Neil deGrasse Tyson explains to his Guest Co-Host, comedian Eddie Brill, what the distinct difference is between a scientist and a charlatan. Want to hear Neil's entire discussion with Eddie? "StarTalk Radio" airs on Saturday, May 27th & Sunday, May 28th at 5 & 10 PM EST...only on SiriusXM Insight, Channel 121. ...
I once went nearly seven years without seeing snow. In a row! Now I know that some folks have lived a whole lifetime without seeing snow. Without throwing a snowball. Without sledding. Without Jack Frost nipping at who knows.
For me, six plus years seemed like a lifetime. I moved to Florida with my mom, my stepfather and my sister in August of 1970. My sis and I would make trips up north to NYC to visit our “real” father, but those ventures were always in the summer, when school was on a break.
Summers weren’t kind in Hollywood, Florida. Hot and sticky and humid. Yet it wasn’t as blistering as it was in NYC. Stifling heat. The stench of urine. Winds out of the north northwest at zero miles per hour. Gusting to zero by later that day.
I loved growing up in NYC in the sixties. Great schools. Fun friends Playing sports on the streets and in the playgrounds. Music blaring from the radio. If you timed it right, you’d hear Frankie Valli. The wonderment of having all four seasons.
Winter was a blast. Bundled up in warm love, and outerwear. Gloves and mittens and snowballs. Oh my! It was magical. And if the world was tuned in at the right time, we’d get treated to a snowfall on Christmas Eve.
There was no snow in South Florida. Ok once. Not while I lived there.
January 19, 1977. 28 degrees and snowing in Ft Lauderdale. 27 degrees and snowing in Palm Beach. I was in Boston that day, a freshman at Emerson College.
In college is where I first saw snow again. I was in psychology class. One of the best teachers I ever had. The Reverend, Doctor Peter Vincent Corea. We called him Chick. And not behind his back.
He was an amazing instructor. Took 9 credits with him. Nearly minored in Chick.
He was a very wealthy man who was rumored to have only been paid a dollar a year to teach. He also was purported to have owned one of the dorms, The Fensgate, on Beacon Street near Mass Avenue. He was a one-of-a-kind man. He taught psychology for 37 years at Emerson.
Corea loved to teach, and I loved his classes. He was very small in stature and had a high-pitched voice that would get higher as he got to the end of his familiarly run-on sentences. On days when the weather was beautiful he would take our class to the Public Gardens and we’d have our lessons outdoors amongst nature. One day he took our Abnormal Psychology class to the Ritz Hotel for breakfast. Totally unexpected and the first lavish meal I’d ever had. He was a very effective preceptor who caught my full attention. Except for one day.
It was a late fall/early winter day in 1976. Chick was weaving his high octane, high octave magic. I looked out the window for a moment. I saw the white flurries cascading down. There it was!!! My very first snowfall since early 1970.
I knew I would experience the white flakes again while in Boston, and I was prepared to do so, yet it still caught me full on. I was mesmerized by the swirling white just outside the window. I got caught up in it. The rhythm and the syncopated beat of it all. I was hypnotized.
I rose up out of my chair and walked outside. There was a smell in the air that was sparkly crisp like wintergreen. It had called to me and I was taking myself to it’s leader. I was outside dancing in it, without my coat. Spinning like a top and so enthralled by it all.
I walked back inside, into Chick’s class, yet I never took my gaze off of the beautiful sight out of the glorious picture window at 150 Beacon Street between Berkeley and Clarendon streets.
I wasn’t ready for the winter. I didn’t have boots, yet survived with my sneakers. I remember bragging to some friends on my way to dinner one night, that here I was a Floridian, and ill-equipped for the snow, and had yet to fall on the ice. Just as I said that, I slipped and fell. We all laughed hard, the timing was too good not to. As I got up and brushed myself off, I said, “Big deal! So I only fell once…” And, BOOM!!! I slipped and fell again. Harder fall. Harder laughs. Hearty chuckles from me and my friends. The mates who didn’t help me up off of the ground, because they couldn’t control their laughter.
As the cold of my 1977 Winter started to recede, something else happened that I hadn’t felt in ages. The wonderment of Spring. The glory, the freedom and the rebirth that came along with the change of seasons. Something I missed completely while living in Florida.
One day in early May of 1977, well into a beautiful season in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, along the Charles River, I left my dorm room. As I walked, I smelled something familiar in the air. I couldn’t quite make it out at first. Then it hit me. That wintergreen. I told a friend of mine that it smelled like snow. He looked at me as if I was crazy. He said it never snows in May.
I was confused as well. I don’t know why, but because I hadn’t witnessed snow in so long, I was more acute to it’s effect on my senses. I was sure of what I smelled. I told others. I got the same crazy look.
And then it happened. SNOW!!!!!!! Up the east coast, from Pennsylvania, all the way to New England. 20 inches of it in Norwalk, Connecticut. May 9th, 1977, for the first time in 107 years, SNOW in Boston. In May!
My friends never questioned my big schnoz again. Little did we know it was the precursor to something bigger. The devastating Blizzard of 1978. A record 27.1 inches of snow. The army helping to dig us out.
As soon as the roads cleared, we got in our friend’s cherry red Mustang and headed south. Flanked by unusually high snowbanks. On our way to a reprieve. Sunny Hollywood, Florida. Where it only snowed once. EVER! ...
I was an adult as a child. My mom was just 20 years older than me. Although, she did the heavy lifting and the brunt of the work, we’ve spent most of our lives taking turns raising each other.
She taught me a lot about love and compassion, and respect for others. She had a crazy streak borne out of her mixed Hungarian and Egyptian blood, the explosive combo that fueled her passion. My mom was a tough cookie and nobody messed with her. As a kid she had a hard reputation and she backed it up. She's had a tough life, yet she's still the funniest person I’ve known.
She'd lost two kids. In their early thirties. One child is too much to lose in one's lifetime, much less two.
Her second husband, the ultimate love of her life, died after only five years together, on Mother's Day, just about a week after his 38th birthday. In 1974 he was diagnosed with Melanoma and succumbed to it in May of the following year. It was devastating. We had just moved all the way to Hollywood, FL from Brooklyn, NY in August of 1970. All of our friends and most of our family still lived in NY. My mom was devastated.
We were all so young. I was 15 when my stepfather, Jimmy, got sick. My sister Jodi, my father's other child, was 11, our twin brothers Keith and Kenny were 3 and David was just born.
James McNicholas fought hard through the still archaic chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and we thought he had beaten the Cancer, but it just kept spreading. A slow and painful process.
He loved his family so much and he couldn't be there to raise and watch us grow. It was hard to watch this very humble and proud man become a shell of his former self. As he got weaker and weaker, my mother spent more and more time by his side, spending the last moments of his life caring for and loving him. In my whole life, I have never seen two people more in love. When he first met her, he told her that he would marry her. She told him he was crazy, that she couldn't marry him. She was already married. He said he was married too.
Three weeks later they were married.
Their love was so strong and infectious. Not in a sappy way. In a beautiful and subtle way. I could never settle for less than that in my life. Jimmy was a great man. I gave him hell at the beginning because, “he wasn't my real dad.” He toughed it out and was patient with me. The day I cracked was the morning he suggested we go fishing instead of work and school. We called in sick for each other.
It was a GREAT day. Lots of laughing and I caught three fish. A 22 and an 18 pound Kingfish and a 58 pound Cobia. Nearly a hundred pounds of fish. He was worried my mom would be angry when we got home, but the look of all of that fish and our happy faces made her smile.
He taught me a lot about self-respect and integrity. We had no money, but we had a lot of love in our nest. When Jimmy finally succumbed to his horrible disease, there was a new dynamic at home.
I became the head of the house. It wasn't planned. It was just the natural order.
I worked. I got three jobs. I worked at an Army Navy store, an S & H Green Stamps and at one of the local movie theaters. I also did the laundry and mowed the lawn. I vacuumed and cleaned the house. I babysat. I went to PTA meetings and drove everyone to school. We were even poorer. My real dad, was re-married now and his focus was on his new family. He contributed pittance to us, because he was a shrewd negotiator and he wanted to see my mom suffer for letting him go.
My dad only paid $125 dollars a month in child support. $62.50 each. He was making great money at the time. We were on food stamps. My mom was embarrassed to go to the grocery store with the government aid and I was the one who went in and did all of the shopping.
Despite being broke, we laughed a lot. Laughter is truly the medicine that keeps us sane, in a very unfair world.
What wasn’t funny was that my mom was often sick in her life.
She was born with rheumatic fever. She had brittle bones. She smoked a billion cigarettes from the age of 14 on. Her smoking came to a halt when she got emphysema and they put her on oxygen.
She was on all kinds of medications from all kinds of doctors who handed them out like Halloween candy. Occasionally she would get some edible medical marijuana. That made her feel better than any of the pills she was on. Go ask Alice.
Mom had spinal stenosis and was turning into the letter “C.” Luckily I had become friends with a wizard of a man named Dr. John Upledger. John invented Craniosacral Therapy and he was able to heal people through natural methods. Helping the body to heal itself. She did a ten day program with Dr. John and miraculously she was able to walk again. I remember her calling me from the beach, crying tears of joy, because she loved the ocean and now was able to go play on the white sands in her Hollywood, Florida playground. Unfortunately, she got in a bad car accident and it messed her back up, and she could hardly walk straight again.
She’s nearly died a few times in the last couple of years. She had MRSA. The contagious infection that nearly did her in. She’s had lots of breathing issues. She also fell and couldn’t get up for four hours before she could get herself together to phone her neighbor.
The world kept knocking her down, and she just dusted herself off and kept getting back up.
Except this time.
We think she knew it was coming
She stopped dying her hair.
A couple of days before she died, she posted something on her Facebook wall that seemed like a goodbye.
“I love all my sons. They are my life. Eddie, Keith, and David. I tried to do my best, and I did the only thing I knew how. I want you guys (to know) no matter what, I will always love you. Mom”