as a South American princess, it's hard to keep your name out of the papers altogether.Feeney could have had all that, too, except that back in 1984 he turned over his share of the business he and Miller founded together, Duty Free Shoppers, Ltd. (DFS), to a charitable foundation he created. Including other investments, Feeney gave the foundation something like $500 million, an amount...
  • Fast And Furious Fun

    IT IS THE PROMISE OF AMERICA, FULFILLED. A NATION OF limitless, unbounded fun, of mountain majesties iridescent with Gore-Tex-backed rock climbers and skies filled to the vast horizon with direct-satellite broadcasts of minor-league hockey games. It is a vision that dates from the very dawn of America, when John Adams wrote of studying war and diplomacy so that succeeding generations could be schooled in agriculture, industry, music, art and poetry--never imagining that casino gambling, Snowboarding, golf and gourmet dining would join that roster as indispensable amenities in the nation he helped found. It was for this that Lewis and Clark trudged relentlessly through the finest backpacking terrain in the world, and generations of comics risked dying night after night on the spotlit floors of Las Vegas--a city where, if the number of hotel rooms (now about 100,000) continues to increase at 10 percent a year, sometime around the year 2074 the entire population of the United States...
  • The Strange World Of JonBenet

    IN PHOTOGRAPHS, HER CHARACTERISTIC expression is a fixed smile of concentration, earnest and studied. It could be perky, coy or sweet, although the only sure way to tell is by her costume. Strapless ball gown, sailor suit, swimsuit--JonBenet Ramsey, who was found murdered in the basement of her parents' home in Boulder, Colo., the day after Christmas, worked hard at winning beauty contests, but her mother must have worked even harder. And her father paid for her portfolio of professional photographs, a world beyond the artless family-album snapshots we are accustomed to seeing when a child is killed. But the effect is distancing rather than illuminating: in all the miles of film that were lavished on JonBenet it is hard to find one frame that captures her soul.But that's the point--the pictures come from a world in which she was rewarded precisely for appearing to be something other than what she was, a 6-year-old little girl. Awful enough that a child should die, and JonBenet's...
  • In The Shadow Of Their Past

    THIS WAS TO have been the year that Europe put the second world war behind it. There were no more 50th anniversaries to commemorate; with the passing of French President FranCois Mitterrand, there was virtually no one left on the world stage who could be called to account for what he did or didn't do a half-century ago. But the war was not just an episode in Europe's thousand-year history of internecine aggression; it was a crime that will haunt the world's conscience forever. With each revelation from the archives, each new interpretation by historians, the nations of Europe, wincing, confront again the horrors in their past. ...
  • The Riches Of Rags

    THE REASON THERE IS NO FASHION designers' Hall of Fame is that most of the people who deserve admission would accept only if no one else were allowed in. So the case for the greatness of Yves Saint Laurent is, necessarily, subjective. But before Calvin and Ralph, there was Yves; before even Halston, there was Yves. If not for him, the others might have gone into catering, because Yves Saint Laurent in effect created the role of the fashion designer as a living brand name, a device for endlessly recycling fame into department-store sales. As noted in an illuminating new biography of Saint Laurent by the English journalist Alice Rawsthorn (404 pages. Doubleday. $27.50), long before there were Air Jordans, there were no fewer than 130 products bearing the YSL of ineffable chicdom. ...
  • Too Dangerous To Set Free?

    SHOULD LEROY HENDRICKS be set free? There is no question that Hendricks, 62, has done some terrible things and may be capable of doing them again. He has been committing sexual crimes against children as young as 7 for most of his life, dating back to a conviction for exposing himself to two girls when he was just 21. For years he abused his own stepdaughter and stepson, and the last time he was out of jail, back in 1984, he attempted to fondle two 13-year-old boys who had walked into a Wichita, Kans., store where he worked. At a hearing in 1994, Hendricks admitted that he most likely was still a pedophile. Asked if he could guarantee that he wouldn't molest again, he said simply, "The only way to guarantee that is to die." ...
  • Toppling Towers

    IMAGINE LEVELING WHOLE BLOCKS of decaying, crime-ridden slums in one great sweep, and building in their stead modern apartments with plenty of light and fresh air and high-rise views. Think about replacing crowded streets and decrepit playgrounds with paths for pedestrians and bicycles, winding between wide lawns. Picture that, and in 30 years or so you'll have re-created... Cabrini-Green, the notorious Chicago housing project, eight of whose 23 buildings are to be demolished in what the city administration hails as a great step forward in public housing. ...
  • King Of The Minimals

    THERE ARE 50 DIFFERENT COLORS OF white, writes British architect John Pawson in his ecstatic celebration of emptiness, "minimum" (271 pages. Phaidon/Chronicle. $95), although the only way to see them is in a perfectly empty room. Pawson, whose glisteningly spare design for Calvin Klein's New York store infuses even a $140 shirt with the sacred, Zen-like aura of "wabi," or voluntary poverty, draws his inspiration from the great minimalist architect Mies van der Robe-not just what he said and wrote, but his exquisitely eloquent silences. Pawson's architecture-austere, but ridiculously expensive; simple, yet bizarrely impractical-raises design to a kind of monomania, which helps explain his appeal to the great lifestyle monomaniac of our era, Martha Stewart. ...
  • Knocking Their Eyeballs Out

    THERE ARE MORE THAN 100 NATIVE American casinos in the United States, and the best thing you can say for their design is that no one ever got lost in one trying to find the slot machines. But for their new casino, the Mohegan tribe of eastern Connecticut, which has suffered for more than a century under the onus of James Fenimore Cooper's premature obituary, didn't want just another soulless shed for emptying wallets. They wanted a place that said ""Native American'' with a little class, which is why they turned to New York architect David Rockwell. Sheaves of wheat, peeled logs, stretched animal hides--Rockwell used all of these things in trendy Manhattan restaurants before he even met a Mohegan. When the tribal elders got a look at Rockwell's plan for a great soaring circular space whose four entrances would be themed to the seasons, it was one of the greatest moments in American gambling since some guy looked at Liberace and said, Gee, I wonder if this guy can play Vegas? ...
  • Adultery

    In the 90's, infidelity sparks more outrage than it did a few decades ago. And More of the cheaters are women. ...