Thursday, November 30, 2006

And, to La La Land

When Jordan was little Mel Harris, a wonderful friend, Actress and most importantly, Jersey girl, sent us the most wonderful musical cassette. It was some young man singing 15 lullabys using Jordan’s name. You see these in the baby magazines, probably novelty catalogues and at street fairs in NY. They are personalized songs for children. We have heard numbers of them but none are in the same league as far as quality and poignance. The best thing about this tape was that it came from Kleenex, and you could only get it if you bought enough Huggies or other like products. The cassettes were such nice baby gifts that sometimes I found myself sneaking into supermarkets and clipping the coupon which provided enough points to make the purchase.

"Little Jordan come to bed, close your eyes lay your weary head, on the pillow..."

Other times I was forced to buy the required products and since Jordan was far beyond diapers, I left praying Kleenex would delve into the feminine hygiene area. Jordan listened to it endlessly – as did her parents. And then a terrible thing happened. Huggies stopped the promotion. But luckily, we had copied it four or five times in order to avoid having to replace it if, God forbid, it got lost or damaged or the Corporation found a more lucrative way to suck in the consumer—which, of course, they did.

The songs all sounded pretty much the same. Some started with “Little Jordan lay your head” some exclaimed the benefits of dreamland, and many just said (in any number of lovely ways) OK kid the day is done and you should be as well. David and/or I would get in bed with her and begin to sing along with her lullaby tape, and before we knew it we were fast asleep and Jordan would be begging us to get up and give her more room. Even today when I hear the music, my eyes close immediately and I’m out cold. We would never listen to it when we are driving or operating heavy equipment because it works faster than an Ambien.

Anyway, I have always thought that when Jordan or Seth went quickly and peacefully to sleep, they went to La La Land. In fact, the only time the that LLL was not the immediate destination was when they lost a tooth. Seth despised the Tooth Fairy. It terrified him. So he would leave his tooth outside his room and stay up all night to make sure the Tooth Fairy didn’t come through the door. Jordan, being Jordan, wrote or dictated a lengthy letter to the Tooth Fairy listing all her requirements for an exchange of the precious ivory. Then she waited up all night to see if the Tooth Fairy followed directions. My kids were constantly colorful and remain so as adults.

I have always loved the concept of La La Land. It seems that sending someone to a terrific sleep destination is much more sensible than advising relaxation exercises or short term meditation. For us La La Land was kind of like OZ when Dorothy opened the house door after her near fatal adventure in the sky. But this morning the doctor at the hospital where my mother was taken yesterday, described her condition as being in La La Land. It was a bit off putting, even frightening. And it was hardly a medical approach to describing that she was delusionary, but that’s what he meant. I am praying that my mom’s trip is short and that she comes back as her feisty funny self. But I started to think about an eventual trip to La La Land, one that I might take – or you, and whether I would want make the journey. Or would I rather watch myself deteriorate, be fully aware of the loss of mobility, recognize my limitations, suffer the pain and yet be totally cogent. Or would I choose to get my ticket for a spectacularly beautiful La La Land where all my good memories were in tact, and it didn’t matter if I knew who was coming and going because I was perfectly content to know only that this is where I resided forever. It seems not much of a choice for me. We’re just saying...Iris

Of Denis, and Alec and who knows who else

I was sent a message this morning by Todd Korol, a very good, smart, photographer living in Canada, far enough up north that plugging your car's block heater is something you do when you park at a parking meter (geez, how smart IS he, anyway?) Frankly, if you never were cold enough to plug in a block heater, then you really dont deserve the comfort of Miami or Puerta Vallarta. It's the kind of bone chilling cold that makes you think -- if our ancestors really did cross the polar ice cap to get here from Russia --- ok mine didnt, they wussed out and took the boat from Amsterdam --- then they must have been tough hombres and had a pretty good selection of H&M mastadon fur jackets. Anyway, Todd mentioned that there was a very good blog by Alec Soth, a Minneapolis based photographer, recently joined to Magnum, and who does, well, some wacky and wonderful things with an 8x10" camera. His site is HERE, I think. Im still struggling with LINKS... not patties. Patties I have all figured out, especially the spicy ones with basted eggs, but the links are still driving me nuts. On his site, which I read while on my Laptop equipped Exercise Bike, I read much of the past few weeks posts about photo related subjects, and came across a mention he made of the passing of Denis Cameron, a photographer I new when I was in Vietnam in 1970-72, and who was one of the grown ups. Well, ok, he didn't always ACT like a grown up, but I think I learned a lot from him just by hanging around some crappy firebase with him. Education by osmosis. Alec had a short q&a with Denis' son Marc, young enough that I didn't even know there WAS a son, but old enough to be a real adult (32). As Denis is about the 6th or 7th great photographer to have passed away in the past 8 months, I wrote Alec a little note, and include that below:

Alec, here's to you for finding the time to pursue your blog, along with all the other elements of your life. My wife and I write a blob (no, not a blog, a Blob!) though she writes much more on it than I do, and finding the time to commit is always the toughest part. I knew Denis Cameron in Cambodia and Vietnam in 70-72, and always enjoyed the insouciance he seemed to bring to a very heavy subject. You knew Denis was thinking all the time... just the way he would look around during a conversation, the kind of wandering eyes which let you know that at any second this conversation might abruptly end while he grabs his Leica and resumes his mission. He was a wonderful steady guy to hang around with. I was never someone very comfy with being a 'war photographer' and I think that the chance of just hanging out in his presence probably aided me in seeing things calmly. Like so many others, sadly, his loss this year is one of a large group of very good photographers (in the last year, 6 former LIFE staffers have died) who are leaving todays world. One of the things I fear of the 'digital age' is that as photographers, especially younger ones who have bascially never known 'film' and its issues and joys, seem to think that photography started about five years ago. The navel-gazing habit of chimping on the back of your camera, seeing your images on your screen immediately all reinforce the feelings that nothing has gone before. This is a rather sad trend, and in many ways robs especially younger photographers of knowing the joys of imagery that preceded them. Having been part of the "me" generation, though mostly unaware of it at the time ( me? you mean ME?...) I see the ongoing patterns of supra-self indulgence threatening the new generations from knowing how good those people were ahead of them. Denis was one of those guys. As Marc (his son) said, for Denis the story was always the Story, and it wasn't really about him, except that he needed to be there to see it. TV has done terrible damage to our society by feeding the WHOreportsIT beast (Anderson Cooper.. better known than Ed Murrow? Ouch!) John Durniak, the legendary TIME photo editor in the early 70s and who worked with Denis, used to say that "the still photographer is, pound for pound, the most efficient reporting machine there is..." and I think it's still true today. It would be great if we could find a Denis Cameron book by next year's Christmas, as even the little bit I know of his work was more than deserving. A tip of my boonie hat to you Denis. We're just sayin.... David

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Good, The Bad, and the Posse

You know how some people say that bad things come in threes? Well not in our family. Bad things come in tens and twenties, but that’s enough whining. Let’s talk about one or two—but only briefly. So Prudence, (my mother’s companion) who left yesterday, called me on Tuesday morning and said that she had found my mother in a lump on the floor at 3:00 in the morning. The conversation went something like this...

“Hi Prudence, how’s my mom?’
“Well, not so good. I heard something in her room and when I went in she was lying on the floor. (The lump description was mine). I had heard something at 12 and when I looked in she was talking about standing in a line—but I thought it was a dream.”

After 10 days in New Jersey (that blob was somewhat amusing), David and I were heading back to Va., but instead we drove to New Jersey. We took her to the doctor who said that her vital signs were OK.
“But doctor” I said calmly, “she seems disoriented and ten days ago she was mobile and lucid and now she has lost about 70% of her ability to function.”
“Yes that’s true...”

We took her home and she seemed OK. She went to sleep for a while, and seemed like she was resting. David and I started back to Virginia, where we arrived about 6pm. Once home, I called Prudence again, and we had the ‘lump’ conversation. My cousins, Ro and Dick arrived, tried to deal with it but we all decided that 911 was the best option. They took her to the hospital where she spend Tuesday night. And so after 10 hours at home, I drove back to New Jersey, and went directly to the hospital where my mother was occupying space in 100A.

Prudence left this morning (Wednesday) and Connie arrived. But there is a difference between a companion and someone who changes a diaper. So now we have to figure out how much companioning and how much diapering Connie wants to do. I know those of you who had babies that became grown children will understand that difference. And speaking of grown children, (here’s another bad thing) my cousin Bill called Connie to say that his son Bobby would be staying at my mothers for the next few days. He determined this without ever having asked me or my mother—who right now, doesn’t know the difference between her soup and the lady in the next bed. He did inform Connie (I remind you she is my mother’s aide) that it would be alright for Connie just to make Bobby breakfast—she didn’t have to worry about dinner. Needless to say, Bobby’s breakfast and bed space were not to be. I happily made that call.

But that’s only part of what I wanted to blob about. Over the last few days I have been made aware of the concept of “my Posse”. I never listened to rap and I am not cool like a 20 year old, so for me a posse was what the Lone Ranger gathered to catch the bad guy. Anyway, a few weeks ago Jordan and I were talking about our friend Howard—and Jordan, who adores Howard, referred to him as her “posse”. Then David talked about a few old friends as his “posse” and on Friday we had dinner and decided to go to Tasti-d’lite for dessert. There, I was greeted by the ‘Tasti’ staff with great enthusiasm, and I realized that the ‘Tasti’ personnel on both 3rd and 2nd avenue locations, are my “posse”. What a concept.

When I thought about it I realized that we all have a posse or two. We may have a family posse, made up of people to whom we are related but with whom we still want to be involved. We have a friends posse – which includes people who love us just a bit more than they have too. What exactly is a posse? It is not like a clique, because in a clique everyone is pretty equal and all the people in the group are pretty equal. When someone has a posse it means that you have selected people with whom you want to be associated. I love the people at Tasti and although I don’t hang with them, I love the association. Jordan and Howard love each other and despite their difference in age, he is the kind of person with whom she wants to be associated – smart, cute, feisty, fun and ever so whacky.

When Posse’s happen they are never a bad thing. In fact, when bad things are happening, it is always good to turn to, or at the least, to think about your posse, and how they impact on your life. Bad things may come in threes or tens or twenties. Good things can come in equal numbers. Posse’s can be just a few people or many but they are always good. So like the Lone Ranger, depend on your posse and they will help you to defeat the bad things. We’re just sayin... Iris

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dinner in Gotham, Baghdad, Whereever?

Recently, just last Friday as a matter of fact, I came into the City with the family for a post-Thanksgiving day in Gotham. The girls all went to see Spring Awakening (go see it, they say!) and I was left to try and find someone to have dinner with (or stay home and read read read.) I was checking my email on the laptop at the apartment about 430pm, and saw a couple of names on my ‘buddy list’ who I thought just might be free for dinner, and who I hadn’t seen for a while.

The first was a Washington Post photographer, and while it was unlikely she would be in the city (she is everywhere BUT New York), I sent her a little “how are you – what ya doing for dinner tonight” msg on the AIM. (I must be the longest running client of AOL, at least 15 years… having been, I assume, recruited on the fone by Steve Case himself when the Berlin Wall was still up.) After a minute, she msg’ed back “I’m in Iraq. “ It threw me for a mild loop, but I thought, we can be anywhere, and online, so I guess it’s not such a big deal. She told me how things were there (dangerous), how the picture taking was (difficult), and that she’d be back in a few weeks, and that yes, our little 2004 Electoral Group (a half dozen photogs who covered the elections) should all meet in December so we can critique each other’s Contest entries. But for now, there she was, embedded with soldiers, covering a difficult story, trying to work that balance between risk and reward.

I looked down the Buddy list, and saw another young photographer, Chris Hondros, who I also met and spent time with in the ’04 campaign. Out went the message: “Hey Chris, if you’re in the city, let’s grab dinner tonight.” Moments later back came the message --which I have begun to believe is on the Paste function of a lot of good, young photographers -- “I’m in Baghdad.” No dinner there, Dave! I thought to myself. I wished him well, and then let him go as he was, as it turned out, sending pictures back to the states. In fact on Saturday’s TIMES, he had the front page.

I tried one other photog who I missed on IM , but had a phone number for. He didn’t answer, and I left the message “… Ron, I suspect you’re in Iraq, but if you aren’t give me a shout….” Well he was gone, too, just not in Iraq.

What is the point? Other than grabbing a quick bite at the local diner, I started to think about the way the world has changed and sped itself up. When I was a young photographer working in Vietnam, the concept of Instant Messaging would have been wackier than Buck Rogers’ ray guns. From Quang Tri, we had enough trouble sitting on poor quality military phones yelling “break break, Dragon, give me Saigon!” or some other equally inane screaming fit, in order to get the least intelligible call out of some rat infested press center up north. We lived and worked in a way that the quality of Time had its own imprint. Instead of beaming pictures back from Quang Tri on my laptop, I’d take the precious exposed film film out of my camera – of a picture I did on a Monday, and find a pigeon headed to Saigon that night (i.e. a reporter headed back with at least one empty pocket in his jacket). The next day, the film would be put on the Panam RoundTheWorld flight to New York, and arrive sometime Wednesday at JFK. There it would be picked up by a motorcyclist, and weaved through VanWyck Expressway traffic to the Time-Life labs downtown. Thursday, the film and contact sheets would arrive on the desk of the assigning editor. They’d order a few prints, and sometime Friday, the picture would be sent off to Chicago, for the “magazine close,” a mere five days after the picture had been seen, captured and saved on film. What happened in those five days? For one thing, the editors in New York had a built in “study time” to try and figure out just what the Monday events meant in the longer run. We also felt we needed to try and make pictures that would be good enough to last a week. There was, of course, no CNN or Fox News, nothing like that to artificially speed up the velocity of news like we have now. It wasn’t a bad thing to have a wait a few days to sort things out.

"Fatigued G.I. at Lang Vei, Vietnam, 1971. Printed a week after it was made."

Rather like the air going over the top of an airplane wing, the faster news goes, the less pressure, less weight it creates. The TV/internet mantra of “Live and in color” isn’t necessarily bigger and better. It’s certainly not “truer.” Take a little time. Think about it before you react. Let it digest. You may not be able to find someone to take to dinner, but at least by next week, you’ll have some vague idea of what happened today. We’re just sayin. David

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving, and Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is over and for that I give thanks. It’s not that cooking and cleaning non-stop for twenty four hours isn’t on the list of things I love to do, but that, combined with the stress of my mother’s failing health, ranks is comparable to having another baby in an unmedicated birth. Having my brother, sister-in-law, and niece around was great. They are supportive and involved. But so many people in the same space when things aren’t so good, is never easy. And if it hadn’t been for my dear friends Lee and Marty. I never would have survived dinner.

Mrs. Fowler - the Grand Marshall

With due respect to my favorite cousins and lifelong friends -- who I do love and adore. Separate from relationships with my mother or other family members, Lee is the sister I never had, but if I could have done a special order—she’s the person I would have described. There’s never any miscommunication. We seem to share a kind of special understanding about life, love, kids, and fun. And when I asked her to bring a little dessert, she brought a pie for every person and they were all delicious.

I know it may seem unbelievable, but in a matter of four days my mother went from being a fairly mobile human being to not being able to get up by herself. We’re not sure if it’s the holidays, the botox, or just total depression, but she’s not doing very well. At the beginning of the week we were talking about 7 days a week with a companion in an independent living situation and now, just 6 days later we are not even sure she can make it in assisted living.

The Class of '52 & then some

But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. On Saturday, after Thanksgiving, there was a parade celebrating the 100th birthday of my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Fowler. The parade was actually a Christmas kick-off. Mrs. Fowler was the Grand Marshall. She rode in her 1988 Lincoln, which she drove until she was about 95. During the course of her 46 year tenure at John Hill school, she taught both a morning and afternoon Kindergarten class. It is estimated that she had over 2500 children. She never had any children of her own. The idea was for her former students to march behind her car and lead the parade. Whoever made the arrangements didn’t get the word out to too many people, so there were only about 20 former students in attendance, but spirits were high and the weather was beautiful.

Iris, Devin and Jordan greet the Grand Marshall

I love a parade. If you have read any of our blobs you know that we attended every scheduled parade in NY over the summer. Especially those celebrating some ethnic group or issue, like gay rights or Pakistani.Independence—which coincides with Indian Independence -- but the politics prevent them from having the same parade. As the parade passes by, (and yes there is a song), I love to march along and wave a flag or a bra—depending on the occasion. I love the color, the music, and the suggestion of happiness. I like watching a parade more than marching in one because you are able to escape gracefully. The only parade I actually ever marched in was the 1992 Clinton Inaugural Parade, where I accompanied the Raffi float because Jordan was riding with the star. It was about 5 below zero, the kids were in t-shirts, and we were among the last floats to be released. It was incredibly painful. My friend Marian, then Raffi’s publicist, ran around grabbing sodas away from our kids because there weren’t any conveniently located bathrooms, and walking out of a secure area, across the mall, just wasn’t that easy. As a matter of fact, the only thing more painful for me was packing goody bags for Chelsea’s friends at the White House immediately after the parade – who says politics is glamorous?
Suffice to say, the Inaugural parade didn’t compare with Mrs. Fowler’s tribute. The only downside was that the area from which the march began, to our final destination, (Santa Land), was so short that the participants were never really able to march. They were either standing still, shmushed together, or taking tiny steps to avoid falling over the group in front or in back of them.

The Parade kicks off with Mrs. Fowler and friends

But that didn’t matter, there were a few bands that sat quite still and entertained the observers, and there were observers who entertained the marchers -- because they stood in one place for so long they formed lifelong friendships. And Mrs. Fowler was just glowing. It was difficult to see how active she was at 100 and how my mom had given up at 86. There’s a lesson here somewhere. I’m not sure what it is, but Mrs. Fowler chose to live an active, challenging life, and she wanted always to be happy and well. That’s the route we should all take to try to make sure our bodies and our minds don’t betray us. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Doggie Burnett Dog

Jordan and Doggie, in their third Decade, Boston 2006

When Jordan was born, Aunt Irene bought her a little beige stuffed puppy. With pink ribbons in her hair and soft fluffy ears she was irresistible. When Jordan was about six months old and not being parents who worried about straining the air with chicken soup before she breathed (Jordan not Doggie), we put Doggie in the crib. By the time Jordan was 2, Doggie was a permanent part of her life. For a while Doggie went everywhere that Jordan went, but by the time she was seven or eight she stayed home and provided nighttime companionship.

This more limited time together was not an indication of less importance. In fact, quite the opposite. It was more to protect the friend than to distance from her. It took a long time for me to realize that Doggie had a gender, but everytime I referred to her as “him” or “he”, Jordan would get indignant and yell, “Mom, SHE has ribbons in her hair!” This was obviously before she was comfortable with the concept of cross-dressing acquaintances.

Doggie B and Pillow, hanging out on Jordan's bed at school

When Jordan went to sleep away camp – Stage Door Manor – she left Doggie home. They had never been separated but David and I had gone to look at the camp in the Spring before Jordan’s summer adventure began. It was a dump. True, it had not yet been cleaned and polished for the soon to attend campers, but it was a dump. It was an old Catskills hotel. Even when it was new it was probably not elegant, but it had seen many summers of active theater kids who lived 5 in a hotel double room with one bathroom. I cried all the way home, wailing about how stupid we had been to agree to send her. But she had decided that she wanted to go to theater camp, she found the ad in the NY Times magazine, she called the 800 number and got the promotional tape and she was excited beyond belief. So how could we say no? And now, how could we say yes?

It was too late. She was going to Loch Sheldrake for three weeks. (The Loch instead of Lake was supposed to indicate that it was classy). But when our packing was almost complete I looked at Doggie and had visions of the fluffy beast being kidnapped and destroyed or simply lying under a pile of dirty, really dirty, girls clothes and underwear. In her wisdom, and all by herself, Jordan decided that Doggie was not going to camp. She would be temporarily replaced by Black Panther, who was not, at two years old, as fragile as Doggie, now going on 10. “Mom”, she said, “I think Doggie should stay home and keep you company. I know you’ll be lonely without me so Doggie will be there to take care of you.”

Did I mention Pillow and Blankie? Also purchased before she was a year old, pillow (which was actually two pillows) and blankie were a critical part of the sleep team. And not a small part. And we did have a number of horrible incidents with them. On one occasion we left blankie in a hotel on Martha’s Vineyard The next day when the reality of the loss became apparent, we called and asked them to look for it. They found and rescued it from the trash. But there was no small amount of hysteria involved from realization to rescue. And then there was the time Maria put Doggie in the wash, causing her nose to melt and the stuffing to flatten considerably, but that in no way impacted on Jordan’s need or love for them.

Joyce (pregnant, and due this spring) practices holding Doggie. B

When Jordan left for college, Doggie, blankie and pillow were definitely on the pack to go list. Somehow this enormous life change and beginning of adulthood did not include saying goodbye to her friends. So I carefully bathed (by hand) the tender trio. You see, they are not just items, they really are friends.

Doggie B., after today's Thanksgiving Bath

And not just Jordan’s. David and I have come to think of them as part of our family. How lucky she is to have consistent, unconditional, life long affection. And how much comfort we find in the fact that the friends are always with Jordan to give comfort and support.

Blankie, resting after an annual hand-laundering

Jordan is soon going to be 21 so there’s not much chance that she’ll decide to banish them for any reason. I just hope whoever she marries is prepared to be a quintet. We’re just sayin... Iris

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Driving To Distraction. Or is it From Distraction?

Let’s play let’s pretend. There you are driving along the New Jersey Turnpike at 65 or 70 miles an hour. You are in the fast lane. The fast lane in the United States is not the same as the fast lane in Western Europe (and I assume if people have cars, Eastern Europe). This is because in Europe people go fast in the fast lane. If you don’t go fast the cars behind you that want to go fast will come at you, get right up on your rear end and flash their lights until you get over to the right where you belong. They use the fast lane to pass, not lolligagging around looking at the sights or trying to be macho by blocking the entire road with their slow moving vehicle. Don’t you love the word lolligag? I think it’s onomatopoetic. If you say it slowly, like loll-i-gag it takes a long time to get to the end. Well, maybe it’s just ‘gag’ that’s onomatopoetic but I’m taking license. For those of you who don’t know what onomatopoeia means, or won’t admit it, it is when the word sounds like what it is. Yiddish words are often onomatopoetic. Words such as ‘kvetch’ which means complain or ‘kabitka’. Actually, kabitka means an old Russian wagon but it should mean a “miraculous recovery”. Can’t you just imagine someone who has been very ill suddenly rising from their death bed and yelling “It’s a kabitka! I’m not sick anymore.”

But I digressed. You are shocked aren’t you? Back to the Turnpike. Don’t you wish you had a sign you could hold up, when you are forced to pass on the right, that says; YOU IDIOT. MOVE OVER! Or when there’s a car weaving in front of you—clearly not paying attention – a sign that says GET OFF YOUR PHONE or PULL OVER IF YOU NEED TO READ! Yes, the other day I saw a guy reading the paper as he drove at 60 miles and hour. You often see this when you’re in rush hour traffic in Washington, because people want to know everything before they get to work—but they are standing still. I think it’s a little different on the highway. Here’s my point, someone needs to invent a device that allows you to direct your driving frustrations at the person causing them. It doesn’t have to be on the NJ Turnpike, I’m just using that as an example because we made our monthly trip to Cow Town this weekend. What is Cow Town and why would anyone go to a place with such a stupid name, you ask?

Cow Town is a flea market that is open on Tuesday and Saturday every week of the year. And it is WOW! (That’s onomatopoetic.) It’s about three football fields full (alliteration) of chatchka’s (that means crap). We love to go there to a stand that makes a fabulous cheesesteaks—as good as any in South Philly. And trust me, I took the train to Philly when I was pregnant to have a few cheesesteaks. There is a stand run by a Pennsylvania Dutch family that makes barbeque chicken wings, and there is a guy who roasts fresh peanuts—dark, regular, or light. It is not a trip to make if you are attempting to diet but it is worth the 2 ½ hour drive if you are not.

I digressed again, and this time I made myself hungry. Back to my road rage. There is only one way to explain why people who shouldn’t be are driving. A few years ago I had to retake the written part of my driver’s license. I studied like it was a final exam in my college major. I got to the Virginia Motor Vehicle facility—the same one discovered issuing drivers licenses for terrorists, and I started to take the test. It was really hard. I passed but not by much and, as I said, I crammed for hours. There were people who were taking the test in cubbies next to me who were blind, deaf, dumb, and couldn’t speak any English, (that’s not Shakespeare). And I watched as they took the test. Some were accompanied by friends or dogs. It was so interesting that I finished my test, got my license and watched to see whether they made the cut. Almost without exception, they did. I was sure they didn’t know a red light from a green light and if they saw a color differential, they clearly did not understand stop and go, but these people were going to be out on the road along with people I loved. These are the people who would are now driving on back roads and highways, determining their own speed limits, reading comic books, talking on the phone, eating fast food, and hogging the road. I can’t imagine what the road test is like except my friend Amy’s mother had to retake the test when she was 83. Amy had been a wreck about her mother still driving and thought this was a perfect way to get her mother off the road. She wouldn’t have to take her license away, the state would. The state thought the fact that she never checked her rear view mirror, didn’t use her signals, drove without paying much attention to the speed limit and couldn’t park, were not things about which they needed to be concerned. And I’m sure Virginia is not the only state guilty of giving a drivers license to terrorists and the incapable, or rather turning the incapable into vehicle terrorists. Maybe signs are not enough. Maybe someone needs to invent a device that plucks these people out of their cars and hoists them on their own petard. (Now that’s pure poetry). We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Just Short of Siss-Boom-Bah

Sometimes you kind of wish the Rah Rah (that is NOT an Indonesian noodle dish -- actually it might be, but I don't KNOW that it is) was something you could personally share in. To be able to stand up, wave a pennant, a flag, a scarf, and just scream like mad for a minute in support of "your team." I'm watching the Ohio State (#1) - Michigan (#2) football game, some twenty video cameras showing us every little movement, every zig, most of the zags, and a considerable number of DownByContacts. It's a helluva good football game. In the beginning of the fourth quarter its 35-31, and fairly living up to the hype that preceded it. Having been shocked just yesterday by the death of long time Michigan coach Bo Schembeckler (I can still hear Jerry Ford pronouncing his name in that inimitable midwestern voice), the crowds seem to rally, and take up their call. There are probably 80 something thousand people inside the stadium, and you be be sure that just outside the gates are another 15 or twenty thou, sitting happily at their picnic tables, carrying on the "tailgating" which probably started 8 or ten hours ago. There are thousands of folks who make the trek to see their team every week -- mostly retired folks who are able to take the time -- and who never actually see the game. Somewhere down on the sidelines are a few dozen photographers, looking for a moment of truth.

Once at Penn State I remained transfixed by the Alabama fans who had driven 900 miles but just couldn't quite pull off that last 500 yards. When the game started, instead of going inside, they remained in their RVs and Vans, mountains of smoking meat and cold beer to try and get them through it. To my mind, that would be the supreme let - down. Anytime you ALMOST make it, well, you realize you SHOULD have made it.. but failure, while "not an option" is sometimes the only option you have. At Penn State, the Bama folks, however, couldn't have been any happier: they could hear the cheers, the rants, the boos, and the roars just a 2-wood away [Ok: technically NO ONE, not even Tiger can hit a two wood 500 yards, but on pavement, it might could just be possible]. Inside the stadium beers are $7 instead of 85 cents. The bbq in the tailgating crowd tastes way better than a lousy stadium burger. So there are things you can do to mitigate the Almost Got There syndrome.

It's Saturday evening, and Im sitting in the New York apartment, with a Boddingtons (you know, the nitrogen-burst draft can, it fizzes, and then creates the single greatest glass full of beer ever poured from a can), and the Amtrak schedules in front of me, kind of hoping that Michigan can conquer (for Clare Marash .."Go BLUE!!"). The ups, and downs of a football game are hard enough to anticipate, but as a sports photographer, you have to always try and anticipate where the "moment" of truth will occur. The really good photographers are interesting to watch - to see how they position themselves, how they think a play or two ahead, imagining whether or not it will be a pass or a run. It's an art which in the end transcends craft. It takes that extra little something to know ahead of time where to point that lens. For years in Kansas there was a gent who worked for a daily paper who was as fond of bourbon as he was of Dektol. Too often when he arrived at a ball game, he'd already be half in the bag, virtually unable to pick up a camera, much less, take a decent picture. So, in the spirit of brotherly love, one or another of his photo colleagues would "make a holder" for him (in the old days, when film was carried in a film holder, a piece of film on each side of it -- two pictures -- "making a holder" meant to shoot two pictures) so he wouldnt go home empty handed and lose his job. Bill Snead, now editor at the Lawrence World Journal in Lawrence, Kansas, once told me that, having spent a few of those games covering for his inebriated colleague, he went to apply for a job at the place where the man worked, and mentioned that he knew the fellow. The Editor, who was clueless about the job-saving subterfuge,said "Yeah, he's a hellvua sports photographer!"

So, you just never know. You do your best, you takes your chances, and you hope you're right. Tonight (I'm now writing two hours later, alas, Michigan has lost to Ohio State 42-39 in a thrilling game) the best pictures were made by folks who were not only able to anticipate where those "moment's" might be, but for a few seconds before and afterwards, were able to remove themselves from the Rah Rah part of watching. We all have favorites. We love to see the favorites do well. But the moments of clear thinking are the ones that triumph. I was once admonished on the sidelines of a Colorado College game by an older, very elegant gent from the Gazette Telegraph who was shooting pictures beside me. Cy Dyer (a fraternity brother) grabbed a hand off and ran thirty yards for a TD. Just when I should have been shooting "the picture", I was so busy yelling and cheering for my friend that my picture... well... I'm sure it sucked. Stan Payne looked at me with a very stern visage, and said "You must learn to be more dispassionate."

In a more dispassionate moment I captured Dave Lanahao's 99 yard run: Colorado College 1967

As with most interactions we have with people from long ago, we remember them with crystal clarity, while they usually have absolutely no memory of it. It's like what they call asymmetrical warfare. Something is hugely important to one side, and barely noticed by the other. So, from time to time I might actually stomp a little, and even yell at the TV, but for the most part I try and take Stan's advice. Watch. Watch closely. Analyze. Think clearly. And do all this in about a half second. You may lose a little of the zest that those around you share, but you sure can see a helluva lot of things going on when you do. We're just sayin'. David.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Choice in Life to Choose

David says it’s time for a personal blob. I guess he’s tired of my political rants, but I just want to say that I think Murtha was a good choice for Nancy Pelosi to make. I know people are talking about the fact that he may have been a crook 26 years ago but which one of our elected officials haven’t done questionable things sometime in their careers. It’s like Hevesy in NY. OK so he provided his wife with rides to work and didn’t reimburse the state until he was caught, but when you are in as powerful a position State Comptroller, you probably think the least the electorate can do for all your dedication and hard work, is give the wife a ride. It’s not like being a racist or a sexist or a homophobe, those are unforgivable sins.

Anyway, I have said this before. There is only one way to win back the Wal*Mart shopper—they were once Democrats—and that is to send a signal that there is a place for all different opinions in the party. Even in the leadership. The fact that Murtha, as a conservative Democrat who is not in favor of abortion, wants to end the war, sends a far better message than Hoyer, a liberal democrat who wants to continue our involvement in Iraq by couching it as fighting terrorism. He is not listening to the voting public. Americans no longer believe that being in Iraq makes us safer.

My mother needs a new companion. This is number 5. She still refuses to leave her house and it continues to fall down around her. But Prudence is going back to Jamaica to be with her teenage son and her new husband. So once again we begin the search but it’s a whole new era. Mom had an experimental botox in her bladder procedure in October, and since then she has been very weak. We think the botox may have affected other muscles in her body. We are hoping that she rallies but we continue to provide new equipment to aid her in everyday skills, like walking and getting up and down out of a seat. It is difficult to watch the degeneration and too much of a reminder about my father’s deterioration from Multiple Sclerosis over 30 years. Mom just turned 86 and we can’t say she lived a long and happy life, because she didn’t. For most of her life she was locked into caring for dad, and for the rest of it she chose not to have a life with friends and activities. We can’t figure out why. We think it’s because she was so close to her sisters she didn’t need friends, but except for her twin, they’re all gone. It might be because she never learned how to deal with loss so it was less painful not to make friends than to lose them. But that’s only speculation.

I was thinking about this the other day on the occasion of a big birthday—yes I am 21. I was thinking about my friends, some of whom are already gone, some of whom live in other places, and some of whom attended the celebration. And I was thinking about my cousins, some of whom I really would miss. They know who they are. And, of course, I thought about David and the kids. I cannot imagine anything worse than outliving your husband or children or being the last friend or cousin breathing. It is not only sad it is terrifying. Can you imagine the depth of loneliness you would feel without people to talk to or anyone to irritate? It’s too horrible to even think about. So I think, was my mother smart not to have any friends and not suffer any loss? Or was she stupid not to have lots of fun with people she loved when she could still do it. I think she was unwise in her choice. There is nothing more important than to surround yourself with good times and people you love. At least then you have the memories of time well spent, and people well selected, to comfort you when you have energy for only daily musings and sweet dreams. We’re just sayin... Iris

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanks, Poppy

It is not clear whether or not all the Bush One people, now a part or soon to be a part of the Bush 2 administration, will actually make things better, but it doesn’t really matter. Just like with every other unsuccessful endeavor that the President has tried, Daddy is there to try and bail him out. What did we really expect from a guy who has never done anything right? What did we expect from someone without any intellectual curiosity or even concern about what he says. Just for example, my friends from Atlanta mentioned that at the Martin Luther King ground breaking the President didn’t even take the time to find out where Dr. King was from. The place he credited (Sweet Auburn) is only a part of Atlanta. But he doesn’t care if what he says is correct, because he’s the President. And if anyone mentions the mistake, we’re just picking on him, and we are not loyal to the nation, under God, indivisible, for which we stand—OK it’s wrong but why should I be any different than the President. Except that I’m smarter. And I don’t mean that in a “smartest kid in the class” kind of way. I mean it in a Rose Groman (my mother) kind of way. She always said, “smart, smart, stupid”. It was never clear exactly what this meant but in this case I would tell you that it means, even if you have been to elite prep schools, and have an Ivy League education, it doesn’t make you wise or street smart. Nor is it an indication that you have even the slightest degree of common sense or can become a better, more compassionate conservative. La De Da.

The White House must have been jumping for joy when the Democrats won. We know they haven’t thought much about a legacy. That political genius from Utah (Karl Rove) probably didn’t think it was worth considering when he could find a way to legislate or some would say sabotage personal and civil rights. They clearly didn’t care about the Republicans who serve in the Congress. If they did they would have fired Rumsfeld months ago. And additionally, they would have found a way to get rid of Cheney. God knows, with his health issues and a gay daughter it would have been easy enough—I’m kidding about the gay daughter. I think she should be allowed to marry anyone she wants. So what were they thinking? Wait a minute, maybe they did care about Republicans – not individuals but the party. Maybe they were thinking.

It was probably something like; The “it’s Bill Clinton’s fault” isn’t working anymore, so if the Democrats take the House and the Senate we will have an opportunity to blame them for all the problems of the last eight years. You just wait Henry Higgins! you will see this new camaraderie replaced with newer hostility. Oh sure, the Democrats have an agenda that differs from the Republicans. Their priorities include raising the minimum wage, health care issues, and of course, finding some solution to the war. But we’re already hearing that we need to send more troops in order to have fewer troops and that the situation is cumbersome and impossible. So while we wring our hands and try to find an escape clause somewhere in the literature, the Republicans will have only one two year agenda – taking back the congress and keeping the White House. And now that the Democrats are supposedly in charge, they will be able to lay blame for any national or international effort on the recently powerful opposition.

What I find is interesting is that while all my Democratic friends are happy about the results of the election, there is no one who is jumping for joy. If we believe the pollsters, we realize that people voted against the Republicans not for the Democrats. People felt it was time for a change and realized that power corrupts – certainly when there are no checks and balances. If we are not diligent in our efforts to make things “better” for a majority of voters, it is possible that we could lose everything we gained in 2008. It is possible that this Republican defeat will actually become a Republican victory. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, November 10, 2006

Just Returning Your Call

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when people don’t call me back. It doesn’t matter if it’s personal or professional--although when professional people don’t return calls it’s totally unprofessional and you probably shouldn’t do business with them. Doesn’t that sound like something the former (thank God) Secretary of Defense would say, and people actually listened. Anyway, there is really no excuse for not acknowledging a phone call. And there are any number of ways to do it. After all it is 2006 and we do have e-mail, voice mail and volunteers or assistants.

Democratic political people are notorious for not returning calls. Even when they ask you to do something and “please” they say, call them back. You do what they asked, and try to report the results. But do they take your call or ever return it? Not with any frequency. I have never found this to be the case with my Republican friends. I assume they either have better manners or are just anxious to talk to anyone who will talk to them. I can remember when I was working on one campaign, and a young man called to ask if, as a favor I could call a VIP with whom he was having no success. I said sure, and after I completed my assignment I called him back. A number of times because the VIP wanted to make a connection. Finally, I was so frustrated that I got in my car drove to campaign HQ, picked the phone up off his desk, handed it to him and asked if he had forgotten anything. No one is too important to return a call.

Admittedly, it’s different when friends don’t call back. First of all it hurts your feelings. You begin to think that you did something to upset or piss them off. Or you think you’re not important enough in their lives for them to take a minute or two just to say hello. Needless to say your dread about the reasons for the end of the friendship spirals out of control. And when they finally call you back you have worked yourself into frenzied hysteria.

In my answerless frustration I began to compose a form letter I would like to send to my close personal friends who obviously don’t care about me or at the very least, don’t have time for someone eternally colorful. Some are gender specific but names or physical conditions can be substituted whenever necessary.

Dear So and So,

I've been waiting to hear from you. It's been several days or more since I placed a call or maybe it was two, to you and I didn't want to keep bugging you so I came up with some possibilities listed below. Please check one or more, return and I will try to understand:

1. You’re pregnant and too embarrassed to tell me.
2. You’re dead and in Jewish tradition you already have been buried and David forgot to tell me.
3. John Kerry called you and wants you to run his come back campaign.
4. Jeb Bush is desperate to change parties and needs your help with introducing him around the democratic big wigs.
5. Your children had a sleep over and they tied you up, threw you in a closet, and forgot to provide you with a cell.
6. Someone caught you in bed with her boyfriend (girlfriend) aka Mrs Robinson and you’re trying to recover from the embarrassment.
7. You began learning how to "touch type" and your fingers are so cramped you can't even press a button on the telephone.
8. Dick Cheney was feeling lonely so you have been at the VP’s house providing advice and comfort.
9. You were kidnapped and being held captive by gypsies.
10. The gypsies were teaching you how to beg and dance—both uselful tools for the 2008 Presidential campaign.

Please feel free to use these add to them or invent some other way to get a response. On my list of how to be professional, courteous civil, or just a thoughtful friend, returning calls is probably very close to the top. We’re just sayin...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Seven Acts Revisted

It is election day. I am a little nervous about it because the Democrats seem so confident that I’m afraid their constituents won’t go and vote. Of course, I am also afraid that the machines are as corrupt as the system – but we live in the Washington Metropolitan area where the governor of Maryland refuses to use the machines and has encouraged everyone to vote by absentee ballot so there will be a record. Is that not amazing? In this day and age, how can there not be a paper record that corresponds to the electronic vote. But then in Alexandria they couldn’t figure out how to put Webb’s entire name on the ballot—what else do you need to know? I’ll get back to this.

Anyway, David spent last week shooting a story about the seven corporal acts of mercy. Never heard of them, well not enough people have. He wrote about it in a recent blob. When he mentioned that he was going to cover this story, I thought it was going to be a story about Jewish women not using their husband’s credit cards on seven occasions. OK I’m kidding and I was wrong. It was a story about some students, mostly male, at a Catholic high school in Cleveland who have taken it upon themselves to act as pallbearers for the funerals of strangers. These were people who were so old that all their friends and family had died, or they were so poor they couldn’t afford a funeral. I was astounded. Isn’t it wonderful, I thought, that there are children in this school, in this country, who have such a sense of duty, of civility, and of concern for people they do not even know. And isn’t it shameful that we are surprised by this kind of a generous spirit.

Being of the Jewish persuasion I thought the concept was a Catholic thing. So I did very little research but I found that the first record of the seven acts are described in Isaiah 58 and in Matthew 25. And I suppose a number of other scriptural places. The physical acts are:
• To feed the hungry;
• to give drink to the thirsty;
• to clothe the naked;
• to shelter the homeless;
• to visit the sick;
• to visit those in prison;
• to bury the dead.

In my reading I found that there are an additional seven that involve spiritual and emotional needs:
• To instruct the ignorant;
• to counsel the doubtful;
• to admonish the sinner;
• to comfort the sorrowful;
• to forgive injuries;
• to bear wrongs patiently;
• to pray for the living and the dead.

If you think about these 14 items you will recognize a little something from every religion, so why don’t the synagogues, mosques, and the churches use these as a road map for the way people should live. If asked I’m sure they would say they do but if they did, the world would surely be a different place. At least it might.

Back to the election. It occurs to me that candidates should also use these 14 items as a road map- for their campaigns as well as the way they govern. In fact, there should be a law that before anyone runs for office they have to serve the public in some capacity that reflects at least the first seven corporal acts. And if they want to get reelected they must demonstrate, in some way, the additional seven. Just think about the difference in the way people would campaign. Just think about the absence of ugly and the presence of compassion—and not conservative compassion.

I don’t know what the results of the election will be but I do know that the seven corporal acts shouldn’t just be a story. It should be a way of life. We’re just sayin...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Who and What You Are

There are a number of people who have been heros in my life. People who I thought I wanted to be. Or be like. For example, from the time I read my first Judith Viorst book, “Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good, Very Bad Day,” she has been one of my role models and I would say, heros. She wrote that book when she lived on Q Street N.W. in Washington, about 3 doors down from where we lived and Seth was consumed and comforted by the idea that Alexander was his neighbor and often had the same kind of days.

I then discovered that Judith wrote poems and books for adults. It's what I thought I should do. I loved her thinking about life love and growing old. It was so Me – but I’ll get to that. Some of my favorite Viorst quotes about those topics have been the following:

“When he is late for dinner and I know he must be either having an affair or lying dead in the street, I always hope he's dead”

“You end up as you deserve. In old age you must put up with the face, the friends, the health, and the children you have earned.”

“You know you're getting old when you look at a beautiful 19-year-old girl and you find yourself thinking, "Gee, I wonder what her mother looks like”

When I worked for USA Networks the job required travel to the coast. It was a time when corporate big shots could still fly first class without having to create some kind of disability. I met wonderful people on these flights. Like the violinist Boyd Tinsley, from Dave Matthews band. We had flown on a small plane from Telluride to Denver. The flight was really rough and while I didn’t notice many people, I noticed Boyd because he was tall, wore lots of beautiful leather and had the most fabulous manicured hair. By the time we landed and were surprisingly still alive, it was time for the flight to DC. I took a deep breath, looked forward to lots of big drinks, got into my not so luxurious, first class seat and much to my surprise, Boyd was sitting next to me. I had no idea who he was – I often don’t know who anyone is, so I began our conversation by asking him how he spent his day. I find that much less elitist than 'what do you do?' — especially for women. But he said he played music and I thought maybe on a street corner. By the time we landed we were great friends and I told him my kids were great fans. He offered me concert tickets and I offered him seats to the US Open. It was terrific to recount the story to Seth and Jordan, who agreed I was a dope. Then on another trip I sat with Golden Girl Bea Arthur – who reads tons of movie and trash magazines when she flies. We laughed about everything and I introduced her to the "New York Observer". But my best seatmate on a trip from DC to LA was my hero, Judith Viorst. We had a wonderful bonding flight and agreed that since the food was apt to be terrible, we would skip right to the hot fudge sundae dessert. We had many of them.

Well I have never been able to write like Judith. And despite the things we have in common, I will never reach her stature, but I had always pictured myself as having a kind of Judith Viorst like personality. I was wrong. While it is true that she is wonderfully entertaining, smart, clever and devoted to her family, she was not zany. And for a long time I thought I was zany(not crazy) but couldn’t define it. People in Washington always describe me as zany. I have never liked it much because if you live in Washington, people think that means flighty bordering on nuts. Then the other day I met my dear friend Kathleen for breakfast at the Mclean Family Restaurant. It’s the closest thing to a New Jersey diner that we have in Northern Virginia. We go there because they serve grits with the eggs. OK it is Virginia and almost anywhere you go they have grits, but this place is owned by Greeks and feels like a NJ diner relocated in a strip mall instead of some silver pretend place where they offer gourmet fare. So we were talking about some idea I had that involved something outrageous (I don’t remember what because it is an everyday occurrence) and she looked at me and said, “you know, you are eternally colorful.”

I loved that. Let’s be honest, I am simply too old to be adorable, too opinionated to be sweet, too wacky to be subtle, and too irreverent to be pleasant. But this description was totally flattering and such a good way to describe who I think I am without either overstating the obvious or being dismissive about the possible.

Anyway, I find it’s nice to be comfortable about who you are and even nicer when you can find a few easy words to describe yourself in a way that makes you smile. I hadn’t thought about it as an exercise and OK I didn’t do it for myself, but it’s fun as game you play with friends or yourself. For Gods sake, don’t do any soul searching but take a few minutes and see if you can do it. All I can tell you is am a much happier person now than I was a few days ago, because I am know who and what I am. I is eternally colorful. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, November 03, 2006

Steven Michael Kaufman

Today is my cousin Stevie’s birthday. He is 60. I am two weeks his junior. When we were six months old our families moved into an enormous one family house in the old part of Boonton NJ and we did everything together — including creating our own language. Unfortunately for Stevie, he could only speak our language, I spoke that and English. This meant they had to translate everything he wanted through me because they didn’t speak ‘our’ language. As you can imagine, there was not a time that I did an accurate simultaneous translation, so when Stevie wanted cereal he often got eggs and when he had to go to the bathroom, it was usually in his pants.

But my outrageous behavior never seemed to bother him. Oh sure we had a few fist fights but they were infrequent because if he hit me, my Uncle Phil (his father) would come running and either smack or punish him for hitting a girl. Most of the time we were inseparable. We had all our meals together, bathed together, entertained our parents by pretending to be ballroom dancers with complicated choreography which included leaping from sofas to chairs, we shared secrets, were always in the same classes at school, had the same friends, celebrated our birthdays together – although we had two parties on two different days they were for both of us—had identical baby walkers when we were learning to stand and move forward, graduated to identical elaborate metal ‘ride um’ horses (which would never pass a safety test today), when we could finally balance and ended up with identical red PeeWee Herman flyers before we learned to drive cars.

There was never a time that we thought of ourselves without the other. Even though I was a supposed goody two shoes and he was always in trouble. Stevie was a wonderful kid with a sweet disposition but he was mischievous, often at my instigation. If you left him alone in a room he would take the door off the hinges—it didn’t matter that he was 2 feet tall the door was eight. He would disappear in stores and usually find a place to make himself comfortable on a shelf, well above his reach. And he was never discouraged by limits or discipline. When we were about 5 we looked in my Aunt Sophie’s purse and found a few $50 bills. We thought there were so many she wouldn’t miss them so we helped ourselves to two or three and went to the hardware store where Stevie proceeded to buy camping equipment. This would never happen today for any number of reasons including the fact that no mother would allow her kid to roam the streets unaccompanied. But we were never accompanied, unless Uncle Phil took us to a museum, the pony rides, a Chinese or Italian lunch.

Anyway we were living this happy connected existence until one day, instead of going to our big old house on the hill, my mother drove us to some new places. Did I mention that she had another baby — my brother Jeffery, and Stevie's mom had given birth to Sheila three years before. And so, with the arrival of these new children it was time to find new digs. The houses were nice enough and had big yards. Stevie’s was right down the hill from My Aunts Sophie and Fritzie. Our new dwelling was about two blocks away. I thought they were OK until later in the evening, when I was playing in my new room and I felt this terrible absence of my cousin, my best friend – really my twin. It was then I realized that Stevie was going to live in one place and that was no longer with me. I was distraught. Our parents were so excited about their new moves that it never occurred to them that Stevie and I might have transition or separation issues. Their lives just moved on and we were expected to move on with them. We were not allowed to be upset because after all, we didn’t move to Siberia. And furthermore, we would see each other everyday at school.

But I was miserable and lonely. It was horrible to have no one to play with 24/7 and additionally, a new baby. We did our best to adjust and we continued to do things together and make trouble wherever possible. But it was never the same. I guess nothing ever is. So Stevie, Happy Birthday and just know, I still miss you every day. We’re just sayin...I.

The 7th Act

Last February I was leaving New Hampshire, driving down to Boston at the end of an exploratory visit by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner – exploratory less as a question of mineral deposits in Green Mountain mines – and more as a vote-o-meter of how he might be received by the Democrats of New Hampshire. Being New Hampshire, the populace is used to meeting Presidential candidates first hand: the joke is that they never vote for anyone that hasn’t dropped by their house for coffee. Warner, I thought, was quite impressive, bringing a sense of propriety, intelligence, and yes, even humility, to a Presidential search. If you can imagine someone Humble running for President (remember Pres. Bush’s plea in the 2000 debates for “a more humble American foreign policy?”) perhaps Mark Warner might have been that person. But just last month he decided, after getting a look at what might be required to actually run, to pass on the ’08 nomination quest, spend a few quality years with his family, and blurt from time to time when the moment moved him. I found that a disappointing turn of events, since he seemed to be one of the least bull-shitty potential candidates we would have had the pleasure of following and covering in the next campaign cycle. Too bad.

So, there I was, heading south past all those giant green Waltham signs on the Interstate (why do they have Waltham in 4’ letters, and Boston in 2’ letters?) on a Saturday morning, radio keeping me company. Somewhere between Waltham and the airport, I happened on an interview by NPR’s Scott Simon on Morning Edition. He mentioned that in Cleveland, there was a group of High School kids who had banded together to form a Pallbearers society. It sounded interesting. When the young man, a high school junior - Dan Slenka, was asked about it, his voice responded in the most intelligent yet humble tone I could imagine. Burying the dead, he said, is one of the seven corporal works of Mercy. Like most other listeners I’m sure, I felt some minor relief when Simon asked him to refresh his memory about the other six.* Again, Slenka responded in a confident yet softly understanding voice. While at the beginning, most of the funerals were for indigent, poor, or those who otherwise had no family or friends, the mission evolved to include people who had heard of the good works, and wanted to be “carried to their final resting place” by these young men. Four years into its existence, the boys of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearers Society were serving at more than 125 burials a year. Named for the Saint who carried Jesus to his tomb, the society now includes nearly 300 boys from St. Ignatius High School, a Jesuit high school in central Cleveland.

I was so impressed by that interview that I scrambled to find a pen and write down all the names, and locations mentioned. Later that month I spoke with one of men involved from the school, and was told that in November, on All Souls day, the boys go to the Potter’s Field, an unremarkable green, muddy expanse on the edge of downtown where, over the years, nearly 17,000 people have been buried. There are no head stones, no flowers, virtually no markings of any kind that would belie the presence of what would be a very large small town. Here, the boys participate in a prayer service for all the souls resting beneath the muddy turf. The city of Cleveland doesn’t permit anyone to attend burials at the Potter's Field, no one quite sure why. But with encouragement from Jim Skerl, the faculty adviser, some 125 boys along with a few faculty members, came today, to pray for a while. I met Dan Slenka this week on my trip to Cleveland, where I have been spending the past few days with the boys of the Pallbearers Society. In person he impresses me even more than his voice did on NPR. No question, in an age of lousy music, crass television, and a non stop onslaught from the Me Me generation(s), it’s very refreshing to meet young men who have begun to appreciate the spiritual side of life.

I suppose if I counted it all up, I have probably been to Mass at least as often as Friday night services (all those trips with John Paul II, and Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga in Brasil…) but I feel a certain kindred sentiment with young men who give the impression that they really do understand the value to themselves, and society, of reaching out in this most personal way. I wasn’t allowed to attend a funeral until my Uncle Max died when I was in college. Funerals were never really spoken about nor dwelled on in our house. My dad, the ultimate Pollyanna who never met a stranger he didn’t like, somehow hated going to funerals, suspecting I think that there was something curiously uncomfortable about the demise of a friend. So it was later in life that I came to understand the importance of funerals. Whatever your view of life, God, the spiritual world, it is important that people are respected in the end. Listening to Dan Slenka, and the high school kids from St. Ignatius, I was reminded that perhaps Mark Warner isn’t the only voice left which combines intelligence, compassion, and wisdom. Too bad they can't run for office just yet. We’re just sayin… David

* The 7 Corporal Works of Mercy:
1. To feed the hungry,
2. To give drink to the thirsty,
3. To clothe the naked,
4. To shelter the homeless,
5. To visit the imprisoned,
6. To visit the sick,
7. To bury the dead.