Monday, July 31, 2006

Joey We Hardly Knew You

The New York Times did not endorse Joe Lieberman. You may recall I did not endorse him either. And I didn’t do it first. But the Times didn’t know it was a contest so they didn’t feel pressured to be first. Our reasons were similar although our approach was different. I did not endorse him because he doesn’t care if he runs as a democrat or an independent (since he mostly votes as a republican that would make sense but they already have a candidate), he just wants the job. And at these critical times we need members of Congress who will vote as democrats. The Times said it’s not about voting for the war, as did many democrats. It’s about “becoming one of the Bush administrations most useful allies… an enabler…a Presidential defender. And this primary is surely as sign of what will happen in November. I wrote a letter to the democratic party that I wanted to share becauseI'm frustrated and I believe the only entity that can make a difference for this country is the minority party.

Dear Democratic Party,

Missing you and thought I’d drop a line. We’ve been pals for a long time and I don’t mean to hurt your feelings but, (I’ll try not to say this too loud) you have become irrelevant. Don’t believe me? Okay, so look at Joe Lieberman. He’s always claimed to be a democrats democrat. Yet, he’d rather be an Independent candidate than a Democratic reject. The party seems not to matter to him, The job is what he cares about, the party appears to be merely a vehicle to get him to a place where he can vote like a republican. Unfortunately, it seems you are incapable of producing elected officials who have the courage to lead, to develop policies that make sense, and present alternatives to the right wing ideologues who have choreographed political strategies that will affect us for the rest of our lives. At one time you were the party of inclusion. Now you are purely fodder for despicable conservative mouth pieces to sell books.

You were the party that encouraged men and women to strive for success, fight for a strong America, believe in education for all and opportunity regardless of race, age or gender. You were the party of compassion. But now the republicans have taken these noble ideals and turned them into attractive but meaningless slogans. In case you hadn’t noticed, poor children are left behind, there is no compassionate conservative, and a strong military doesn’t rape or murder innocent civilians. Oh no, you protest, we still believe in all those things. Really? Well what have you done to combat the empty rhetoric? Why hasn’t one democrat—governor, senator, representative, mayor or dog catcher stood on the top of a CNN hill and shouted that every time the President or a member of his party fabricates some story, (and it doesn’t even have to be a whopper) someone from the party will hold a conference condemning both the lie and the liar.

Yoo hoo! In case you were too busy taking contributions for your next campaign to notice, the world is falling apart. And you are doing nothing to stop it. We have a bunch of Presidential advisors who spend more time figuring out how to sell a policy than shape one. You have allowed this to continue without comment. And worse, you have agreed that it’s OK for young men and women to die in a war based on a lie. You continue stand silent while nations and corporations defile the earth and pretend that scientists are geeks without real information, You were incapable of overriding a veto that may undermine the entire future of medicine. You have permitted the insidious elimination of civil liberties and refused to condemn immigration policies that are not only foolish but unenforceable. You have voted for wasteful spending and against legislation that helped people to recover from debt. You have allowed our long and rich historical tradition to become secondary to special interests instead of important issues. In your desire to include everyone, you have excluded the very people for whom you were founded. Who are you? I no longer know.

You remember when we were young there were people who we thought would always be our friends. Well, we managed to lose the Wal*Mart voter when you failed to engage your natural constituencies in a conversation that was relevant to their lives and their beliefs. Instead your candidates are consumed with targeting single interest groups with empty rhetoric, and finding a universal “message” that doesn’t work locally.

Al Gore, a dedicated public servant who understood the importance of caring for the environment, focused on being an Alpha male with a sense of style. He had no conversation with the American public because he was too busy knowing everything. In fact, he was so clueless about what people heard that when he talked about an important bill that gave people with the ability to sue their HMO, he referred to it’s support by Congressman Dingle saying, “Nor would Dingle oppose this bill’ Only trouble was, just the political insiders knew Dingle. Most people thought that some guy named Norwood Dingle was supporting it and no one knew, or really cared about Norwood Dingle.

The American public wanted to know John Kerry and why they should vote for him but he was too busy trying to find a persona than actually being a person. Many say he didn’t have a message. I disagree. He had so many messages that it was impossible to wade through them to find one you believed.

And will the party find definition in the future? Not with the Hillary Clinton we see on TV. She might be the first woman President but she is not the Clinton most people would elect. She is so cautious about what she says that it appears she will not take a position that she thinks someone might not like. We have no idea who she is as a Democrat or as a person. What a shame. HEY HILLARY! Get a real opinion. Take a position. Make a decision. Say something that rings true. OK you may never win a popularity contest but you could be a good President, a good Democrat, – if only you and everyone else knew what that meant.

We need to find a new way to have a conversation with a voting public that may not understand the meaning of words like paradigms, triangulation or overreaching, but will understand simple things like, a safe environment, peace on earth, justice for all, and an opportunity to be successful. People do not want to hear why they shouldn’t be a member of the opposing team, they want to know why they should want to be picked for yours. I hate to say it but you need a vision which includes; a strong and clear national security policy that doesn’t mean we have to go to war to prove we are strong, that allows a pro-life democrat to speak at public functions, and that takes into account that new technologies may mean we need to rethink old beliefs

How did we, the party of the people lose touch with the people? My guess it that we spent so much time in an unending search for the perfect way to slice the apple that we had no time or energy to eat the fruit. Let’s be honest, I can’t be your only friend. You need to find people who can figure out how to structure the party, develop winning strategies, train candidates and party workers, continue to stay competitive in fund-raising, and formulate a consistent party message that is attractive to a majority of American voters. And you need to find a Presidential candidate. Someone who can stop the political erosion. Someone who realizes that you need an update.

I believe that you have got to move forward with a carefully defined vision of what we want for ourselves and our families. We need to translate that which is right and good into that which is real and makes sense.. We need to begin a new dialogue with a whole lot of people because the American people are at a loss for where to go. And speaking of where to go, I’ve got to go write to Ann Coulter and tell her she should be ashamed of herself. Her mother must be so embarrassed.

All the best, we’re just sayin…

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Alone at the Movies

Here are two things I wanted to share with you.

1. My favorite thing is to go to a morning movie. (Don’t be saying things like, “you like a movie better than sex?” Or “You like a movie better than your kids?”) Obviously not— well not most of the time but give me some literary leeway.
2. Advance People are nuts. For the political novices in cyberspace, Advance people are the people who set up events for candidates and Presidents and corporate execs – anyone who can pay to have a person travel in ‘advance’ of them and make all the arrangements for a successful event.

What does one have to do with the other? Well, I think I love going to morning movies because fewer people attend them. If the truth be told, (and Advance people generally never tell the truth) I don’t like to go any place where there are lots of people. In other words, I can build a crowd of 100,000, but I would never be caught alive or dead, in the middle of it. For me, a movie theater more than a 10th filled, is like being in a crowd of 100,000. “That’s silly” you say. “Maybe”, I reply but as my mother would say “What is, is”.

When I go to the movies I want to be unencumbered by other folks. Don’t misunderstand, I love going to the movies with Marthena and Jordan. David has theater narcolepsy so I am always worried that he’ll start to snore. But Marthena and Jordan are really fun. First of all Marthena, although she came late to it, is a terrific Advance person. Jordan is just always fun. Anyway, Marthena knows that I am going to change our seats at least three times dependent on the people in the theater. When it’s an early movie (sometimes there are no shows in the a.m.) we know there will be elderly people. Those are people older than we and probably older than dirt. Older people are often a little hard of hearing and they like participating in an activity. The movie is their activity and so they speak right up whenever a thought strikes them. If you sit in front of them it’s less disruptive than behind. I don’t know why but the sound seems to carry back like heat rises.

When we arrive we find seats we like. Usually in the middle front of the theater. And then we wait for the disrupters to arrive. If someone sits in back of us with food in cellophane, we move. If it’s two friends who are catching up on their lives over the last 5 years, we move. If an elderly duo with extraordinarily loud voices or a couple who keep saying “What? What?” We move. Our expectations of their decorum is limited, so unless we are in the middle of the movie and forced to admonish them for behaving badly, we will usually just move again. I must admit that part of my pleasure is in watching Marthena trying to be patient with me – but that’s been going on for thirty years.

What does this have to do with Advance people? I guess I was trying to figure out why I don’t like to be in crowds. I also don’t like clients because they ask for your advice, they don’t take it, and when what they wanted to do doesn’t work, they blame it on you. But that’s another blob. Advance people want every event to be perfect and they drive people crazy in order to come as close to perfection as possible. For example, it drives my kids crazy when I ask them the same question over and over in order to find out if they’ve completed a task I didn’t even assign them. In addition to asking the same questions repeatedly, we also move things around, figure out the logistics of every trip and expect people to do what they say they will do. So when I ask a movie goer (albeit a stranger) if they are going to talk through the film, and they say no, it is a betrayal when they start to chat Willy Nilly. (I don’t know who Willy Nilly is but I’m crazy about the way he sounds.)

Last week we had the perfect Advance persons movie experience. Jordan, David and I went to see “Lady in the Lake.” Jordan went to camp with Bryce Howard so it’s always inspirational to see a friend’s success. When we arrived there was a sign which said “No air conditioning.” I don’t like air conditioning so I suggested we see just how hot it was. David checked and with an empty theater it was just fine. We were alone for most of the movie and then two stupid people came and sat close enough so that we could hear their conversation. You understand there was no one else in the theater and these dim wits (must be related to Willy) sat right in back of us. Needless to say, we did shush them until they got the point and kept quiet. It was great. David stayed awake and we had a wonderful time. We loved the movie but I don’t know why, since we have no idea what it was about, but the best part was just being alone in the movies. We’re just sayin... Iris

Friday, July 28, 2006

Open Close Vacuum

Today marks the beginning of the 7th move of the 3rd annual move Jordan back to school. It might be more. Let me explain. She is only a junior but so far we have moved her at least seven time-- you're welcome to count. Actually, I have moved her seven times. David has moved her less, but he has assured us he will be there for this move. Only time will tell.

Her freshman year we moved her up to school and back from school. Then, because we were spending the summer in NY we moved to NY and then up to school. Her sophmore year we moved her from NY to Va.and then up to school. This required packing in Arlington, packing, and unpacking in NY. Repacking in NY to move back to Arlington in order to have all her things together to move to Boston. Then, because we like her we picked her up from school and moved most of her stuff to Virginia but since we were spending another summer in NY, once we got to Va. we needed to pack to go to NY. Thank God for Seth and Joyce who not only helped with the Boston part of the move, but for two years took much of her crap and stored it in their house in Plymouth Ma. which meant we didn’t have to schlep all the crap back to Va. In order to pack it for Boston. Back to the moving. Are you following so far? Today we packed all the stuff that we took back to Va. from the move at the end of school last year.(Yes it is not all her stuff).

Because she is no longer a dorm rat, (she is living in an apartment with 4 of her friends), this included dishes, a George Forman grill and her magic bullet. In addition we packed all her clothes and sheets for two different beds. Because Jordan is in a show until September 3rd and we won’t have time to do any furniture shopping, we bought an Aero Bed until she can get a real bed. The Aero Bed is a queen but we think the permanent bed (permanent is a very iffy word for us), will be a double—they are cheaper and who needs expensive for two years. Whatever, she still needed sheets.

Our plan is to pack to car, take it to my Mothers in NJ. (not unpack anything) and then when we’re ready to pack all the stuff in NY we will get the car from NJ, pack the reat of her junk and drive to Boston. Her apartment is on the 3rd floor but there are five flights of stairs. (This will be another blob for sure). We have asked Jordan to find friends to meet us upon arrival and move all the crap we have gathered from Va., NY., NJ, and Plymouth and carry it up the stairs. The alternative, we explained gently was that we would leave everything on the street and she could fend for herself. We are older parents so our desire (and ability) to lift and carry up and down and up and down is limited. We’re not being harsh just realistic.

So what about the open close vacuum? I may have already explained this but when my Aunt Sophie died she left me her Caddy. This was not a guy who helped her when she was playing golf, this was a car. It’s a big gold caddy and it gets about 27 mpg and very comfortable, when you’re on the highway. It gets about a mile per gallon in the city—so we only drive it back and forth to NY, NJ and Boston.(Which as you can see is quite frequntly). It has a very large trunk and we have been able to fit most of Jordan’s stuff without a problem. But only because of space bags. These are plastic bags which you fill with clothing and then vacuum out the air so they shrivel to almost nothing. If we had to use a conventional suitcase either her clothes or one of us would be standing by the side of the road waving goodbye to the other two. You fill the bag, seal it up, suck out the air and voila the bulk is no more and everything fits. (Parents who did not do this had to bring vehicles the size of Nebraska.) They were very impressed with our packing acumen. I don't want to minimize the amount, at least it all fits in the trunk and the backseat. It’s amazing. Well I gotta go. We're leaving at the crack of dawn and I’ve got to finish open, close, vacuum. We’re just sayin…

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pot Pourri for $800, Alex...

As one of the several thousands of Americans who has appeared on Jeopardy in the era of Alex Trebek, I can say with pleasure that even though I didn't actually win any cash moolah, that the experience is one you can dine out on, or at the very least be plied with call-shot drinks at the bar, for hours... weeks, and perhaps even years. A friend recently sent out a note about the piece on the Gulf Coast which is currently on the news stands, and called me "our unassuming friend..." I know it was meant as a compliment, and it's surely taken that way, for I have spent most of my adult life trying to blend in during those professional situations where you get more work done if they DON"T notice you, than if they do. Diane Dewhurst, a wonderful woman who was once Senator Geo. Mitchell's Press person once introduced me as "David Burnett, the guy who walks into a room and disappears..." Now THAT was a compliment. Our search for the rare unguarded, candid moment is something that often forces us to try and meld into the background so that the subject in question, whether it be the President or Ayatollah Khomeini (I have more "candid" pictures of the latter than the former)just forgets altogether that we're breathing the same air. My mom was once furtootzed (a Yiddishesque expression meaning slightly annoyed, not REALLY annoyed, but annoyed enough to let you know that she was annoyed) when I was described as having had a "middle class" upbringing in Salt Lake City. You know how Sam Levensen and millions of others have said "...we didn't know we were poor...", well I think either my mom didn't know we were middle class ... OR ... I didn't know we were UPPER-middle class. It's one of those ongoing stratification issues that has no actual resolution. But now that I have decided to shed my unassuming attitude, you should all be warned that it can get ugly. I mean, if I start Assuming, all manner of things can happen. Like, talking sassy back to Alex Trebek...! Demanding that the poppy seed rolls be refilled at the Rascal House deli in Miami. Sadly, I cannot go on the show again.. they have a One Time rule, so instead of another shot at the big ring, I'll have to hone my skills for Wheel of Fortune, where I vow NEVER to buy a Vowel, or.. 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'

Yet the one thing about Jeopardy we all know about is that one category which can be just about anything.. you know. .like this Blob:

Pot Pourri... a collection of un-associated items, whose random selection has no obvious meaning.

So in that vein, I'll just share a couple of weird moments. Im in Florida this week shooting pictures, and the chap who booked my car did so with Thrifty (why do I always want to say that with a really bad Harry Benson-esque Scottish brogue?.. as in "Ay, laddie, that Ford Fiesta, tis a loovly loovly seh o' wheels... trooly!")

Me, in LINE (not On Line) at Thrifty
It's 'off site', like, albeit, Hertz, but it means you schlep your gear to the bus.. on the bus.. to the site, and THEN still have to wait in line. You remember LINES.. those are the things which unassuming people immediately race over to and stand in. In case there is, let's say, a sale on Polo shirts or a slab of porterhouse steak fell off a truck, and is being sold for a dollar a pound. Lines. Queues. So I had to stand in line (sorry NY'ers.. not ON line).. while the line slowly shrunk and I got my car. But it was sort of like one more of those times when the unassuming photographer's car was booked by a guy who, you think?.. never travels. He works in Travel but doesn't spend THAT much time being unassuming in a rental car line. Ok, they upgraded me, I have a closable trunk, and it looks like I'm very assuming in my 300 Chrysler. I assume so.

The next moment of unAssumption was arriving in my room of the hotel where I had let the PR folks know that there would be a very Assuming photographer arriving that evening. Moments after I checked in a rap on the door yielded a gent with a tray of Chocolate covered strawberries. Wow, not bad. I needed some fruit. Or I assumed I did. So I ate three of them, getting nearly all the fruit intake I needed that day, and about 14 times the amount of chocolate that I needed.

The Surgeon General has advised that consumption of Choc. Strawberries can be really Good. Not Good FOR You. Just Good.

Then tonight, I returned to my room, only to find a message light on. I was expecting no messages. In the age of cell fones, you just never hear your in-room phone ring anymore right? Well here is the message:

"Brian, this is Joyce. For your information, Mohammed needs to be off next Wednesday. I don't know if you've done the schedule yet, but remember that Hercules is off until Tuesday."

Most of you would assume this was meant for someone else. Even I did briefly. Then I pondered the fact that it could be a coded message. Any place with a Mohammed and a Hercules working the same day, is a place where you could also run into a Sheena, a Cassandra, or even a Melody. $700 in useless Jeopardy (Home Version) chips for the person who gives us the best re-Interpretation of the above message. We're just sayin David

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Your Mommy and Me

Yesterday Jordan was cast in a show in a real NY Theater. The show is one of our favorites, it’s called “Side Show.” It’s a story based on fact about Siamese twins who, because they couldn’t do anything else, lived in a Side Show. She got the lead. We are all thrilled and the good news for her parents is that she can keep her job at Ellen’s Stardust one day a week. I love that I don’t have to give her cab money. And, as a matter of fact, she took me to the movies last week. Who would ever have thought?

Jordan and two lucky patrons at Ellen's
Speaking of parents I went to see my mother today. We are heading back to DC tomorrow because our child by choice—Edwige—had another baby and we want to see him before Jordan goes back to school. I wanted to see mom, and I needed to get the car—a twofer. She is doing fine and her new companion, Prudence seems to be working out. Prudence is a wonderful loving giving person. Of course, my mother is dissatisfied because Prudence doesn’t cook. The last companion cooked and my mother was unhappy because she felt like not cooking was taking away her independence. Is there anyway to win. Don’t look for an answer, there isn’t.

It occurred to me that Prudence and I should write a book called “Your Mother and Me.” Prudence was educated as an English and computer teacher so I am assuming she can put a sentence together, but think of that. There are so many of us who leave the care of our parents up to someone else. It would be so interesting to know about what they are thinking about us and the people for whom they care.

I never get the same story from my mother as I get from Prudence. My mother, having never been a particularly happy person (where did I come from?) is always likely to see the glass half empty. And even if she sees the glass half full I am never privy to that information. Miserable as she seemed on the phone, when I got to the house she was all dressed up and ready to go out to lunch. Further, she and Prudence were sharing a laugh about something I was not to know. Not that I cared, I was just relieved to see the camaraderie.

So it occurred to me that just like parents who leave their kids with an au pair and then have a tape that records what happens during the day, it would be of interest to millions of us to know what happens to our parents who have a caregiver. We are very lucky. Finding a caregiver is not easy. And finding someone who is kind and patient and loving and willing to spend 24 hours with a parent is almost impossible. I couldn’t do it. And for so many of us, even if we have the time, is not on our list of things we want to do. Let’s be honest, that old mother-daughter dynamic works to everyone’s disadvantage.

Prudence told me that she doesn’t get bored easily and she can entertain herself. This is a good thing since my mother is neither disabled not infirmed and she needs to be able to keep herself busy. In addition my mother refuses to put on her hearing aid so conversation is not easy. Mom, as I have mentioned before, is fairly active – she doesn’t exercise on a regular basis but we did get her a computer on which she can play mind games and she does volunteer at the local hospital one day a week. Her main activity is to shop and, thank God, Prudence finds that amusing.

I think this book could be a best seller because so many of us have relegated our responsibilities to someone else and we want to know that it’s fine. I for one, having been through 4 companions in four months, think writing a book from the companions’ perspective, would be terrific. We’re just sayin… Iris

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Asian too

Jordan and I are trying to have dinner with our friend Deborah S Craig on Thursday nights. Deborah is the over achieving Asian character in the play “Spelling Bee.” She and Jordan have been friends for about 7 or eight years. They met when they performed in a showcase production of “King Island Christmas.” You mount a showcase when you hope to find backers for a play. They never did, but it was a great experience for Jords because she got to work with professional musicians, producers, and performers. She also worked with Paolo Montalban who among other shows, was the Prince in the Disney movie “Cinderella.” They became quick friends and although we don’t have dinner with him every week, he did buy Jordan expensive moisturizer when he visited us in Washington.

We met Deborah after the show last Thursday and went to Ruby Foo’s. This is one of my least favorite Asian restaurants because the food is only OK and it is overpriced. Other people, like Deborah, like it and I am but one opinion. I drank Sake, Jordan had dessert and Deborah had what looked like pretty good soup and Sushi. While she was eating I noticed that she was not using her chopsticks as skillfully as I expected. (Remember I said she is the over achieving Asian Character). So I asked her when she started using chop sticks. I always think this generation of young people is far more experienced than we were. Jordan has been using them since she was two. In fact, Anna who owned the Hunan Number One, another of our favorites in Arlington, gave them to her and they were connected on top so she could use them and not feel left out. By the time she was three she used regular sticks. Deborah started using them when she was twenty one. I should have known since her Anglo parents raised her in the middle of nowhere Florida and there probably were no Korean restaurants. This has nothing to do with my promised blob about our favorite Asian places to eat.

A few years ago we went to see “Urinetown”. A hilarious show which is no longer in NY but it is traveling, so don’t miss it. It was pouring when we got out and we wanted to eat at somewhere close by. We went to a place called Ollies. I had seen it a million times but had never gone in because I thought it was too touristy. “Oh No” my friend Marion informed me, “Are you in for a treat.” And was she ever right. It is a fabulous place. They serve enormous bowls of delicious soup with any kind of noodle, any kind of roasted meat and a wonderful won ton. They have dim sum which they serve on carts on weekends and the rest of the food is amazing. Fresh vegetables, good curry and they are not afraid to spice. In December we called to see if they would deliver to the East side, and we’re not sure they had ever done it before, but now when we call they know just who we are.

The Great New York Noodle Town, is in China town two blocks south of Canal on bowery. It is tiny. They don’t take reservations but so few people know about it (except Ed Koch) that a table is never a problem. The noodles are good but the roasted meats and vegetables are fabulous. If you’ve never been to Hong Kong this is a good introduction and not a bad substitute.

Then we like Sounkyo Shushi. David says he’s not sure they would withstand repeat visits from UN Personnel but it is a good place and very reasonable. We have had sushi and we have had noodle dishes. They do have a little problem getting themselves together but after a few minutes they usually can figure out how to deliver the food and drinks in some kind of order. It is on 51st and first.

One of our favorite places is Blue Chili. It is on the west side on 51st right off 8th. This is a pan Asian place. We have eaten there any number of times because they always have something you want to eat. The sushi is fresh, the noodles are never mushy and the main dishes are always a creative combination of flavors – and it’s reasonably priced.

A two-fer-one cocktail, at the bar

They also have a happy hour with bar drinks which are pretty cheap. So you sit at the bar for a while and drink then go to your table and have dinner.

Dessert is a dream at Blue Chili
It’s a New York thing.

When you live in New York you are spoiled by delivery. My friend Sid used to say that everything you want is no more than 1/2 block away and if God forbid it's not, you can order in. Everyone delivers and nothing takes more than 20 minutes. Last night when I called a pasta place we order from frequently, they apologized because it was going to take 20 minutes. There is nothing in Virginia that takes less then 50 minutes—so we are spoiled. Anyway, I will continue to report on food worth eating but tomorrow I will probably blob about being all alone in a movie theater on Saturday. We’re just saying…

Close Encounter of the NY Kind

Got this from the Key Wester and being a 1/2 time New Yorker (not the kind that gets encountered, I wanted to share it.

I happily lived in Key West for over a quarter of a century. I was secluded from the rest of the world, a world that I often referred to as “gray land.” Since arriving in Key West I have only had businesses that catered to the tourists. Tourists from all over the world and that afforded me a wonderful opportunity to view all the different mind sets and cultures from all four corners of the globe. (Hummph, I wonder how can globes have corners? ) I became fascinated by territorial idiosyncrasies but of all of them I found that people from New York City were the most peculiar. Well maybe not peculiar, more like weird. Actually I think the best way I can describe them is by comparing them to UFO’s.

They travel at extremely high speeds, shine lights in your eyes and then while you wait to regain your vision they disappear. They change shapes at will and just when you think you recognize one it melts into the background leaving you wondering if you saw it all. The only evidence might be a slight dewy feeling on your mouth as though a hummingbird flew to close making you lick your lips. New Yorkers have an innate way of not being real. However, I have found out that if they stay in Key West to long they begin to change, they saunter, they smile, they laugh, they slow down their speech so much they can even be understood but most indicative is their manners start to evolve. Which even surprises them because every once in a while after muttering a “Thank you” they apologize.

During the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to take a few New Yorkers hostage. To me it was one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever attempted. I did have limited success or so I thought. For instance I met this wonderful, delightful princess from the Big Apple, which to me was a misnomer it should have been referred to as the Honey Comb and we became very close. Talked everyday, exchanged stories and learned much about each other. We even shared our dreams and visions and I came to discover that we were traveling on the same super highway seemingly headed to the same destination .

But the time had come for her to return and she promised me that we’d never me more than a phone call apart. We still had a long way to go and I eagerly looked forward to what we could accomplish. So for the first few weeks back everything was normal but she told me that her friends were beginning to worry about her. She had changed somewhat and they thought she might have acquired some kind of virus during her stay in Key West. She spoke to me about her concerns and say that she might have to go into a clinic for a thorough check up. I asked her what kind of clinic and she muttered something that sounded like, “Absolution for the Misguided UFO Inc.” So I just waited, and waited, and waited. Three months later she called and said she only had a minute but everything was wonderful.

I hung up and looked out my doorway, left, right and up. I saw what I thought was another New Yorker pacing very fast down the street, as she went by I blurted out, “Do you believe in UFO’s?“ she didn’t answer but did give me a one fingered gesture. Now I’ll have to just wait until she comes racing back again and see if I can trip her up. We're Just Sayin...
Guest Blobber, Key Wester

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Forward March of Progress

We live in a time of richness that we are seldom aware of. I know, we think, Plasma TV’s, Hybrid cars, TV dinners that can be heated in a microwave, what more could you ask for. Those aren’t really the kinds of things I’m thinking of. My dad -- Ted Burnett – watch salesman, Desoto driver, golfer, and someone universally acknowledged as “… a wonderful guy…” would have been a hundred years old next week. It’s one of those numbers that always makes me pause and consider a Century as such. He died in 1994 but not before having lived, in those 88 years, through the invention of the first aeroplanes, filtered cigarettes in a pack, pancake houses, cars powered by engines instead of horses, radio, malted milks, Waring blenders, and the first TV remotes. He learned of these things, and as far as I could ever tell, adjusted to them extremely well, having been happy to designate all new things, even the occasional newly constructed cinderblock building as “progress”, and with a gusto for accepting progress that was manifest in his smile.

Aboard the Delta Shuttle the afternoon flights were cancelled.
He wasn’t really crazy about vegetables. But get him near a golf course or a steak house, and you had a genuinely engaging, enthusiastic, happy American citizen. I often think that my desire to embrace new technology pales in comparision to his. Sure, I type this on a laptop on a high speed train racing towards New York, and upload it and the digital images with wireless technology now available to all of us. But in the end, we were born into an era to which change was the currency: the one thing we knew, since grade school, was that the new stuff was on its way and that we would no doubt be around to share in its joy or curse. For dad, who probably came home from the hospital (from his birth, that is) in a horse drawn cart.. the idea of a B-52 or a 747 must have been quite something.

I think of these things because today I had one of those “whoa” moments at home in Arlington. I spent the past few days in Virginia, printing pictures, making a presentation at an Ad agency, photographing the Chairman of the Fed, visiting the Corcoran Museum for a photo show, and eating at Red Sage, a swell café in downtown DC whose brisket is legendary. Today, in picking up the mess I made in the first three days, I remembered that in August I have a commercial shoot for which the clients want film, not digital. I still shoot my trusty old Speed Graphics (see National Geographic this month for a story on Katrina done with this gear), my 60 year old press cameras which require a certain methodology and discipline to shoot with. They are not very forgiving. But they are beautiful, and it’s worth keeping in mind all the little things necessary to make them hum because the final product is so singularly nifty. In 2003 the more nimble side of me started shooting with a Canon 10D digital camera, which has been supplanted by a 20D and 5D over the past three years, as the technology and quality of the cameras has advanced. My wonderful Canon EOS3 and EOS1 35mm film cameras may as well have been sitting at the News Café in South Beach, sipping pina coladas and eating ropa vieja in Panama hats, for all the use I have asked of them. They are, frankly the finest reflex film cameras ever made: precise, sensual to the touch, and deliver the goods everytime you let them. Yet, like my thousands of colleagues, the lure and so-called ease of “digital” meant that the film cameras, just at that moment at the top of their design, were just sitting in a cabinet. So, today I took them out of said cabinet, found some Fuji film, and shot a roll on each, just to be sure that they work, and that I work with them. It was frickin hilarious.

This reporter, underdressed for the White House, testing the blessed film cameras.
Most of you know that film comes in length’s of 36 exposures, right? For years it’s been the standard. In digital, with a big memory card, even on the highest quality setting you can get a couple of hundred pictures without reloading anything, except, perhaps, your brain. So you just keep shooting and shooting and shooting. It is a new kind of relationship with the camera. I think most photographers have gotten lazy. We assume the unending store of memory will cover our little mistakes, and indeed it can. But it doesn’t take away from the laziness. So I loaded the first EOS3 with a roll, shot a few pictures of me in the mirror so I could tell later WHICH camera was which. Then I shot very un-scientifically, you know like those polls they do on MSNBC with the gravelly voiced Rita Cosby, or on CNN with the gravelly faced Anderson Cooper, all over the studio and outside on the deck. At the end of 36 images, the film rewound automatically into the cassette, and I was ready for the next one. I changed lenses, started shooting, setting the MODE for Aperture, and shot the same images I’d done with camera 1. It was all cool, until I realized I had forgotten to LOAD FILM into the Camera. It was a totally DUHHH moment. Hey Dave, you ninny, put FILM in the camera. They work better that way. Once I realized what I had done, I actually loaded film, shot away, then did the same, with a large “what kind of a jerk AM I” look on my face as I did the last two cameras (another Canon, and a Leica). That film will tell me if the cameras and meters (oh, talk about lazy!) work ok. Light remember those things that told you what to set the camera at… before you could look on the BACK of the camera and SEE what you just shot. I see how in three short years I have forgotten so much of the simple craft elements which I spent 35 years learning. It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to be lazy.

Now, as I sit on a very crowded train (and I’m on the train for another of the technology issue reasons… storms have closed the airports, and it’s the only way to get to NY) in the company of a lot of people who are also aero- refugees, taking the Shuttle substitute. Inevitably, because the train is quieter than flying, you hear more of the conversations and in this day and age, you really let yourself in for it. What I didn’t realize when I boarded was that the two most boring individuals on the East Coast would be two rows behind me having one of those conversations, the snippets of which could turn you into an iPOD hermit. I don’t know about you, but when I hear things like ….”and God said…” , “ I’m a run down vessel in a run down body”, “.. he’s clearly angry with us..” , and “this one I got in Manila…” it’s time to hoist the earphones into Operate position.

Two really boring guys: the guy on the right is smart!
I suppose Ted Burnett would have figured out a way to have a chat with these guys, maybe get them on the Muni course for 18 holes, play ‘em dollar-dollar-dollar, and maybe walk away, contented, with a couple of their bucks. That kind of upbeat attitude about life was his greatest legacy to his family. So when I hear another snippet, just now, “.. all the New York airports are closed. We’ll be in the city long before those people even get out of the airport…” I’ll happily settle into my seat, reflecting on the film I shot today, and the simple joys of doing something right. Now and then. We’re just sayin. David.

Child Labor

This blob was supposed to be about Asian restaurants in NY but I had lunch with my cousin “little” Sheila today and we were reminiscing about where we worked when we were kids. First let me explain that “little” in my family is a consequence of age not size. For example “big” Bill is 70 and the eldest of all the first cousins but he is very trim. He swims everyday and is in really good shape. “Little” Bill is also around 70. He is terribly overweight and it amazes me that he can walk from his car to my mothers back door. “Big” Sheila is 57 and “little” Sheila is around 54. It’s that simple. We have no other blood duplicates. We have Johns that have married into the family and a Stephanie who used to be Stacy but she went back to Stephanie—which was good because her brother married a Stacey. Moving right along…

When I was a kid there were three handbag factories in the family. Two were in Newburgh, New York and one was in Boonton N.J. They employed large numbers of local residents and in the summer they employed us – the bigs and the littles. Sometimes we worked in the office sometimes we worked in the factory. I loved the switchboard. It was the kind that had plugs so when you wanted to connect a call you had to find the right plug. But alas, my Aunt Claire worked the switchboard so when I worked in the office I was relegated to filing and typing except when she was on a lunch break.

We all had to take typing in school but unfortunately my typewriter had the letters on the keys—all the other typewriters were blank. The teacher asked me if he could trust me not to look at the keys and of course, I said yes. I lied and furthermore anyone who knew me knew I couldn’t be trusted. So I never learned to type without looking at the keys. This slows one down considerably. I could never pass a fast typing test. Actually, I never learned to type—which maybe why I aspired to be management – I was incapable of developing secretarial skills. Further, I got bored easily so I was known to toss, instead of file, important shipping and purchasing documents..

But they couldn’t fire me so they put me in the factory where I packed and stacked handbags. They knew I couldn’t put a bag together and I could only do limited damage putting handbags into a carton and then stacking one carton on top of the other. (My other cousins were also employed in one of the three factories but we all had different skills so we all did different jobs. Picture Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory). It was mindless work but it was fun to be in the factory with the workers. In those days, most of the employees were Italian and Polish immigrants. But they all learned and spoke English and insisted that their children did the same. They wanted something better for their families than what they had in the "old" country and they used the factory as a stepping stone toward opportunity. But some also felt that the factory was their opportunity. A great many of them worked in the factory for years, and in fact their children did as well but there was no shame in working hard and making a living. They took great pride in their work and in being citizens. In those days the factory was a family business not only for my family but for all the people who worked there. And I learned so many life lessons about cultural differences, language differences, patience, and kindness. Lessons I would never have learned in an academic setting.

All my friends worked from the time they were 12 or 13. There were no child labor laws—at least none anyone paid attention to. Some of them worked as cashiers in supermarkets, some as babysitters, some as waiters or waitresses, some as lifeguards, some as day laborers. I worked at Boonton Handbag. It was nice not to have to look for a job and nicer to be assured of employment despite my incompetence.

Sometime in the early 70’s two of the family businesses closed. One in Boonton and one in Newburgh. Like so many other businesses, imports were becoming cheaper than making products in the U.S. My cousin “big” Bill made the transition. My father and other uncles and cousins did not. The businesses went bankrupt and a great many people in both towns were unemployed. Other than the fact that my dad was unemployed – he was also totally disabled so we didn’t worry about silly stuff-- I was unaffected. I had already made the transition from the factory to a small family owned restaurant in town. Unlike my skills as an office worker I was a terrific waitress. It’s difficult to be a good waitress. You have to play nicely with others, stay organized and deal with dissatisfied, often hostile customers.

Both my kids have worked in those kind of jobs. Seth worked in a supermarket unloading crates and other such tasks, and Jordan has worked as a waitress in a few places. They both benefited from those experiences. Interning at a dream job is fine but builds experience not necessarily character. When I interview young people for jobs I really don’t care if they went to Harvard or Yale. I want to know if they ever worked in a factory or a restaurant or had a real job. I know for sure that it’s the skills they can learn on a real job with people from all different places and economic incomes that will make them a good hire and probably a great success. We’re just sayin…

Thursday, July 20, 2006

An Inch THICK & a Mile Wide

It feels funny to be in Washington, amid the terrible heat (it really IS hot.. the kind where the perspiration dribbles down your forehead and nose, and eventually launches itself on the gravity demanding trip to your shoe) watching the coverage of the mid east fighting on TV. TV proves once again that it can cover a story an inch thick and a mile wide. Little depth, but lots of bang bang.. Thank goodness for Anderson Cooper or we wouldn't have any idea how to feel... that's what he does. He FEELS for us (on camera of course) so we know the Right way to feel about it. Both sides seem to be doing the military version of "talk to the hand".... the Hezbollitas launch rockets on the Israelis, and the Israelis keep dropping bombs with probably greater accuracy than anyone else, but less than a lot of Lebanese might like. I'm always suspect of the destruction of basic infrastructure. We saw in Iraq that bombing the crap out of electrical stations doesn't really help you out in three weeks when you 'd like the populace to be able to turn their lights on. As the bad guys have often shown us, it's a lot easier to destroy than it is to rebuild. Imagine all those tanks and refineries and pipes in all the big facilites near exit 12 - 13 on the New Jersey turnpike taking the kind of punishment that Beirut is getting this week. It would not be pretty. The whole NY area would grind to a halt, and it would be months before things were restarted. So, I remain here (NY / DC) and watch it on tv instead of being there. I used to 'be there' quite a bit. It was what I did. Now I seem to be relying on the MSM (yea, that's the Mainstream Media for those of you who arent Wacko Righties and know what that is supposed to mean)to try and figure out what the hell is going on. I will say there are a number of great photographers, many of whom I have never met nor heard of, but who have been making some very good, very moving photographs from both sides of the battle. We seem to have arrived at one of those times when "normal" life keeps going on, you know, Jessica Simpson doing anything...the search for the Cruise baby...wrapped around the fighting footage. I can't imagine WW2 was like this. That people sort of cared about the war, but REALLY cared about who Sinatra was sleeping with. Nah, I don't think so. We're just sayin. David

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Food for the Asking

On a lighter note. Numbers of our friends have asked us for restaurant suggestions in New York. We do eat out quite a bit and we like a variety of food. Burnett likes to go to the seediest place he can find and later comment that it was really terrible but he had to try it. This having to eat seedy is a consequence of being a fairly gutsy photojournalist who thought that part of his mystique was eating in crummy places and surviving. I, on the other hand camped out across the country in 1972 and feel like I paid my “dining survival” dues. Actually I loved the adventure but David refuses to believe I slept in a tent and used outhouses for two months. Of course the best camping I ever experienced was on St Johns in the Virgin Island. Tina and Mark, the X and myself stayed in a cement tent in the National Park. A cement tent has two sides that are screen and two sides that are cement. I guess if they called them screen tents it would indicate no privacy but to tell you the truth, a cement tent didn't sound so sexy either. Anyway, it was fabulous. Lot's of yellow birds, hummingbirds, drugs and a calymba foir evening serenades. There was an outhouse but it had toilets and showers. And there were a number of great places to eat, including the buffet at the hotel attached to the campsite.
We hiked and snorkeled and laughed nonstop for a week. It would have been great to be there with Burnett but he was off eating in some seedy place in Indo China.

This will probably more than one blob. We have a few favorite spots in the neighborhood. Our neighborhood is the east side between Lexington and First and 51st and 62nd. This is not what most New Yorkers consider a neighborhood. Most people think that to go more than five blocks in unnecessary. When you come from a place where you have to drive to get anywhere you want to be, you are less reluctant to venture beyond five blocks. And our favorite delivery chicken place (Chicken Kitchen) is on 62nd-which is why I went that far. Here's a fact unknown to most. When I grow up I want to own a flaming chicken truck. This is not a joke. If you have ever been to a market in Tuscany or Umbria you will know what I mean. There are these big trucks which have a side that lifts up revealing a wall of flame and skewers barbequing garlic rosemary chickens. Some are whole and some are halved and shmushed like they've been run over by the truck. There is no chicken I have ever tasted that compare to those which have been roasted on that truck. So I want to own a truck and I will park it in different places (probably vacation places) and sell chickens to people whose aim is to enjoy themselves.

But that's not in our neighborhood. The place we frequent most often is a diner on 1st and 53rd. It's called the Madison but it's not on Madison. I guess I just said that. They have a terrific breakfast, excellent sandwiches and the dinners are amazing. Like a New Jersey diner, you get the main course, accompanied by soup or salad, dinner rolls, vegetables and potato. It's enough for 4 people and it's very good. If I were a critic I guess I would say, the chopped sirloin, which upon request will be served with sautéed mushrooms and onions, is seared perfectly on the outside and flavorful on the inside. The vegetables, never over done, seem fresh and delightfully crisp. But I'm not, so suffice to say-It's clean, moderately priced, we really like it. In addition it's a great place to meet someone for a meal because the tables are spaced nicely and they don't rush you.

Speaking of diners. Jordan is a singing waitress at Ellen's Stardust Diner on 51st and Broadway. This is a place I would recommend for families and for great entertainment with a meal. We had heard that the food was only OK but we had salads and sandwiches when we went and they were better than average. And of course you are entertained while you eat. The servers serve and sing at the same time. So there you are getting your burger when all of a sudden your waitperson bursts into a lively rendition of something from “Wicked”, and leaps up on to the middle strip-it is only a thin wall between tables-then finishes your order. I was actually not allowed to go but my new wonderful friend Howard, his son Jonathan and my pal Marian snuck in. We sat down before Jordan had a chance to banish us to the Cosi across the street. And she seemed to have a good time despite our presence. So if you're in New York and looking for a good time try Ellen's.

Jordan at Ellen's on 51st st.
I think tomorrow I'll talk about our favorite Asian places. Let me say right up front that there is no place better than Mark's Duck House in Arlington, Va. We have been hard pressed to find an adequate substitute. Marks is the kind of place that got rave reviews in the Washington Post on Sunday and the following Monday was closed for renovations. When we asked him why he would do that, wasn't he concerned about losing business, he only laughed and said he had his regular customers and that was enough-he didn't care about new business. But that's another city and another story. We're Just Sayin…Iris

Monday, July 17, 2006

Eventually, you find a Connection

We never thought it was possible but my mother agreed to try to use a computer. She ‘s not on line but she loves to play solitaire and poker and that’s what she’s doing. We are hoping it becomes a substitute for all the TV she watches — and maybe she’ll become a professional gambler and make a fortune if we ever connect her to the internet. We were in New Jersey for a wedding and in between the ceremony and the reception we went to Best Buy and made the purchase. The computer has nothing to do with my blob about past connections but I wanted to share some positive news about my mother.

The young woman who got married was one of Seth’s closest friends. She is six months his senior and her sister is six months his junior. They grew up in Boonton, next door to mom. So although he didn’t go to school with them, on vacations and in the summer he was sandwiched between these two fabulously beautiful, smart young women.

Brenda, Tina, and Seth
And because Ron and Elvira (the parents) had no sons, Seth was like their son. And he did what sons do — he drove them nuts. But it was always a genuinely loving nuts. In fact, Seth walked Elvira down the aisle. He was thrilled to be a part of the celebration and truly moved that Elvira chose him to do those honors.

The wedding was lovely. Lots of great food, a good band and many people from the past. I hadn’t seen Roger Levine for years. He was the eldest of three boys. His middle brother married Gail, one of my closest friends from high school. She was such a good friend that when I left for college she accompanied my mother for the drive. She was dating a sailor whose ship happened to be docked in Boston. On the night before I checked into my dorm, Gail and I went out with her boyfriend and his friend, who gave me a hickey. It was the end of summer and very hot but I wore turtle necks for the first two weeks of school. Roger’s younger brother, David was my best pal. He was the guy who knew how to dance when the other boys wouldn’t. At 5’ 7” he was on the basketball team and although not the tallest, he was the spirit of the team. At 9 or 10 we cut Hebrew School to go to Dover and see friends, and at 14 he was the shoulder I cried on when my first date stood me up for a dance. David was killed in a car accident when he was 17.
There had been a snow storm and although the roads were cleared they were still icy. There were three boys in the car when it went into a spin. The other boys were fine but in 1962 no one wore seatbelts and David was thrown from the car and broke his neck.

I was in Madison, Wisconsin with Tina when I got the call. I don’t remember how his girlfriend Joyce, (then and now still one of my dearest friends), broke the news but I was devastated. When you are a teenager there are always difficult times but you never think you or your friends are going to die. At least we didn’t. We thought we would all live forever. That’s why we drank and drove, made other reckless decisions, and often did incredibly stupid things. But David died. I didn’t breathe for the rest of the time I was in Wisconsin. There was a great deal of crying and some sharing of memories, and of course there was the drama about sharing the tragedy with strangers, but I couldn’t take a deep breath. When I flew home my friends picked me up and we went directly to the cemetery.

Since David had only been dead for a week, there was no grave marking. My pals had an idea about where to go but it never occurred to us to ask anyone about the location of the grave. We were all still raw from the loss and simply couldn’t ask for David Levine’s grave. How could David have a grave? We wandered around for about 20 minutes and then found what appeared to be a recently dug pile of dirt that we figured must be David’s. We stood in front of it but didn’t know what to do. Should we pray? Should we cry? Should we throw ourselves on to the dirt and scream about the injustice? That’s what I wanted to do, but instead we just stood there until Ronnie suggested it was time to go. We drove away feeling the extraordinary pain of teenage loss. I went back once after they erected a headstone. It seemed such a lonely place for such a social full-of-life person, who was always surrounded by a million friends. But David is still in my heart and I think about him every time I hear a song we danced to or on Yom Kippur when I include him in my prayers for those people closest to you who have died.

Last year my brother’s best friend Bruno died because his heart valve exploded. He was only 53 and like David full of life and spark. Bruno’s sister is married to Roger Levine, David’s brother. I hadn’t seen Maria for 10 years so it was nice to catch up at the wedding. I told her how sad I was about losing Bruno and how blessed we all were to have known him.

“Yes we were, he was my baby brother”, she said. “And now he’s resting next to Roger’s baby brother. And I think it’s good that they’re not alone.”

Maria, Iris & family at the wedding
It’s been over forty years since we lost David. Whenever I think of him I picture him laughing, dancing, on the basketball court, or until last weekend all alone in that cemetery. For whatever reason, I feel better that Bruno is there with him. I know it’s silly but David was always happiest when he was with a friend. We’re just sayin…Iris

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A New York Kind of Day

It was a New York kind of day and it was terrific. I got up, read the Friday NY Times, so I could see what was going on out and about, then I went to the gym and worked out. Well worked out is a bit of an overstatement, I was out is a more accurate description. Then I came back to the apartment and wrote for a few hours. The weather was good, although a bit warm so I decided to have a NY adventure.

I started to walk uptown. I have this great compass which my friend Liz gave me before she moved to Florida. What a bummer, but I did get a terrific gift. It tells you which way is Uptown, Downtown, Eastside, Westside—that’s all the directions, but at least when I get out of the subway I know which way to walk once I figure out where I want to go. Anyway, I got to about 56th street, a mere two blocks from the apartment and I turned west. I walked for about ½ a block and there was chaos on the sidewalk. There seemed to be a convention for guys who sell knockoff purses. There were about fifty men with bedspreads filled with fake Lauren, Dior, Kate Spade, and whatever designer women are buying. But there were no women buying. These guys were just standing around blocking the sidewalk and gabbing about their bags. At first I thought it was like a corner in Virginia where all the illegal aliens gather and wait for all the illegal contractors to hire them for a day to do illegal work—but this was not the case. They were just standing around.

Suddenly it occurred to me to go to China town. I was right near the #6 train stop on 59th street so I hopped on and made my way downtown. Canal Street is one of the most colorful streets in NY. The section I like best has little stores with chachkas, bags, shoes, sunglasses watches, and jewelry. It’s actually like being in China. Hardly anyone speaks English but you can still negotiate a price for a product with a great many hand and head movements. Joyce Kravitz is the best and funniest negotiator I know. Unfortunately she lives in Philadelphia so I had to brave the hand and head movements myself. I began to walk north toward Broadway -- another downtown favorite – and was approached by a young woman who wanted to know if I wanted to buy a good bag. Her English was negligible but I understood that she was offering me something I couldn’t find in the shops.

I have seen these women often but I have never followed any of them and to tell the truth I was curious about where they would take me and what they had to offer. It was like being in the movie “Love With the Proper Stranger”. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie but there is a scene where Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen are going to find an illegal abortion giver—not a doctor, but probably an immigrant. Anyway, they have instructions about how to get to the abortion place — not a clinic. They walk two blocks this way, three blocks that way, upstairs, downstairs and into a back alley. It is so terrible that she decides to have the baby. Little did she know about terrible. But that’s not the point. I followed this woman three blocks east, two blocks south, into an alley, up two flights of stairs and into a room where there were no windows, but a few purses. As we were making the journey up the last staircase it occurred to me that I could really be in danger. No one, including me, knew where I was. I could have been robbed or killed or forced to buy bad merchandise. It was so terrible I couldn’t have purchased anything even if I’d liked the stuff—which I didn’t. It was, by the way, exactly the same crap that was in the stores.

Exhausted and glad I hadn’t had the abortion, oops, I mean bought any bags, I returned to my own neighborhood. I got off the train and met a lovely sidewalk guy selling terrific skirts. He was very entertaining and I cannot pass up a bargain or a street show. There were three other women also making purchases and they convinced me that the skirt I liked was not too young for me. Of course, one of the women was a size 16 trying to fit into a size 2 but that was not my problem, so I bought the skirt—which Jordan will love. Then I ran into my regular street vendor who was selling sunglasses for $5. Of course I bought a pair. Happy from my NY adventure I went to Au Bon Pain where I made my usual iced coffee, paid my usual server, and had my usual argument with the manager because they never have Splenda or straws tall enough for the large drink. When I finished the coffee I went to Tasti D Lite and had my usual small dish of fake ice cream. It was comfortable and familiar. Just another day in the big apple—but it made me smile. We’re just sayin… Iris

My part of the day included the usual things which I find amusing: a libation whose tipping points intersect at the perfect place: great taste, creamy satinesque texture, and under four and a half bucks. Todays’ version (Sam Adams Summer Ale) was found at Johnny’s BBQ on 77th and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan (“….Put some South in Yo’ Mouth!”). Teamed with a plate of Brisket Tips (they’re tips the same way that chop sticks are used to chop), it makes for a great excuse to just sit somewhere in the city for a couple of hours, occasionally looking at one of the many flat panel TVs to see if the Yanks are beating the Sox (White version, which they did…) The city has a million diversions. Earlier in the day we had skirted one of them, a Street Fair on Madison Avenue. Normally we try and visit them on our own terms (i.e. looking for something in particular.. not just doing the walk from pita stand to pita stand, carmel corn to carmel corn, Chinese massage to Chinese massage), but today we walked the whole thing, hoping to find some elusive, neo-Olde Something.

There was a woman, very inventive, who took liquor bottles, heated them to 3 zillion degrees, and flattened them in the shape of a cheese platter. Sounds goofy, but it’s a nice Craft thing, and rare amongst the all too frequently found trite and usual stuff. The street fairs, which have mostly Undedicated New Yorkers attending.. the Real people seem to avoid them..(does that make me UnReal?) have become, like most “marketing opportunities”, just predictable and uninteresting. How many lemonade stands do we really need? Well.. maybe every other block when its 90+ degrees, but I wish the folks would be more creative. And of course it is the embodiment of what Dan Burstein (author and smart person) used to call the “Third World at Home:” virtually no one except the guy with the Imported Cannolis (from Brooklyn!) was born here. Many Chinese, many Koreans, many Indians, some Latinos. One wonders, with all the young Chinese sellers, many with the semi-fixed 1000 yard stare of bewilderment, are they – Falun Gong, or some other group which finds people, brings them in to work street fairs and who knows what else, and they end up trying to sell you metallic teeth cleaners, iPod cases, and really chintzy jewelry -- “Everything $2”. I know that if I ended up in Beijing of Mumbai, selling whoKnowsWhat to the locals, I would have a thousand Kilometer stare as I stood there, waiting for something untoward to happen. But New York remains an adventure, and when you can get sushi and barbeque on the same block, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. The walk home included passing a few classic New York windows: a t-shirt which proclaims the ultimate in New York Laisser Faire,

And a window of a 2nd Avenue grilled Chicken place, whose menu status might give you pause to wonder whether they were really capable of serving you something which you actually Wanted to Eat.

But it’s New York. Your feet move, the city swirls, and the only thing you know for sure is that whatever today was, there is a chance that tomorrow will top it. Like Ed Koch used to say, “How’m I doin?” Well New York, just fine I’d say. Just fine. We’re just sayin. David

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Middle East is Just a Mess

The Middle East is just a mess but the Middle East doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it. Whenever I hear a Tom Friedman or some Middle East expert say, “ other Middle Eastern nations need to get involved and do something about it.” I have to laugh. It seems to me that whatever nation is involved in a conflict is pretty much on their own. Not including Israel, the other nations who are not Iraq or Lebanon or Palestine, the other Arab nations are profiting from the conflicts. They are making a fortune. They must be in cahoots with the oil companies because their profits are soaring while our ability to pay for essential services, (not gas for vacation vehicles—although there’s nothing wrong with a vacation) is a fantasy—or maybe history is a better word.

The earth is a mess, the world is a mess, the country is a mess and I can’t help but feel that the US must, in part, be responsible. We can no longer win a popularity contest. I’m not sure we ever could but it wasn’t as obvious that our prospects were totally dim – or nonexistent. And why is that? How did we go from a nation that was rich, strong and respected to a nation that is in debt, where the rich get to help their friends at the expense of everyone else (some would say corruption runs rampant in the corporate world), and that is viewed as a terrorist rather than a friend. If we were kids we would describe us as bully on the world block.

When I get one of those political e-mails I usually just delete it. I hardly ever pass it on. But maybe this is part of the reason for the problems we are experiencing. Who would ever hire this guy?

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington , DC 20520

I was arrested in Kennebunkport, Maine , in 1976 for driving under the influence of alcohol. I pled guilty, paid a fine, and had my driver's license suspended for 30 days. My Texas driving record has been "lost" and is not available.

I joined the Texas Air National Guard and went AWOL. I refused to take a drug test or answer any questions about my drug use. By joining the Texas Air National Guard, I was able to avoid combat duty in Vietnam

I graduated from Yale University with a low C average.
I was a cheerleader.

I ran for U.S. Congress and lost. I began my career in the oil business in Midland , Texas , in 1975. I bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas . The company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.
I bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land using taxpayer money. With the help of my father and our friends in the oil industry, including Enron CEO Ken Lay, I was elected governor of Texas.

I changed Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies, making Texas the most polluted state in the Union .
During my tenure, Houston replaced Los Angeles as the most smog-ridden city in America
I cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of billions in borrowed money.
I set the record for the most executions by any governor in American history.
With the help of my brother, the governor of Florida , and my father's appointments to the Supreme Court, I became President after losing by over 500,000 votes.

I am the first President in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal record.
I invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of over one billion dollars per week.
I spent the U.S. surplus and effectively bankrupted the U.S. Treasury.
I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S. history.
I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month period.
I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.
I set the all-time record for the biggest drop in the history of the U.S. stock market.
In my first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their jobs and that trend continues every month.
I'm proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in U.S. history. My "poorest millionaire," Condoleeza Rice, had a Chevron oil tanker named after her.
I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S. President. I am the all-time U.S. and world record-holder for receiving the most corporate campaign donations.
My largest lifetime campaign contributor, and one of my best friends, Kenneth Lay, presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in U.S. History, Enron.
My political party used Enron private jets and corporate attorneys to assure my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election decision.
I have protected my friends at Enron and Halliburton against investigation or prosecution.
More time and money was spent investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair than has been spent investigating one of the biggest corporate rip- offs in history.
I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and refused to intervene when corruption involving the oil industry was revealed.
I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history.
I changed the U.S. policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded government contracts.
I appointed more convicted criminals to administration than any President in U.S. history.
I created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the history of the United States government.
I've broken more international treaties than any President in U.S. history.
I am the first President in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.
I withdrew the U.S. from the World Court of Law. I refused to allow inspectors access to U.S . "prisoners of war" detainees and thereby have refused to abide by the Geneva Convention.
I am the first President in history to refuse United Nations election inspectors (during the 2002 U.S. election).
I set the record for fewest numbers of press conferences of any President since the advent of television.
I set the all-time record for most days on vacation in any one-year period. After taking off the entire month of August, I presided over the worst security failure in U.S. history.
I garnered the most sympathy for the U.S. after the World Trade Center attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most hated country in the world, the largest failure of diplomacy in world history.
I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously protest me in public venues (15 million people), shattering the record for protests against any person in the history of mankind.
I am the first President in U.S. history to order an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. I did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S. citizens, and the world community.
I have cut health care benefits for war veterans and support a cut in duty benefits for active duty troops and their families-in-wartime.
In my State of the Union Address, I lied about our reasons for attacking Iraq and then blamed the lies on our British friends.
I am the first President in history to have a majority of Europeans (71%) view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and security.
I am supporting development of a nuclear "Tactical Bunker Buster," a WMD. I have so far failed to fulfill my pledge to bring Osama Bin Laden [sic] to justice.

All records of my tenure as governor of Texas are now in my father's library, sealed and unavailable for public view.
All records of SEC investigations into my insider trading and my bankrupt companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-President, attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public review.
I am a member of the Republican Party.

We’re just sayin… Iris

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Look UP, New York, Look UP!!

Grand Central in all its New York glory

New Yorkers tend to look straight ahead. No, really, they do. Stand on the corner of 47th and 6th Avenue, and look in any direction. Those eyes will bear down on you as they scoot by, like the air intakes on a jet fighter, they are always looking forward. If they were ray-guns, those eyes would injure a lot of people. And there would be a lot of burned backs, shoulders, and bums, where the straight-ahead looking eyes/ray guns would be scanning all the time. I suppose it makes for effcient motoring when you're hopping about the city on your feet, but it does have a few draw backs. I mean, true, true, there is nothing like being able to do that amazing Pedestrian dance - the hop-to steps that let you merge inside a crowd of fifty, with another crowd of fifty going the opposite direction, and no one gets hurt by it. It's quite an amazing series of feats when you realize how few pedestrian-pedestrian accidents there are each day, given the chances for an unfortunate encounter in the millions. They have done all kinds of amazing psych tests, filmed busy intersections with high-speed cameras, and analysed it all frame-by-frame, to see just how we each do the escape and evade thing as we head on down the road.

But as I said, it comes at a price. New York, the singular town that it is, has a charm and magnetism which perhaps only the visually attuned can appreciate. The city was made by a zillion different architects working on a half zillion plans, the end result of which is that virtually no building is like the one just next to it. Sure, there are townhouses and brownstones which have a lyrical symmetry to them; but in the end, there is much more difference in the beauty of New York than there is in the sameness. Thank God for that, or at least let's thank some happily challenged designers.

This afternoon, when Jordan announced that she had to grab a 6:30 train to Connecticut to meet her pal Mikey, I thought it would make emminent sense to accompany her to the station, and have a real 1940's kind of RR station send off. There were no cabs to be had, and I ended up carrying her bag most of the way, calling upon my experience in travel, to realize that carrying a bag on your head is, half the time, the right way to carry without undue fatigue. You're balanced, you won't tip to one side or the other, and in fact it lets you look straight ahead in that vaunted New York way, letting you thread your tootsies amongst all those people who seem to be bent on being in your way. Thus we ended up at the 6 o'clock hour in the center of New York, that wonderfully baroque hunk o'rock that has been welcoming New Yawkers for decades: Grand Central station.

There is always ONE guy on his cellfone, motionless in the crowd
And particularly in the afternoon, the way light hits the windows and the shadows it creates on the floor is something quite special. We ended up with a smart decision: Martinis at Charlie Palmers cafe overlooking the grand Hall. The martinis were very New York. Very Straight Ahead, if you know what I mean. Those olives looking at you like a pair of New York eyeballs, gazing straight at you, like a well-intentioned pedestrian. But while the Martini was fun, the view of the station was even better. It required looking DOWN to see it. But over the rail, there was all of New York, moving in randomesque (ok, not random, those folks actually know JUST where they are going) movements, dragging their shadows along with them. It was a visual treat, and I kept leaping to the marble wall, and snapping a few pictures as the shadows and light ebbed, flowed, and did its thing. That, however, didn't prepare me for the treat I got walking out of the cheeseShop/Market (a great market that is, if you recently won a state Lotto) onto Lexington Ave. At 43rd st., looking east, you are looking directly at the UN Secretariat.

The UN Secretariat on 43rd St.
I'd never seen it look this nice in all my Gotham years. But the emerald green was tingly and rich. So, out came the LX-1. Snap. Snap. Then we started walking up the Avenue (lexington, which was quickly traded in for Third), and one block after the next yielding the most wonderful skyscapes.

Looking up, I saw one of those great vistas that most straight-ahead New Yorkers probably miss. The sky, and the wonderful way it glistened off the glass of the building on 48th st. Then, a block later, an even better one. Then looking West on 51st, to Iris' favorite building (the ex GE bldg. I think...) whose towers are worthy of Notre Dame (the Paris one, not South Bend.)

Home - 54th and 3rd.
Then last but not least, the Lipstick Building/Citicorp Center, our block. Bingo, we were home, and having looked up, and looked down, were almost didn't know it was our very own. That can happen when you fail to do your looking the right way. Remember. Get with the program. Look UP! New York!! We're just sayin.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What is a democrat?

Over the last few days there has been lots of talk about Joe Lieberman. If you’re smart you haven’t paid attention. I’m not that smart but clearly, he’s not that smart either. The question really is not about whether Joe Lieberman will be a candidate but whether he is a democrat and further, what is a democrat?

I used to have the answer to that question but I simply don’t anymore. A democrat used to be someone who cared about the “less fortunate”. They were willing to spend money and use resources to provide opportunities to the people who had not had them. They believed in justice for all--not just the lip service part. They were Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindu’s and Buddhists. They were also laborers, teachers, blue collar workers, women, minorities, the educated and the soon to be educated. They were young and old and black, brown, yellow and white. You could find them at a WalMart like store, on the upper west side of Manhattan or shopping at a local grocer. They were in government, public service, the military, corporations, and small businesses. You get the point? They were everywhere and they knew why they were democrats and what they stood for. It is no longer the case. The lines have been skewed and the issues have been muddled.

A few years ago I worked for a guy that was running for Democratic Committee Chair. The guy was a schmuck and additionally, he never paid me. But that’s beside the point—well maybe it’s not because I have heard that republicans pay very well. Anyway, (which is one of my favorite words) Tim Roemer ran against Howard Dean. But Tim Roemer is a Catholic and not in favor of abortion. (Being pro-choice is part of the party platform.) He maintained that he didn’t want to change the platform but that there had to be room for someone with his views in the party leadership. He made a good case. The democratic party can’t be a single issue party and we need to broaden our outreach if we are going to survive. My job was to put him in touch with women leaders and (I suggested) listen to what they had to say, and figure out how to have a conversation with women of opposing views. He did OK except he didn’t really listen, he lost and he didn’t pay me.

So the question is; is there a difference between an issue like abortion and the war in Iraq? Can someone be a democrat and still support the war? If someone supports the President’s right wing policies, should they still be given the opportunity to represent the people of a state totally opposed to those policies. Does a senator or representative have to reflect the views of their constituency? How much of the time? I don't have the answers to these questions. But I'm a really good poser and supposer of questions.

But back to Sen. Lieberman. There are things I know about Joe Lieberman. I'm not sure they are important when it comes to making a decision about his qualifications for the Senate but here goes. He is an entertainer—yes he sings. He's not great but it does take courage to have a mediocre voice and still belt out a tune. He is a devout Jew. He won't campaign or work on the Sabbath. This is a good thing because a congressional or political staff needs a definate day to rest. He must be kind because he let, or encouraged, his first wife (the latest wife was there too) to tag along and be treated like a VIP during his campaign for VP. Yes it was a bit disconcerting and oft times crowded. His children seem to respect him and animals probably flock to his side. And finally, he supports the war in Iraq, not just the troops but the war. People say that he has always been consistent in his position and that’s a good thing. But is the inability to reflect and see that maybe there needs to be an alternative position a good thing, or does it indicate an inability to be flexible when you think you may be wrong or you can never admit you made a mistake, or worse, he actually believes we should be there. His supporters say, you know what you get with Joe. And I guess the people of Conn. will have to decide if they want it? And if he is their democrat. I just wish I knew what a democrat is today. We're just sayin...

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Key Wester returns

The Key Wester, who is not Jewish-- so don't be blaming us for anything that resembles an historical perspective-- sent me this story about a messiah. It made me laugh and after my credit card fiasco, I needed to laugh and laughing is always good.

Over two thousand years ago a self-proclaimed messiah sat with twelve of his followers for an evening meal of raw fish and warm sake. In addition to his ramblings about the universe and the role he played in it’s future, he was also known (in select circles) as being the driving force that introduced sushi into the Jewish community. Unfortunately that meal didn’t go over well at all. Except for his vice-messiah no other member of the group partook of it. As a matter of fact it was such a flop that it became known forever as “the last supper. “

The purpose of this meeting was to formulate and market his campaign and get the people to proclaim him “The Man.“ His vice-messiah who was a real dick, proposed that perhaps he needed something very powerful to prove his claims. Then allthe people would believe he really was “he chosen one.” (Actually he preferred that title to messiah.)

So as the messiah drank cup after cup of sake and listened to the vice’s plan it seemed to make sense. The plan was to fake his death. Then after a quick burial in a small cave, during the darkness of night, they would sneak in and free him. A day or two later they would pretend they wanted to move his body to higher ground to protect it from flooding waters. Then they would proclaim that when they opened the cave the body was gone. It would be assumed that he might have gone to live with his father who was known as the senior messiah. However when they went to senior's home, there was no body, only a note which said, "Ran out of sake, went to get some more, I’ll catch up with you guys later down at the ranch."

But the dick in charge destroyed that note and wrote a new one. It read,
“I’ve done as much as I can and now I want to turn over the leadership to my vice-messiah. I’ve become so fond of sake I just can’t stop drinking it. And please stop calling him a dick behind his back”

It was signed with only his initials. GW
That was all the proof his followers need to prove the authenticity of the note. Only they knew his real name, Great Won

Funny right? We're just sayin...

Credit, Schmedit

Dealings with credit card companies are never pleasant. But dealing with anyone who is doing their best to gouge every penny they can from their customer is never pleasant. That’s why I love my American express card. I know they are a business and they are making money but I appreciate the fact that they treat me like an adult not a moron.

What is really interesting is that when we (baby boomers) were young, we couldn’t get an American Express card because we couldn’t qualify. At least I couldn’t until an executive at American Express had the hots for my business partner and made sure we all got gold cards. VISA didn’t care about qualifying. They sent cards to everyone. Sometimes two or three cards. Sometimes 10 would arrive in one day. They even found me when I was living in my car and using the women’s room at the Hyatt on Capital Hill. Yes, someone from VISA came banging on my stall one morning to get me to fill out the form.

But I didn’t because I didn’t trust anyone who so wanted me that badly. They seemed desperate to corner the market or at least to establish some kind of customer loyalty. Like we were there for you when you had nothing so we want to reap the benefits now that you have something. Over the years I enjoyed my American Express but I couldn’t use it everywhere. They charged the vendors too much so they started to accept only VISA and MasterCard. So I got a VISA. From US Bank for no good reason except it came on a day when I decided I needed a card. And for fifteen years they seemed OK. Credit cards are horrible. We use them because they are easy but they come with a price. Take US BANK, for example. Please take them…. No. Well I don’t blame you. And I’m sure I am not alone and they are not the only gonifs (that’s a real thief in Yiddish) , in the credit card business. But they are right up there. I think they may be the single only credit card company (VISA) that offers absolutely nothing in return for their business. No mileage, no gas, no nothing. For about the last six months I have been getting my statement about two days before it’s due. Sometimes I am away. People go away. If you have two weeks to respond to something then you might be able to act in a timely manner but two days is usually impossible. So I ask myself, why after 15 years have I received my bill so late. For fifteen years I never paid a late charge or finance fee. I always pay my bills on time and in full. They were not making any money on me. I am not the customer they want. They want to charge late fees and finance charges because that’s what makes them rich.

Do I think they conspired against me specifically. Well no. Even though, as I have said before, it’s all about me, even I don’t think they’ve singled me out. I think they do it to large numbers of people. I think they will do anything to make a buck. That’s the unfortunate news about the convenience of a credit card. The good news is that there are so many credit card companies, a person will never be at a loss to find one. I had hoped, that if I was forced to look beyond American Express, that Trader Joes would have their own card, but they may be the single only corporation that doesn’t. Disappointed as I am I will find another card, which I will use only occasionally and only when I can’t use my American Express. Oh, and by the way. I cancelled my US Bank card for two reasons. 1). I am exhausted from trying to get the payment out in such haste and 2). because Ellise (she was the supervisor) talked to me like I was six years old… That’s probably the age of their new targeted customer because the kid won’t use the card until they’re teenagers and then why should they worry about costs incurred—their parents will receive the bills two days before they’re due and not know about it until the penalties are worth more than their homes. We’re just sayin….