Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It Never Goes Away

DB, corner of 38th & 8th Avenue -"what is he doing??"
It never ends. It’s not really a bad thing, but so far, at least, it never ends. I’m speaking of that amazing energy which drives people forward every day. In the city you see it multiplied by hundreds, thousands of times, every day, nearly every moment. On the way back from the Contact offices to the subway to get home last night I took out my little Panasonic camera (remember the days when I would have said “I took out my Leica…”), the tiny digital one which provides most of the pictures for this Blob, and just looked at the rain/snow glinting streets, perfect chromatic reflectors of the red, green and neon lights which were livening up 8th Avenue. I wanted to be a part of it, somehow. Was I thinking that I might actually take a picture which would have enough legs that people unknown to me, in places far away might want to see it and be enraptured? Probably not. But it’s there, nonetheless. That energy, that desire, the wish to create something of my own which reflects that moment of beauty. Beauty doesn’t, of course have to really be beautiful. A squished packet of cigarettes, a smashed beer can on the street.. all these things can take on their own measure of beauty when the beholder is someone who sees past the obvious.

Ice on Lake Champlain
But what never ends is that desire to always add to, extract from, be a part OF, that visual world which we make our ways through. Sometimes it’s just the oddest damn thing. Two weeks ago, flying into Cleveland after a February snow storm (oops, Snow in Cleveland in February.. an oxymoron?)

"Play Ball!" Well, in a couple of months, I guess

I looked out the window of the little plane to see the way the snow had defined the houses of a neighborhood in even more crisp ways than normal un-snowy daylight views would express. It was as if we’d dropped a visual sharpening filter on the houses, in the form of a light coating of snow, and it made them all look so much more orderly. But last night, it was the walk to the subway, the bustling along 8th Avenue. In the shadow – well there was no shadow, but if it fell it would have hit me – of the new New York Times building across the street from Port Authority there were people all headed somewhere, even if many of them were seemingly set on slow Idle instead of Manhattan Haul Ass.

Do you think they have a nice place to go sledding?

I look forward to that 3 block walk when it’s evening because the city is changing itself – morphing from a business-y world into the pre-soiree get ready for night time and maybe we ll even party a little world. The Village38, a Korean deli of the first order on the corner of 38th & 8th Avenue, has a row of stools and counter next to the window, so that breakfast/coffee/lunch/snack eaters can gaze at that HDTV known as ‘the sidewalk’ while they munch and sip. At promptly 5:15 every night, the munchers are displaced by a group of dozen or so slurpers. Men, mostly Hispanic, mostly in their 20s and 30s, mostly looking like they have done a very honest day’s work, lined up shoulder to shoulder as if they were at a casting call for a Heinken commercial. The 16 oz. cans look like bowling pins. The ‘guys’ are having their end-of-the-day brewski before heading home, and though I don’t regularly take attendance, they have the look of Regulars. You can be sure it isn’t their first time in those seats.

Last night I shot, as I often do for lack of better subjects, pictures of myself. Hey, I’m near by, don’t cost much, have ‘just the right look’, and I’ll even sign my own Model Release. I was doing some blurry things.. 1/8 or ¼ second exposures, holding my arm out and moving camera and me at the same speed, trying to blur backgrounds while keeping my face sharp.

The Church on Final Approach, Burlington, VT
I got a few strange stares: you know, those “what in the HELL is HE doing” kind of New York looks. But while I suppose I won’t ever make a book jacket with these images, I have at least fulfilled in some minor way, that every day, ever lasting desire to try and make something of what I see. I don’t really love the pictures, my face is a bit awkward looking (as in “Gee, Dad, you have a very small head…” Jordan K Burnett 1999, 2001, 2003,2004,2005,2006,2007) but I love trying to see what a simple walk to the 42nd street subway will get you. The one little joy which digital photography provides is the ability to see quickly what you did (or as Kennerly has said.. “the great thing about digital is you know right away when you screw up…”) I know that eventually these images will probably end up in a digital shoebox somewhere, longing for someone to come along and say “Sheesh, what was HE thinking?”

The crisply snowed on houses, Burlington,VT
This morning I flew to Burlington, VT, en route to Plattsburgh NY for a speech tonight.. and out the window of my little propject plane, the snow had, yet again, created a nifty little quilt. I only wish the plane glass were a little better. But it's good enough, right? We’re just sayin…David

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Five Worst Things

Hot flashes could be right up there on the list of the five worst things a woman can go through. I have been having them recently so I began to thinking and I know you’re going to ask, what would be the other four. OK, you didn’t ask but you can always sign off the site. Hello, if you’re still there, I’ll get back to the gruesome details later in the blob.

Starting from the bottom, number five is the first time you get stood up for a date. When I was a freshman in high school I was going out with a junior. Going out is probably not the best description for what we were doing because we never went anywhere. In fact, the only time we almost went somewhere was on the occasion of a Sadie Hawkins dance at the Y, when I asked him to go with me. I got all dressed up, put on my makeup, called all my friends to make sure they would be there, and then I waited and waited and waited for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably the longest hour I had ever suffered through. Then I decided that I must have screwed up the arrangements, so he probably thought we were going to meet at the Y. I walked the ten blocks convinced I would have a great surprise when I got there. But he wasn’t there. He never appeared. On Monday when we went back to school, he said hello but never acknowledged what was the most embarrassing episode in my young life, his failure to take me out. It was the end of a relationship that never began. When Jordan was in high school she would always say, this one is going out with so and so or so and so is going out with such and such. And I, remembering what “going out” meant for me, would always say; so where are they going? And she would say, “Ma get over it!”.

When I was fifteen years old I spent a good part of the summer in Asbury Park. That’s what we Jersey girls would describe as “down the shore”. I was supposed to be staying with my Grandmother but my friend Joyce Silbernagel, was working as a mothers helper (now called an au pair), and so I hung out with her and a number of young working kids who were either visiting or living in the area. Asbury Park was the place we all spent our days but Diel, N.J. was where we spent our evenings because that’s where the rich kids lived. They all lived in mansions and their parents were never home so we would party with lots of refreshments and without supervision. With this in mind, number four on my list is the first time you get sick drunk. We were partying in the basement of Tina Edell’s house. Her parents were not home and, we later found out, not married. Anyway, I was drinking gin and ginger ale. Don’t ask me why that particular combination, probably because it was there. I remember Davey VanNote taking me outside and I remember him walking me around in a circle while I threw up—any number of times. But then my memory dims until I awoke, in a place where I had never been. It was about 5am. Having slept on the floor of a girls boarding house, rather than my grandmothers hotel, I was in a terrible panic. I didn’t know where I was or how I got there but I knew my Grandmother would be out of her mind with worry. So I wandered over to my friend Vicki’s boarding house, waited til about 8, called Grandma and pretended that I had told her I was sleeping at Vicki’s. She had not called the police nor had she told any of her friends that I was missing, which was surprising. But I figured that she had probably gotten drunk or lucky so we never talked about it again and after three or four years (maybe it was 30 or 40 years), I got over the fear of being out of control and having a hangover.

You get engaged and are going to get married, so you start to plan the wedding of your dreams. Then you are slapped with a good dose of reality. The place you want for the ceremony is not available on the date you have chosen. The dress you want to buy just looks like crap when you try it on. The guest list is 300, none of them are your friends—they are all the friends of your parents and relatives you have never met. The food for the 150 people (who remain on the list after you cut it and can fit into the room) has to be kosher because 3 people won’t eat it otherwise—the price goes from $1000 to $10,000 – in 1960 dollars. And the meal is inevitably the same roast beef that all your friends had at their weddings in previous weeks—in fact it was probably left over from those weddings. You do not have a moment of pleasure on this the day you have most looked forward to in your whole life. Then, in my case, my cousin Steven got drunk and was thrown into a swimming pool, where he lost the keys to the car that contained all our luggage for the honeymoon, and Uncle Lou decided that our honeymoon would be more fun if he went with us. But that’s another blob. When you are a young bride, number three on the list of worst things is planning and going through a big Jewish wedding.

The act of birthing a baby—it does sound better when you hear it in “Gone With the Wind” is not an overall pleasant experience. I’m not saying this because I don’t love my kids or I regret having children. The simple fact is that getting six or more pounds of anything through a space of maybe five inches would not be on my list of preferable activities. And it’s not only the actual birth that tops my list of worst things. It’s the basically degrading overall hospital experience. A woman having a baby is an everyday occurrence. No matter how special you think you are there are always the levelers to remind you that it is not true. And the results are simply humiliating. For example, the when they take you to the delivery room you are spread eagle, unclothed, unprotected, and unfettered by any covering. There is usually no concern about modesty. It’s as if because you are pregnant and on your way to delivering the baby, you are in some kind of invisible limbo. When Seth was born they rushed me to delivery, naked and feet in stirrups and there were painters in the hallway who waved as I went by. The indignities one suffers in a hospital—when you neither incapacitated or sick, are mind boggling. If you are sick and incapacitated you still suffer but you just don’t know it. It’s a toss up about whether this is one or two.

You read all kinds of stories and see all kinds of statistics about the relationship between breast cancer and hormones. So what do you do? And to whom do you talk. The information is clouded at best. Some doctors say the statistics are premature about the link to heart disease and breast cancer. Some say natural hormones won’t hurt. Others say, hormones are hormones, don’t do it under any circumstances. Do you make a decision based on quality of life or is it longevity without catastrophic disease. I have no answers only facts. The fact is that night sweats, not remembering simple words/forgetting a sentence in the middle of a presentation, and hot flashes are only part of what is the worst. The real worst is the knowledge that this is not a passage into anything. You are passed passages and this is the way it’s going to be until you go to Florida. (see blog “Please don’t go to Florida”).

There are probably more than five for some of you. And they are going to be different but it's fun to try to limit them--without whining. We’re just sayin....

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Terry McBlurter

Today when I read the New York Times articles about the riff between Clinton and Obama, all I could think was that Terry Mcauliffe’s involvenment in any campaign is a good enough reason not to be committed to that campaign.

Whether or not I work for a candidate, I want to have the opportunity to hear what all the candidates have to say. I want debate on issues and discussion about things that affect my life. I don’t want all the Primaries to be in January and February thereby allowing whoever raises the most money upfront, to be the candidate or maybe the President. That’s what happened in 2004 and we all understand what the consequences can be.

I love Hillary, but I detest the way she appears to be strong-arming and intimidating potential supporters. Even if she’s not doing it personally, perception is reality. I detest Terry Mcauliffe’s smug, threatening tactics and I love that it is beginning to backfire for the campaign. You will note that he claims what he said was done in good humor—he’s lying, as David Geffen suggested, too easily. Here’s, how the Times reports what happened and what they quote him as saying:

At a fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton in Hollywood two weeks ago, as Mr. McAuliffe told the story in an interview on Thursday, he joked in a crowded room that big contributors would be honored with limo rides with the new president while those who wrote checks to, say, Mr. Obama could give up their dreams of access.

“Clarence Avant’s daughter was there, he’s a friend of mine, and I looked at her and in front of 500 people I said, If you don’t contribute, you’re not going to get that ambassadorship to France,” he said, referring to the former chairman of Motown Records. “It’s a joke! I said it in front of 500 people.”

The Los Angeles Times quoted Mr. McAuliffe as saying at that event, “You are either with us or you’re against us,” a remark Mr. McAullife and other attendees said was jocular. Are they kidding? I, who have one of the great developed sense of humors, know this is not a joke. Everyone in Washington knows that if you are are big contributor you might just get to be an Ambassador. That’s how it works. There’s no humor in recounting for donors how it works. There might be humor in what is left unsaid but no one leaves anything unsaid.

When the Obama people were struggling for how to respond to the Clinton attack, all I could think of was a phone call I had with Pamela Harriman after Chris Ogden’s book about her life was published. She called for my counsel about how to respond. I thought about it for about 10 minutes and my immediate reaction was for her to say, “who cares about me and all the old, now dead guys I slept with”. I then reconsidered and decided that, amusing as it was, it would be controversial and the Ambassador to France couldn’t be controversial. So instead I said, “just have your people say, no comment.”. Don’t say anything and it will go away. And it did. And I felt a little guilty since Chris was my friend but taking care of Mrs. Harriman and so many other politically appointed Ambassadors was my job. The Obama people simply should have said, we have no comment; we will not participate in the politics of destruction. Any comment or response beyond “no comment”/ It is inappropriate and unnecessary to comment on something someone else said or thinks.

Why is it that political people think it is absolutely necessary to say anything. It isn’t. And as I said in a previous blob, the thing that concerns me about Obama is not his lack of experience in Government but his lack of experience in campaigns. The Obama people could have made the Clinton people seem ridiculous if they just hadn’t responded. But he is still too green to understand that political people get paid for what they say and not what they don’t say. And the candidate is too inexperienced to tell his staff to say nothing—because that’s what will win an election-- not the supercilious, self important blurters like Terry Mc Auliffe. We’re just sayin

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Gift of Family

The reaction we had to the “Have You Lost Something” blob was both moving and flattering. While there were a few comments on the blog, I got quite a number of remarks by e-mail requesting more family stories – specifically about the way they deal with life/death situations. So I thought I would share two true stories (they really did happen but names have been changed to avoid family politics), from my first publishing disaster called “Schlepper, A Mostly True Tale.” It was a disaster because the book was not available when we launched – and people do lose interest when they can’t get something you insist they want. Anyway, near the end, Sadie (the main character) takes off from her job in the White House to join her family on the sad occasion of her Aunt Ruth’s death. In this first story Sadie and her cousins are chatting while they spend the evening in the funeral home guarding Ruth’s spirit or if you prefer, soul.

It begins:

“I don’t have any real feelings about the coming of the Messiah,” Barbie told them as they sat in a small room with low lights at the funeral home. “But I can tell you this, I don’t want to be washed and wrapped like a lettuce in a shroud. I would rather go like a roast. Just put me in a box, throw in some onions, carrots and potatoes, and cook me at until I’m well done.”

“That’s not funny. I don’t like talking about death,” Deva said. “Why are we talking about death?”

“Probably because we’re sitting here with a dead person,” Sadie observed.

“But it doesn’t feel like she’s dead. It feels like she’s here, but not in that box. Where do you think she’s gone?” Deva asked quite seriously.

“To Las Vegas,” Sadie said. Deva looked aghast. “I’m not kidding. She always wanted to go to Las Vegas, so let’s just imagine her there, gambling, going to shows, irritating the maitre d’ by sending food back to the kitchen for any of a million reasons, planning her outfits for every night.”

It was after midnight when Aunt Alma and Aunt Selma stopped by for a chat with Ruth, their dead sister. They hesitated when the entered the room. It bore no resemblance to the way they usually swooped into a place. They first patted all the cousins squeezing their arms and cheeks. Then they made a beeline for one end of the coffin and started to talk to Ruth about all the things that had happened during that day. After they were sure she was caught up on current events, they began to tell her all the other things they wanted her to know before she was buried.
After fifteen or twenty minutes, Sadie got up and walked over to where they were resting, patting, and talking.

“Aunt Alma, Aunt Selma, I have to tell you something,” she said solemnly. “You know Aunt Ruth had trouble hearing, so I thought you should know: you’re talking to her feet.”

This second story was one that happened at the funeral:

There was standing room only in the chapel and more people outside in the hallway. The plain pine box was covered in a deep blue velvet cloth with a gold embroidered Jewish star on the middle. The aunts entered the chapel one by one escorted by the members of their immediate families. This entrance, spontaneous yet dramatic, didn’t hold a candle to the next few minutes when each sister draped herself over the coffin and continued to converse with Ruth.

“You are really something Ruth, just look at this crowd,” the family banter began.

“Of course she’s something. What did you think, she was chopped liver?”

“Ruthie, I know we’re going to have to learn to live without seeing you
everyday, but I don’t know how I’m going to do that. I am not ready to lose you.”

There were many tears and a few sobs. But they were all pretty contained until Alma started to yell.


Then they started to argue, quietly among themselves, still draped over Aunt Ruth.

“Why are you yelling at her? She can hear you fine if you just talk.”

“Such a big mouth for a big sister. What? You want her to hear you more than the rest of us?”

“You always think you need to be the most important.”

“All of you. Stop this bickering. We have guests and Ruth has to get buried,”

Uncle Sam’s voice was stern but calm. “Now finish what you have to say so we can start the service. Ruth doesn’t want to lie here all day.”
The banter started to wind down.

“Ruth,” Alma said quietly, “what am I going to do without you? Who will I call when I’m not feeling well in the morning? Who’s going to drive me to the supermarket?’ Who’s going to take me to the bank? Who’s going to get me to the hairdresser on Saturday? What were you thinking?”

“She was probably thinking she wanted a vacation or to save herself a fortune in gasoline bills,” Aunt Frieda said without missing a beat.

They all looked up at Frieda. They looked at one another. Then put their heads back on the coffin and started to titter. The titter led to a giggle, which finally wound up a full-blown shoulder-shaking laugh. The Congregation assumed they were sobbing uncontrollably. Sadie again marveled at their ability to find something funny in the midst of their sorrow.

My Aunts and Uncles gave me the wonderful gift of being able to have a sense of humor under even the most difficult circumstances. I hope I have used it with some wisdom. We’re just sayin....

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Egg and I

For years it was nearly impossible for me to make a hard boiled egg. This was despite the fact the egg is one of my favorite foods and I attempted to make them frequently. My friend Sidney makes the perfect egg. She times it for six minutes once it starts to boil. Then she thrusts it in cold water and voila, the white is solid and the yellow just a touch soft. Since the 80’s I have attempted to duplicate her egg and maybe once every 6 or 7 eggs it would work. My past history with the little chicken products was not one of success. No matter how long I boiled the eggs they refused to harden. I mean, I boiled some eggs for an hour and a half and they were still disgustingly runny. I even made Sidney, who accused me of not turning on the stove and not timing properly, watch me try to do it and even she was flabbergasted. Was it a personal thing? Did the eggs not like me? Were they just one, in a number of items that tried to frustrate me to death? Who knows. I just thank God that things changed, because now I make the best scrambled, fried, and hard boiled eggs, plain or for salad, of anyone I know – except Sidney.

Before she died, Aunt Helene was the champion best scrambled egg maker. Of course it was before she died, who knows what she’s cooking now. Her recipe was simple. Eggs beaten with a fork, a little (very Little) milk, salt and white pepper. I discovered the secret of excellence is in the act of scrambling. You put a little butter in the pan (non stick is good) let them cook for a minute until they take form, and then, with a wooden spoon, slowly move the eggs around until they are at the desired consistency. (Now is the time to add a bit of cheese for 'cheesy eggs' if you like). If you mush them right from the start they have no personality. And as I learned from my attempts at hard boiled, eggs have a mind of their own.

Two perfect basted eggs with cheese
The best fried eggs I make are actually basted. You put a little butter into a pan that shapes two eggs like they were auditioning for a TV commercial. Season them with salt and pepper. If you like cheese grate some on the top. Then cover them and cook them until they are the consistency you like. (Editor's Note: The moisture under the top cooks the yolks to a perfect blue/grey. Unbeatable! -- David) You don’t have to chance breaking the yolks and winding up with a big unattractive mess.

Egg salad and tuna fish are among the foods we considered family staples. We are, however, egg and tuna purists. That means nothing green should ever be mixed in. The secret to excellent egg salad is not to overcook the eggs and to mix in the Hellmann’s mayonnaise when the eggs are still warm – not hot. (Tuna should be drained, cold and never mixed in a blender. FYI, we eat tuna with cream cheese on a toasted bagel. Don't say yech until you've tried it. ). And don’t cheat on the mayo. If you don’t use a good mayo it’s like using the wrong wine for cooking only worse. People always say, “it doesn’t matter what kind of wine you use for cooking — the alcohol cooks out and what’s left always tastes the same.” This is simply not true. If the wine is spoiled and has turned to vinegar maybe you can use it in a salad. But there’s a reason why chicken Marsala and beef Bourguignon only tastes like what they’re supposed to be if you avoid wine that tastes like last years kosher Passover product.

And speaking of cheese, (OK maybe we weren’t speaking and it was only a mention but this is an important addition), we love cheese in almost any version; on a plate, in a salad, on a cracker, melted, grated, on a sandwich, combined with truffles, cranberry and a variety of molds which turn it bleu. But some of the ways we most enjoy it is mixed with grits and couscous – not at the same time. We cook up some grits (say it with a Southern accent). We use Quick not Instant grits. I add a cheese with little personality after they have cooked for 5-7 minutes--cheddar or even soy cheese if you’re dieting. I also add just a little cream to the grits and cook for another minute. I usually serve them with fried/basted eggs on the top. The cheese couscous are best with chicken or a lighter fare.

Back to eggs. My one disappointment in the category of creative egg preparation is that I am not great at making one of my favorite types of egg dishes, not because of the egg but because of the sauce. Eggs Benedict — although I prefer them Florentine. (That’s with spinach). My Hollandaise is only OK. But it takes too much time, and is not easily perfected.

The thing I most like about an egg is its versatility. It can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and need never be prepared twice in the same way (unless you really LIKE one). It is high in protein and low in calories. Maybe it contains a little too much cholesterol but maybe there are mouse droppings in candy other than See’s. Yes, there is a story here. When Barbara Dixon was a little girl her mother told her that other than See’s all candy contained mouse droppings – so she never had a Snickers or M&M’s. She also never had hotdogs or a baloney sandwich and she is still a wonderful, well adjusted person. And is there a point? Absolutely not, it just sounded funny to me. Don’t the maybes drive you nuts? We always say you can do or eat anything in moderation and it won’t hurt you. So a few eggs scattered throughout your diet are not a bad thing as long as they are delicious.
We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Have You Lost Something?

I don’t want to get too serious but since another of Jordan’s friends died this weekend, and so I have been thinking a great deal about loss. Is there any greater loss than the loss of a child? I think not. We were most fortunate in our extended family because while there were lots of births, there were hardly any losses of children. In fact, when my Aunt Frieda died, (she was a daughter by choice not birth) the sisters didn’t tell my grandmother because they thought she would be too upset. They just kept saying Frieda was busy and couldn’t get to NJ. My grandmother knew they were lying and told them that she knew something was up, because if Frieda were alive she would make it a point to visit. Aunt Frieda was the only child Grandma burie, and she didn't really know that Frieda was dead. My grandmother died before any of her other children. My Aunt Fritzie was the first to go. She died in 1980. Uncle Jack died soon after. David remembers that Uncle Jack died before Aunt Sarah, because Aunt Sarah was yelling “Jack, you can’t be dead!” until they lowered him into the ground. David had never seen anything like it so it remains vivid in his memory.

This was actually better behavior than when my Grandfather died. At his funeral my Aunt Sarah tried to throw herself into the grave. She was prevented from doing this by my Aunt Helene, who grabbed her before the leap, my mother, who held on to Helene, Aunt Peppy, who held onto my mother, and Aunt Fritzie, who pulled the rest of them back. Uncle Jack was too overcome to be a holder on. And Aunt Sophie stood to the side and announced that “if that’s what Sarah wants, we should just let her jump.” When the siblings died (sibling loss was the most painful loss for any of them), the ones who were still breathing just pretended the others were in Florida. I believe I previously blobbed about not going to Florida.

This morning David I were talking about the state of the world and how we hoped that in a few years, when Jordan was ready to take it by storm—the world would still be a place where she could thrive in her chosen profession. Will people still want to go to the theater and be entertained? Or will they consider the stage frivolous and outdated? Too much personal interaction, not a fast or sophisticated enough technology? Now that would be a serious loss. The world at war instead of peace has been a serious loss. I remember years after Jimmy Carter left office, Helen Thomas, a notable and well respected journalist confessed that she may not have liked Carter but she was able to sleep at night because she knew he would do almost anything to avoid a war. I guess the loss of a good night’s sleep is right up on the top of all our lists.

When someone loses a job it can be devastating. I have seldom lost a job because I have seldom had a job. Much of my work has been in political campaigns or as a political appointee, so the end of this work was never a surprise -- because there is always the knowledge that there will be an end. Many people think they will go from a campaign job to a government job if their candidate wins, but there is never a guarantee that there will be a place for you. The end of a campaign is like the end of your life because it is a 24/7 commitment and the people with whom you work become your family. So that loss can be overwhelming. When I left Massachusetts to work in Washington in 1976, I had no job and no place to live so I lived in my Fiat 128 station wagon. It’s funny (not ha ha funny) but once you have lost your home and your family, everything else has minimal impact.

When I think back, the only time I was in a job that I lost, was when I was working as an employment agent for Snelling and Snelling. They fired me because they said I was trying to be a social worker instead of a placement person. The goal was just to find a job for someone — it was not necessary to find something they liked. I lost my job at USA Networks because Barry Diller bought the company. But I resigned before he could fire me. (The new people always fire the senior execs and bring in their own people). Diller ran around the building trying to fire me but he was too late... and was he pissed! It was terrific. And additionally, they had to pay me a large sum of money. So I have never been tossed asunder without finding a place to go-- even if it was elf employment. I always found something else and considered the past good training and a place that I merely made more contacts. But many of my friends have stood on the side of the road and watched the parade march by...and that can be very painful. The worst thing is that with the loss of a job, comes the loss of self confidence and most importantly, an income.

There are so many kinds of loss. Family, friends, work, confidence, lunch, jewelry and hair. Sometimes losses are manageable and you can deal with them easily. Sometimes their impact can be so enormous that they can change the person you are or that you think you want to be. I guess if you think about loss as just a part of ongoing change it becomes a little easier to figure out. And if you remember the more things change, the more they stay the same, you will never have to deal with it at all. Yes I know, that makes very little sense—but what else is new. They don’t pay me the big bucks to figure out complicated life issues. OK they (that would be David) don’t pay me at all. All I know is that loss just hangs out there like some magical song. When it’s over we miss it, but we know we will either find another tune to take its place or we will work tirelessly to find a way to play it again. We’re just sayin... Iris

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Birthday Continues

Jordan didn’t go back to school as planned, but I’ll get back to that later in the blob. A few months ago she asked me if we could get tickets to the “Edward Scissorhands Ballet” which was going to premiere at the Kennedy Center. I said “sure”, and called for tickets for the weekend when she could be home. Apparently, it was a much sought after ticket so the good seats were pretty much gone.

Although it’s not something I like to do—ask for a favor—I called my old pal Jim Johnson, who is on the Board of Trustees at the Kennedy Center, and asked him if there might be seats available in the Trustees Box. I explained that it was Jordan’s 21st birthday and this was something that was especially important to her. His assistant called me back within minutes to say that the seats were ours.

When Jordan was little, Bill Clinton was the President and we had access to the President’s Box at the Kennedy Center. It was a terrific way to see any show. And see them we did. All we had to do was call Debbie in the West Wing and she made it happen. For years Jordan thought that when you went to the theater, no one sat in front of you, you had a private bathroom and there were always snacks (one of which was peanut M&M’s encased in a cardboard box complete with Presidential Seal), and sodas available in a refrigerator in a lounge right behind the seats. The Trustees Box is adjacent to the President’s Box and although there are not all the perks, the seats are just as good. Besides, part of the joy of being 21 was that she could go to the Terrace Restaurant and order an apple martini, so who needs M&M’s.

We had decided that as long as she was coming home for the long weekend, we would throw a little birthday party for the grown-ups who had always been part of her life. She even agreed that it would be fun and as long as Lina, her friend could be there, she wouldn’t be bored. It was kind of a, line up the usual, but not an every day occurrence anymore, suspects.

We had another full day on Sunday. We got tickets for matinee performance of “Carnival” – which was a lovely production. David dropped us off because the parking at the Kennedy Center is almost as much as the performance tickets. The decision to charge a large amount for parking is something I don’t understand since it is totally out of whack with their apparent desire to offer all kinds of free cultural activities. But maybe that’s how they afford to embrace the community. David was also kind enough to retrieve us—in what appeared to be a blizzard. The weather in DC is always weird and although it was lovely when we went to the theater, when we left it was snowing so hard we couldn’t see the road. I, being ‘glass half full’ on a few occasions, thought that no one would come to

celebrate and drink the 7 bottles of Jordan Cabernet (2, 1983 and 5, 1986) we had carefully and lovingly decanted, or eat the mounds of food I had prepared. Luckily, I was incorrect.

The Daley’s arrived first, the Cowarts and Mal Caravetti next, our wonderful neighbors Phil and Marty walked all the way across the street, and Paige came, unfortunately without the boys, but it was terrific to see him. Then the onslaught with Caroline, Richard and Suzanne Rodriguez -- Anne and Don Viviani (the parents of Jordan’s high school sweetheart who we stayed attached to, even if the kids did not).

Edwige and Chris came with our 2 pretend Grandchildren, Susan Povenmire with Chinese New Year wishes and then Lenny and LouAnne Sherp—who we met when the kids (Libby is their fabulous daughter), were in Kindergarten and we thought, since he and David were the only fathers who picked up and delivered the kids, that he was either a drug dealer or unemployed. Neither was true, but he and Lou (who are our age but much more adventurous) were once a song and dance team in the far East. It was yet another smashing birthday success.
Jordan with Ann and Donn Viviani (he of the crossed eyes)
At a little after midnight when we had been asleep for a few hours, (the party started and six and by ten most people were gone), Jordan woke us to say that she was reading the Face Book and someone had posted the sad news that her elementary school friend Joey was dead. She didn’t have all the details but this morning we learned that at about 5am Joey, who was driving, hit the median on a highway in Tallahassee and was killed. “Little Joey”, was what we called him because he always seemed small in size –not in personality, grew up around the corner. When we moved into this neighborhood there weren't many children Jordan’s age. Joey was one of the few. He was always enterprising, and since there were so few kids he was the one who would sell his services to shovel the snow in the winter and rake the leaves in the summer. He and Jordan went to different schools after the elementary years, but he was “little Joey”, and always in her life. And that ended with an asphalt monster at some ungodly hour of the morning. There is not much more to say except Jordan needed to be home with us today instead of making her way back to Boston. We are always grateful to have her for as much time as we can. We’re just sayin....Iris

Saturday, February 17, 2007

And the Dispersal Continues

The term diaspora is one of those Greek based (as in Athens, not as in “fraternity row”) words which has over time been used to describe the dispersal of Jews around the world. The departure of a great number of Spanish Jews in the late 15th century (1492 wasn’t ONLY about Isabella and Columbus) led to colonies all over the middle east, Turkey, and later throughout the “new world” as well. Yet to me disapora has always carried a broader meaning. Having lived in Europe and Asia, it is impossible, save perhaps for a small town in Japan, to find anywhere that there aren’t all kinds of mixed background people. Even the Japanese who settled by the millions in Brazil had their own disapora. In every town or village in most of Africa there were Indian, Pakistani or Lebanese shop keepers. In Saigon, the most prolific, if not the finest tailors were Indian. Chinese shop keepers are legendary in so many parts of the world, that you might think they’d always been there. For all these folks, somewhere in their familial history someone decided to leave home, and I don’t mean just taking a cross-town bus. To pick up your life, your goods, your family and move to a different place takes a certain amount of self confidence, a desire for something better in life, or maybe just the hope of a quick payoff.

In my own family the original ‘big moves’ came in the 1880s and 1890s when grandparents on both sides of my family made their way from Poland (Bialystok – yes, that IS where the legendary roll came from) Russia (Minsk, and a village somewhere called Kenyshyin) to the western US: Seattle, Tacoma, and Salt Lake City, Utah. One might wonder (as Iris always asks…) what could have possessed a Jewish pioneer to leave not only the comforts of the shtetl, but to keep going past New York and end up in the West where the obvious sources of pastrami and corned beef were few and far between. Of course most of the time, the immigrants went to a place where they knew someone. The theory was you could find work, be settled, and do it quicker and easier in a place where you already had a friend from your village who’d gone before, and who knew the ropes, than to leave yourself to be preyed upon in the mean streets of Gotham City. In the case of my mom’s family, Nathan (my great grandfather) and his wife got as far as Denver, only to find that no work seemed to be at hand. In search of a job, he ended up in Salt Lake City, where the family grew and prospered. (When I was once described as having had a “typical middle class upbringing” in Salt Lake, my “League Of Women Voters” President mom reacted, surprisingly to me, with “I didn’t think we were just Middle Class…”) Whatever class we were, it was in Utah, the one place perhaps where Jews are still considered Gentiles, that we lived. I believe it is a rare find to meet someone who thinks they grew up in a totally weird place. Sure, we all have our quirks, but I contend that what you grow up with is pretty much what you think is normal. Happily, “Travel” is one of those great mind and eye openers, and in broadening those horizons we all grow. Yet, “home” is always going to be “home.”

As funny as it might seem to be Jewish in Utah, I felt that there were many cases which were far more obtuse than my own. When I met Bob Friedman, the Dallas Cowboys photographer in the late 70s, his story of growing up Jewish in a small Mississippi town seemed to be far more exotic. What am I getting at? Well, it’s just that in this day of people moving more often, travel opportunities being relatively cheap and abundant we can’t really expect the children, and grandchildren of the modern diaspora to stay at home. The growth of TV and the internet has done enormous damage to the singular nature of many places. No longer does isolation, the kind a Russian Jew might have felt in very Mormon Salt Lake City, have the imprint it once did. I was never a huge basketball fan, but I first heard about NBA superstar Magic Johnson in Sarajevo from a bunch of kids who were far more interested in basketball, and far taller, than myself. The stories of Flat Head Lake T Shirts ending up on the backs of children in African villages are legendary. We move. Our stuff moves. The world moves.

Traces of the Diaspora: My High School Student Body
Officers (Class of '64) picture (me, upper left) forty years later.
Do you think the owner of locker 210 ever thinks of us?

And so when I visited my mom earlier this week in Palo Alto, I was trying NOT to feel weird about the fact that she was no longer, after 88 years, living in Utah. Some 18 months ago she moved to a wonderful Hyatt Senior facility next door to Stanford (where she was a member of the Class of ’38) to be near my sister (Class of ’74). In our own little mini diaspora, the Burnett children left Salt Lake with the same gusto that we arrived there: with a sense of adventure for something new, a job, and maybe even corned beef. Tom essentially moved out as soon as he was accepted at Williams in ’61. Since then, aside from school, he has lived in New York. I bounce between DC, New York and the rest of the world, and this year celebrate (or freak out at) my 40th anniversary of working for TIME Magazine. Lis' went to Stanford in 1970 (I might add, with all our family ties, I was NOT admitted to Stanford, though I am almost over being P.O.'ed about it) and never left. She is the anchor on the left coast.

Mom and Elephantine pal at Ikea

I guess there are always going to be traces in the Holladay, Utah civic archives that the Burnetts once lived on 23rd East, out in the country. But the house we lived in was plowed down to make a McMansion, so you’d need to have a pretty good memory to actually place us there. When mom, a notorious [searching for the right word here: 'Cheapskate' is way too much, perhaps.. “value shopper” better describes it..] 'value shopper', moved to California, she had to downsize quite a bit. In fact she was better at downsizing than anyone else I know. Each time she moved over the last 60 years, it was always with an eye to the future, and scarcely a nod backwards. She was the "Queen" of downsize. Instead of taking her 1954 King (two twins) bed, she took the 'Full' which had been in Tom’s room since 1958. That mattress is, perhaps not unlike the Sam Brownback for President campaign, lacking in support. Mom complains about waking up aching some mornings, and Lis’ and I have tried to convince her that no, it isn’t JUST her age. That it could be possible to be 89 and get out of bed without pain. Yet her defense … "I have been sleeping on that mattress for years..” seems to carry with it, its own indictment. Yes, mom. Years. Time for a new one. So we made it as far as Ikea this week, to try out new mattresses.
Does that not look comfy, I ask you!

Mom wasn’t all that pleased about making the trip, and I think might have been overwhelmed, as is easy to be, in a giant cavernous place like Ikea. She abhors spending anything with double digits. But she actually tried out a few mattresses, though of course (Ikea rule #4) the one we wanted was out of stock (“we should have some in next Tuesday…”) But of all the items which have withstood the Burnett diaspora, Tom’s mattress is one that perhaps we can consign to the dustbin of genealogical history. A new mattress, a new way of sleeping. A new way to start the day when you are living in a brand new place. In the end, when you think of all the mattresses that were left behind by immigrants, emigrants, and people with back pain over the last 500 years, I suppose one more Full being dumped into a mattress shredder at the Peninsula land fill won’t add up to much. And the diaspora continues, the world shrinks, and soft pillows are still tough to find in cheap hotels. We’re just sayin…David

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Oh, that World Premiere

There were 280 people in the audience. Thirty of them were us, but that still means that 250 people came to see the World Premiere of “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles.” There were a few technical difficulties and with each, I squeezed David’s hand harder. I had been holding it since we made our way from the introduction on the stage, to our seats. The film hesitated twice, we held our breath until it started again. There were a few dropped lines. We looked around. No one seemed to have noticed. The audience laughed in places we never noticed were funny and they cried along with us when they realized 6 of the eight Dubroff siblings were gone. (“They liked it, they really liked it.”) They even bought cookbooks and DVD’s. It was a wonderful finale to a terrific weekend.

Honey, Iris, Tracey, Micki, and Rosalie, the 'cousins'

We flew from Jordan Kai Burnett’s 21st birthday party in Boston, to Denver on Saturday. Rosalie, and Dickie (from NJ), Honey, (upstate NY) Tracy (Marshfield Ma.), and Karen (NJ), were already there. Some of the clan was gathering for the public unveiling of our family Passover. We checked into the hotel and made our way to the Rio Grande, a noisy Mexican restaurant where we thought we were going to eat. Honey met us at the door and announced that a dear friend of hers had joined us and she wanted us to meet. It turned out that the dear friend was my df, not hers. My college pal, Leslie Tunick and her husband Bill had arrived a day early for the kick off barbecue. This was not unusual for Leslie who smart and talented as she is—and she really is, often used to forget things. For example, on the day we graduated from school, Tunick and her folks (all three of them packed into the front seat of her father’s Caddy) were halfway back from Boston to NY, when she screamed that they had to stop the car because all her clothes were still in the closet at the dorm. Her premature arrival was a joyous mistake for all of us because we got to spend the next three days with Leslie as a new part of the family. And as a bonus, she brought us home made Mandelbrot (a Jewish cookie eaten with tea or coffee). That recipe will be in the next printing of the ‘Gefilte Fish Chronicles Companion Cookbook.”

Rick, Jeffrey, Kerry, Janice and Chris (an out of town group need always be in company of a local... sort of )
It was late and the 11 of us (who had been herded onto our own private balcony) had reached the point where we were past hungry. However, a few quesadillas and mega numbers of Margarita’s, were consumed. It was just fun for all of us to be together, even if we were draped over the rest of the restaurant.

Margarita ville, Denver Rio Grande style

We decided not to have breakfast on Sunday because we were still reeling from the mega-Margaritas. But lunch was on the schedule and The Chop House seemed a good choice for a little protein. Lunch was our second activity of the day. First, since David had left his jacket and heavy vest in Boston, we had to buy substitute apparel. We went to Macy’s in the Cherry Creek Mall. Ro had been there the day before and remembered there was a sale. And did we make a killing. A Calvin Klein jacket for 50% off with an additional 50% off, , in good Dubroff fashion, Ro had a coupon for another 20%. Around 11:00 we got a call from Rick and Janice, friends who had traveled from Salt Lake for the big show. We invited them to meet us for lunch. At the same time Kerry text messaged to say she was in Denver. This was a big deal, first because she had flown in from New York and second because text messaging doesn’t come easy to either of us – don’t any of you think it must be an age thing. Kerry took a cab over. We drank bloody Mary’s, ate great food, laughed without limit, sang happy birthday to Rob (he was a total stranger) and went back to the hotel to rest up for the dinner barbecue at Micki’s.

Rick & Janice Bennion (SLC), Sue Taha (DEN) and "us" (no fixed address)

Some family and friends had already started to party by the time we arrived on Cherry Street. Micki, Chris, Finn, and Tanner, live in Denver, as do Shannon, Connor and Lindsey. Adam, Karen and Jack, came from Ridgeway, Colorado. Leslie and Bill came back from Boulder on the right night, Chuck and Eileen landed from Arizona, Kat and Bill our Virginia friends, came with their 2 friends from Denver. And the most fantastic surprise was that my brother appeared from Seattle. It was yet another fabulous evening with all the friends mixing, chatting, and getting to know this large nutty family about whom they had heard so much.

Needless to say, the next day started out with another meal, breakfast, this time at a place called Snooze. It was maybe the best breakfast I have ever had. My meal was crispy shredded potatoes covered with three different cheeses, scallions and poached eggs. They did not spare the butter. The meal was a treat exceeded only by another reunion. This time with a high school friend I had not seen in over 40 years. Talk about 2 degrees of separation – and I don’t mean 6. Here’s how it happened. Chuck was exercising one morning when he met a beautiful woman named Tommy. They chatted a bit and she confessed she was from New Jersey. He asked where. She said a small town he had never heard of. He said he had family in NJ. She said, Boonton. He said, that’s where my family is from. It turned out that Tommy Kaplan (in high school, Noreen Thompson), was someone with whom I had been friends. They became friends and when Chuck told the Kaplan’s about the event they decided to participate.

We finished breakfast and set out to explore a little of Denver with Rick and Janice in their rented Chevy. Denver was designed on a grid so it’s supposed to be easy to negotiate. This was not the case in the Bennion mobile. We never went from point A to point B without first going to K,P, R, U, X, and Z. We spent so much time being lost that we were amazed when we actually found intended location. (But we did discover an excellent photo gallery called M in north Cherry Creek). And speaking of found, there were a few instances when the hotel lost the little Chevy. We thought it was probably because none of the valets wanted to drive it. Anyway, while there was an ongoing, noticeable, shortage of ‘right direction’ there was no shortage of merriment.

It was a weekend filled with just one laugh after the other which culminated in the grand opening of the world premiere of the documentary David and I have been working on for three years, “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”. The night of the event we were invited to introduce the movie—which David did with great eloquence. The only sadness for us was that Mom and Aunt Peppy are both not feeling well and they couldn’t be with us to revel in their very special day. David has been blobbing about it tonight so rather than get repetitious, read his blob for the rest of the story. It is well worth the time. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Fine Premiere

A Fine Premiere

Iris and I are on the plane from Denver to Oakland (yes, there is an airport THERE, too) this morning, having just concluded an absolutely fab World Premiere of our video project The Gefilte Fish Chronicles. Three years ago, along with another Dubroff family son-in-law, Jimmy Robinson, I started to video tape the preparations for, and execution of the amazing ritual which is known at the Passover Seder. The original Dubroffs, Abe and Minnie, (Iris is a Dubroff , I’m a Rosenblatt) settled like thousands of other Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn after their trek from Russia in 1904. For most of the 20th century they did what Jewish families do in the spring: They celebrate the ancient departure of the Jews from servitude in Egypt, and and do it in a traditional meal which brings the family together for the celebration. Often, Passover is the one time of the year when Jewish families gather cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends for a long night of prayers and, yes, eating.

Having grown up in a fairly large family in Utah – we would have 30 to 40 people at our seders, I was, nonetheless, amazed at the breadth of preparations the Dubroff clan went to in putting together their Seder meals (there is ‘first night’ – usually just a small group of 20 or so, from in town, and ‘second night’ which is for all the out of towners.) In traditions that dated back a century to the small apartment the family shared over their butcher store, I was continually amazed to see the effort required to produce the real thing. Six weeks out, the buying and chopping, and tasting started (thank goodness for Freezers!), and preparations went on right up until the afternoon of the arrival of all the family members. Nothing was ‘store bought’ Everything was made in house. Eighty pounds of gefilte fish, sixty pounds of beef stew known as cholent (from the French for “hot” and “slow”… it cooks for 18 hours), and tubs of mazto ball soup. It is quite an undertaking, and I felt that documenting it would be something the children in the familyi would one day be able to look back on and appreciate what their heritage was.

Iris and David on the "Red Carpet" at the World Premiere / Denver
We shot 30 hours of tape, and engaged a former LIFE photographer-turned video editor Dick Swanson to have a shot at putting it together in a way that made sense. He did a great job, and the third visit Iris and made to his house to see what he’d cobbled together out of all our tapes, we both had one of those jaw-dropping reactions – we realized that we really HAD something: it wasn’t just a little family home movie. After Dick’s final cut, we gave copies to the family at the next year’s Seder, and everyone was pleased beyond belief. Yet, as we tried to see if other outlets would be interested, we realized the project needed a bit of tweaking. Stephanie Daniels of 07 Films in Jersey City made a number of minor but very important additions, and in the end we found ourselves with a 56 minute documentary. The Gefilte Fish Chronicles was born. We have entered the film (its tape, video tape, but everyone calls video “film” these days, so I guess I can, too) in a dozen film festivals, trying to let the rest of the world have a look at one family’s Seder. Yesterday, aside from viewing in Swanson’s basement, and our living room, was the World Premiere at the Denver Jewish Film Festival.

a local Klezmer Band greeting the attendees..

Best of all, dozens, literally, of cousins and friends came to Denver for the show, most of whom hadn’t seen anything but the very first edit, and many of whom had seen nothing. We were excited, yet trepidatious. Coming to Denver from Boston (Jordan’s 21st birthday..) I left my sport coat in a hotel closet. I was ‘under dressed’ for giving my Introduction. That assumed that people would actually show up and I would be able to give an introduction. Well, the weekend turned out to be one of the most fun, complete, and enjoyable three days we have spent anywhere of late. Gathering for meals, walking the streets of Cherry Creek en masse (it was 50 degrees yesterday, its 18 today!) in shirt sleeves, and basically passing up no opportunities for a laugh, we rolled into Monday night at the Mizel Center for Arts.

The Companion Cook Book for sale
(and check our website: GefiltefishChronicles.com )

The parking lot was full at 6 when we pulled in and I thought “wow” this is some crowd. I hadn’t realized that in addition to the film fest, there were other lectures, gym activities, and a myriad other events: in fact the only folks in the theater were a half dozen cousins. High anxiety. Well, they brought a nice table of noshes out – pita, humus, falafel, and the high school Klezmer band struck up, and by 6:30 I started to believe that there might be at least as many NON family members as there were family. Then, out of the blue, the doors seem to open and in spilled people in twos and threes, and by 7 pm, the 300 seat auditorium was nearly full.

Full House at the Mizel Center
Iris and I were introduced, and asked to say a few words. My own grandfather, LH Burnett, who I wish I’d had more time to spend with (he died when I was 13) would always begin a toast – and there were plenty of those – with “I would be unmindful of my obligations if on this auspicious occasion, I didn’t say but a few words.” Well, I did say a few words, and more than that, gazed out over the chock-a-block theater and realized that all these folks were here to see OUR film. I even shot a picture to remember what that full house looked like. How cool. Please God, let them understand it, let them feel it, let them enjoy it. The applause was genuine. The laughs heart-felt.

At the end of the projection, at least a dozen people said to me “it made me laugh, and it made me cry…” which, if that doesn’t sum up what family is all about, I don’t know what does. Iris wrote a companion cookbook called “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles Companion Cookbook” (we didn’t spend any money market testing the name!) Both the DVD and the Cookbook are available on the www.GefilteFishChronicles.com website (we didn’t spend any money market testing that name either), and sold nearly two dozen DVD/book packages to cholent- starved Denverites. It was a wonderful couple of days in which a lot of new friends were made. Now that we have done the World Premiere, I guess it’s time to think more locally. As things progress, and we appear in other festivals, and possibly on broadcast TV, we’ll let you know about it on the Blob. Everyone needs at least one chance in their life to hock fish for and hour by hand, or lift a 30 pound vat of stew. We’re just sayin… David

Monday, February 12, 2007

Praise and Honor to God

“Praise and honor to God”...was how he started the announcement. Was that a Moslem, Allah is great, or was it a Christian, praise be to God. Probably both because he appears to be a man of the world who comes from many cultures and many colors. He went on, “You didn’t come here for me. You came because you believe in what the country can be.” This was followed by some usual, but poetic, rhetorical comparison between war and peace, hope and despair. He continued by saying “We are one people reaching for what’s possible.” He said that ‘A young boys violent behavior leaves a hole in the heart that no government can fill.’ And speaking of government, he was firm in his belief that the ways of Washington must change. He said we were distracted by our own failures, and we shouldn’t believe the doody balls who tell us anything different. Well maybe he didn’t say doody ball, but that’s what he meant.

Barak Obama, born in Hawaii with an African father and a mother from Kansas, is prepared to lead the nation. And, he tells us, we don’t need to worry about his Washington experience—it doesn’t prepare you for anything but lobbyists and a fractured bureaucracy. I love this guy. I want to believe him.

Hillary must be beside herself. There is going to be constant comparison. And if she raises enough money, and the primaries are all moved up, she won’t have to confront the ongoing commentary about what he is and she is not because it will be over before it starts. But I would love to see a real campaign. One where we get to listen to debate about issues and the future. One where labor has to make a choice about who to endorse. Actually, that was the only part of the speech that I felt was too carefully crafted. Teachers getting paid more but being accountable—the teacher’s union hates that. Putting people back to work with labor taking a lead in rebuilding the economy. And he didn’t say that the government needs to work so people can aspire to the “middle class”. That is included in Hillary’s stump speech. I suggested they take that out because no one ever aspired to be limited to any class—people aspire to be successful. I believe one reason for Gore’s defeat was his constant reminder that he was for the people not the powerful. Now, who do you know that wants to think of themselves as powerless. And Kerry’s division of people by education—does the phrase non-college educated, instead of high school educated, sound a bit elitist. Sometimes we just don’t get it, but never mind, some people are simply not smart enough to ingest my wisdom. Yet another case of you think you get what you pay for.

Back to Barak. He is articulate and clean. When Biden said it he inferred that the other Black aspirants were not. But I think he is articulate and unencumbered by commitments to what he implies is a corrupt bureaucratic system. He is young (at least younger) vital, dynamic and yes, he admits to “doing a little blow.” But the most important quality he possesses is that he is comfortable about who he is... and his wife seems to be comfortable with who he wants to be.

This is no small item when crafting a campaign. The reports are that she will be instrumental in developing strategy and direction. There is always some danger in this kind of involvement because people who have personal relationships with a candidate think differently than campaign staff, about what needs to be done to win. Additionally, what is good for the candidate is not always good for the person--and since they care about the person—it may affect political decision making. From all reports she’s a terrific person, a smart and independent thinker. That’s the good news. The bad news for her future staff is that she is smart and independent. A spouse is critical to the success of the campaign. The dangers always come with over involvement. The 1992 “you’re getting two for one” the 2004 “I am entitled to say and do anything I want” approach to the campaign. I think the public and the media want to see a spouse in supportive rather than competitive role. When the spouse steps over the line, neither show any mercy. Much of my campaign expertise was in roles on a spouse staff. Quite simply it’s more difficult to be a spouse than a candidate because everyone takes care of the candidate, and no matter how it begins, ultimately the spouse becomes an inconvenience and creates problems for all involved. It just can’t be prevented because the candidate is distracted and the politics becomes so complicated.

In my first political campaign I worked for Ella Udall, the funniest and most difficult political force I ever encountered. And I don’t say force frivolously. She kept Mo Udall (a popular but unknown Congressman. from Arizona who ran for President in 1976) on the road. He loved her and wanted her to be with him when he traveled. And she loved the attention of the people and the press. But she drank too much and wanted to party all the time. Mo wanted to work and sleep but Ella would drag him to whatever bar in whatever hotel, to keep her company and entertain the press. It was fun but not very productive and eventually who she was did not help to move the campaign along. Interestingly, the press loved Mo so much that they never address Ellas’ follies in anything they wrote but if had he been the nominee they would have had no choice.

I think the saddest thing that has happened to 21st century Presidential campaigns is that they are not much fun. There is no camaraderie between staff, press, and Secret Service. The times and technology have changed so drastically that there is little trust and less levity. Too much media, too many pitfalls, and technology that prevents interpersonal, one on one communication. It’s a year until the primaries. Plenty of time for novelty. I wonder what new political gimmick or issue will emerge as the reason for candidate success or failure. I can hardly wait to see. We’re just sayin... Iris

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Politics as Usual

Sara asked me if I would go to a finance committee meeting for Hillary.
“I’m not in a place where I have the ability to make a donation, or the time to spend fundraising, so you might consider offering my seat to someone who will be more inclined to get involved this early.” “
“Don’t be ridiculous” she said in her Sara ‘you are such a dope’ way. “Come, just come.”


Needless to say, Sara wasn’t there. I didn’t really expect her to be. We have been friends since 1972 and we think we met during the McGovern campaign but who knows, it was something political. We would run into each other in airports, at events, and political meetings. She’s about 20 something years older than I—you do the math. But she has always had twice the energy and 10 times the spunk. And never, not ever, has she treated me like an idiot. We have disagreements, and sometimes she thinks I’m a ridiculous person, but she has always respected my political gut. I am crazy for her because she is totally politically incorrect. When, as the least racist as well as white Jewish woman working for the Government of Puerto Rico, we ran into one another at an event. Without missing a beat she looked at my escort, and asked on the top of her voice, “Does your mother know you go out with Puerto Ricans?” Everyone was quiet for about a minute and then all you heard was uproarious laughter. I love her and for over 30 years have done anything she said. So there I was at a finance committee meeting for Senator Clinton.

Over the last couple of months I have heard all kinds – as have we all --analysis of her campaign and the times. Things like “She can’t win”. “We don’t want another political dynasty.” “She too measured and careful.” “She talks out of both sides of her mouth.” And my own personal favorite, “She’s not as young and vital as Obama.”

It was not surprising that the people attending the meeting had heard the same comments and since the senior campaign people were accessible, they addressed some of those concerns.

“Well, she is a Clinton” Mandy Grunwald said. “And she’s going to stay that way.”
The other answers were a bit more diluted. “She’s not careful, she is exact. She’s happy about all the people in the race but she is in it to win.” Then came the charts and video. This was the inspirational part. “Can she win? “She’s already winning” the pollster Penn reported. Just look at the numbers.” It struck me that this interpretation was a little arrogant. What else is new in politics?

The audience looked at the numbers and they look good. But why wouldn’t they? Hillary has celebrity and a name people recognize. Love her or hate her you know who she is. Of course she is ahead of everyone else – the public doesn’t know anyone else. And if they do, they don’t know much. At one point Penn said that Hillary was about even where Kerry and Gore were when they ran – before the nomination. That gave me no confidence. As I recall neither of them won. Or if you want to quibble about Gore’s win—he was not in the White House and I stopped getting invitations to parties. Bottom line – it is all about me.

To be frank, (I wonder who frank is and why everyone wants to be him). I enjoyed the meeting, especially the part where Hillary recognized me and stopped for a hello and a brief cheek kiss. We, as political people are so easily seduced. Mostly because politics is much more fun when you are operating as ‘inner circle’. Even when you are working as an advance person (which used to be a political job but has, over the years, become more of a operational job. That means you complete tasks rather than develop policy. It’s yet again, another blob. Anyway, menial as the tasks may be, they are still close to the power and it’s better to be inside than on the periphery. It is part of the overall campaign organization problem. People spend more time vying for position—proximity to the principal-than they spend doing their jobs.

I am not ready to make a commitment yet. As I have said, I think Hillary needs to relax, get back to who she is—rather than who she thinks she needs to be, and she needs some voice training, because I don’t think people will vote for someone they can’t stand to hear, regardless of her position on issues or life. And I no longer think people will vote for her because they want Bill back in the White House.

It will be interesting to see what happens after Obama announces. I don’t think lack of being part of an elected bureaucracy makes you more qualified to be President (you can’t get experience being President unless you are President) , but I do think that a lack of real campaign (candidate) experience will have an impact on the election. Obama has never really competed for a victory. He’s a great speaker but when I watch him with people he seems a bit uncomfortable. If he has a Gary Hart problem –not womanizing but trouble touching people and the media, he won’t be around for long. I hope everyone who has announced stays around for as long as possible. I love a parade. We’re just sayin... Iris

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Happy Birthday, JKB

It was pouring when we left for the hospital. But what choice did we have—this was one event that absolutely couldn’t wait. We were prepared to entertain ourselves with cards, Yatzee and Connect Four. We were tremendously excited about the change that was about to happen to our lives—a baby girl.

I decided to have an epidural, since when I had Seth it was a ‘natural childbirth’ and the only thing I knew that would relieve the pain—which was like having a Mack truck run over me every thirty seconds -- was to kill me. Seth was truly worth the body trauma, but when people say that after a while you forget the pain, they are telling a big fat lie. In those ‘olden’ days, a natural childbirth was without medication. Today it mostly means without a caesarian. The consequence of that experience, was my opting to be awake but numb. (In addition, I wasn’t prepared, since I hadn’t had a baby in fifteen years, and we had been asked not to come back to the childbirth classes—but that’s another blob.) The labor was much longer than the doctor anticipated and when the pain started to interrupt our board games they decided to give me more epidural medication.

With Nana and Aunt Irene, Day 3

Something horrible happened after they gave me the booster and I felt the life rushing from my body. David knew something was wrong but before he even called the nurse for help, my doctor was there. He got me up on all fours and announced that he was going to have to ‘take that baby’, and fast. I agreed but insisted he give David enough time to get there. When I arrived in surgery – literally five minutes later -- there were two residents preparing for the event. I insisted they take their masks off so I could see their faces. I believe that I should recognize anyone who has seen me naked.

As soon as a green coveralled David walked in, the doctor said, “OK let’s go” and “here she comes”. It was almost within the same breath. One resident said he had never seen a caesarian done as quickly or as clean. David watched the whole thing—the nurse made him do it (“… don’t you want to see your baby being born” she asked?). And before we could shed a delighted tear, there she was in my arms.

At one year and some...

Caesarian babies are quite beautiful because they don’t struggle coming through a hole the size of the top of a water bottle. And “not struggle” was exactly the way we wanted her to live her life. It’s amazing, but the way children are when they are born, is exactly who they are when they grow up. My children were fabulous right from the start and have remained that way. OK, so I’m bragging, but from the time she opened her eyes we knew, that she knew, that everyone she encountered, absolutely wanted to meet her.

Every day was Dress & Dazzle day

We never had terrible two’s or three’s or four’s or any terrible with Jordan. Even at age two she loved to go to a restaurant and actually behaved. In fact, she was so good all the time that my friend Tina and I (always trouble makers) were thrilled when at age 13 she lifted a pair of bowling shoes from the alley. I think some of it had to do with the fact that we were older parents. We seemed to be much more good humored and relaxed than young or first time parents. Like when Seth was born, I wanted to strain the air with chicken soup and when he tried to be independent I wouldn’t let him because I was certain he would hurt himself. And while I did follow her to school on her first day as a safety patrol and I did follow her (in another car) when she decided to go it alone on her first Manhattan subway ride, I encouraged her to become her own person and not be coerced by convention or opinion. And that’s who she was and remains. Different silly socks, hair in riotous curls, always performing, singing, dancing, (starring) and exceedingly good natured. I always say she has my mannerisms but thank god, David’s disposition.
Riding a 4-wheeler in San Casciano

Our only regret was that she never learned to ride a two-wheel bike. But I was relieved about the fact that not riding a bike meant not having to look both ways when she crossed the street. (She didn’t ever pay rapt attention to foolish details.)

The Ballet Years: Tiny Bubbles

From the time Jordan met Melanie in kindergarten, it was clear that she made lasting friendships easily, and made our house a center for all her friends to frolic. One year we had a hurricane or a snow storm (I know the difference but my memory has dimmed), and her four best friends happened to be at our house when it started. They didn’t go home for five days. Finally, their parents insisted they depart and give us back our house. But we would have been happy to have them here for a month.

Jordan and Melanie

Jordan is an aspiring performing artist. From the time she could walk she has been a dancer singer and an actor. Musical theater was the only career to which she has ever aspired. We knew she loved musical theater when, at age four, David Fisher took her to see ‘Les Mis’. When the show was over she was like a rag. She got so involved in the production that it was almost as if she had been performing in it. And when we asked Fisher if she had behaved he said that the only time she spoke during the three hour performance was to say, “Please don’t sing David Fisher.” We think it was her love of the show rather than Fisher’s questionable vocal ability. For us, her love of show tunes meant that we didn’t have to be assaulted by terrible dissonant rock music. It was show tunes all the time. And since most of her friends also loved the theater there was always a non-stop “let’s do a show” at the Burnett house.

Jordan (today - 21) is a Junior in college. Her resume includes performances in elementary school, Stage Door Manor theater camp, high school, a Broadway showcase, The Fringe Festival in NY, the lead in an off-Broadway show and as a singing server at Ellen’s Stardust Diner—on Broadway. She also produces a radio show which you can hear on WERS in Boston 88.9 on your dial (you can get it on the web) and she managed to get one of the leads in this years spring musical “On the Town.”

JKB with her roommates

Are we proud parents? Is she a diva? You bet. But here’s the most important thing. Jordan is a beautiful person on the inside and the outside. God gave her a wonderful voice and a big talent.

JKB & her Mom

She is a fabulous, kind, sweet, loving, sensitive human being who has a passion for following her dream, and cares deeply about numerous people and important issues. And yes, she still knows everyone she encounters really wants to meet her. We hope she will have an extraordinary birthday without spending too much time at the local pub. We’re just sayin...Iris (& David)

Monday, February 05, 2007

It Was a Great Super Bowl

We’re not going to write about the fact that the only invitation we got to the Super Bowl was from a dear blobbee (I still haven’t figured out the correct term for one who reads the blob – I only know we’re the blobbers), who invited us to watch the game at his farm, in the barn, with the horses. We were thrilled by that prospect but opted to invite some friends to our house as an alternative. And, by the way, sadly, Carol had to put both her horses down. My mother remains in good condition – just to be clear, we didn’t put her down.

Years ago, when we had our first Super Bowl party we were living at Dupont Circle on Q Street between 17th and 18th. I only mention this because it was the best street, the greatest house and obviously the most fun people flocked there. We once made up T-shirts that said “I have lived, worked, or played at 1715 Q”. It was a Washington salon where people came to share stories, recover from lost love and jobs, have parties and even stage events. Michael Evans, Ronald Reagan’s talented personal photographer (who recently lost his battle with cancer), shot his book “People and Power – Portraits from the Federal Village” in the dining room.

Super Bowl ca. 1985 (anyone remember who won that year?)

And what a hoot it was when the police blocked the streets for all the notables who were scheduled for a portrait. Even the neighbors loved it. In Washington, although people do care about inconvenience, they also care about power and having something important to talk about.

When we moved to Virginia we continued to have a Super Bowl party that always included good food, lots of conversation, plenty to drink and hardly any football watching. The game was merely an excuse for gathering friends and having a good time. And although our Upton Street house may not have the panache or history of Q Street it was and is still a pretty good place to hang out. And I am a good cook—you will soon be able to buy the “Gefilte Fish Chronicles Companion Cookbook” on our web site.

Anyway, enough marketing. Yesterday we invited Jane and Steve Daley over for Super Bowl. We invited other people but they made the mistake of not coming and I made the mistake of cooking enough for everyone who got an invitation. Not to be deterred by the lack of actual other people, we ate ourselves into a stupor and enjoyed every minute. And we watched some of the game. But not all the time because Jane and Steve discovered some marvelous counter programming on Animal Planet. Counter Programming for those of you who have never been television executive dweebs means that other networks compete for viewers with programs they think non-football fans would like. I learned about this when I worked at USA Networks and there was a discussion about what they were going to program during the President’s State of the Union address. It was impossible for me to imagine that anyone would rather watch “Lethal Weapon” than the President, but I was wrong.

Better than the "real thing" - Puppy Bowl III

Animal Planet Network, a part of almost every cable package had three hours of “The Puppy Bowl”. The concept for this unique event was simple. Just let puppies play on what looked like a miniature football field with attendants, dressed like referees, who clean up when the puppies messed. It was hysterical. There were all different breeds of dogs nipping, tugging, pushing, leaping, and bonding on the pretend field. There were a few novelties, like replacement players and substitutions when a puppy misbehaved. And at one point some puppies were seated on benches near a TV so they could watch puppies at play.

Half Time entertainment - better than Prince
It went on for three hours—about the same length of time as the football game. Instead of Prince, the half time show was kittens at play—equally adorable. If you happened to miss all three hours, it was repeated at 11:00. It will probably be in reruns this week so check your TV guide.

Shamefully, what we liked best about the game was the rain. We didn’t care for most of the commercials because they were either too violent or in incredibly bad taste. Which genius, at the Heart Foundation, decided to do a ‘supposedly’ funny commercial about heart disease and additionally the dangers of fat, when every viewer is munching on some life threatening, delicious, fat filled fare. We loved the fact that it was a sloppy game played without a dome. OK, and we like the fact that the corporate executives and the celebrities (the only people who could afford to go), who paid thousands of dollars for their seats, instead of donating that money to a worthy cause, got totally drenched. I won’t argue about whether or not the Super Bowl is a worthy cause because I am a Patriots fan, but I do think that people who are loyal fans should be rewarded with inexpensive tickets for their persistence. This never happens at a culmination sporting event. Wouldn’t it be nice if tennis fans could go to the Open or baseball fans could afford to be in the stadium for the World Series. Personally, in memory of our wonderful Wheaton puppy, Earnest La Leckish de Q, next year I’m going to ask for 50 yard line seats at the Puppy Bowl.

Earnest, in his days as player/coach