Sunday, April 29, 2007

Better Late....

Yesterday Jordan admonished me for not writing about her show and the weekend activities. I actually thought I had done that—but maybe it was David and I guess his blobs don’t count as much as mine. (I guess the “mine is good his is only OK” lessons worked better than I thought.) Better late than never I say. [Editors note: David Burnett, Blobber Adjoint, did, in the Harvard of the East Blob, write about the wonder of that show!]

It’s not like me not to write about everything. So I guess there was just too much going on. For example, the birth of my fabulous grandbaby. I like to call Zachary my Grandbaby rather than Grandson, because it’s very Southern and I feel that since 1976, my roots are partly Southern. Besides, I always love listening to Jane Watkins and Marthena talk about their Grandbabies—it seemed so much more affectionate than grandchild. Of course I also loved when they talked about Peter Pan and pronounced Pan as if it had three syllables—but that’s another blob.

Additionally, I had just moved mom into the assisted living apartment—so I was a bit distracted. And then I had to take a train to Providence where David was meeting me for the weekend. I have never taken a train to Providence so the new experience may have been just too much for me to comprehend. Anyway, all that stuff was probably why I didn’t write about the show—“On The Town” in the Majestic Theater – Jordan was one of the leads.

The show was wonderful and equally wonderful was the support she got from our family and friends who have become family. We were permitted to see only three of the four shows. We skipped the Saturday matinee and I went to Plymouth to see Zachary and that was a treat.

Grandma Salt Lake and Jordan
David’s mom arrived on Thursday at 5. Having traveled across the country, at 89 years of age she was a bit too tired to make the 8:00 show. But we thought a Friday and Saturday show would be enough of a good grandma statement. So off we went to see Jordan open on her first grand stage. The Majestic was a movie theater in the porn district when I went to school, but it’s been reconstructed and restored to it’s glory—I’m not sure when that was – but the theater is magnificent. All gold and turquoise with an enormous stage and great viewing from any angle.

Hildy Takes Her Bow

I love going to Jordan’s shows, not only because it makes me so proud, but because I love seeing all her friends perform as well. In the three years that Jordan has been at Emerson, I have attended not only all of her performances but a number of shows that her friends rather than she were in. It is just a joy to watch these talented young people, the work they do and the excellence they achieve. I mean I think Ben and David are funny and fabulous to watch just walking down the street. And Brittany has a voice that does not stop and is also a very talented comedienne. JP’s adlibbing was so good that when the taxi Jordan was driving fell apart we actually thought it was supposed to do that. [The show was “On the Town” and she played Hildy the sassy cabdriver.] Thursday’s performance was good but not up to Jordan’s usual standard. I have never seen Jordan in a show where she didn’t take over the character, light up the stage and become this enormous presence. It seemed that there was just a beat missing in the tune they were playing, but we had two more shows to see and we felt sure each performance would get better and better. We were not disappointed. Friday night’s show was astounding. Stacey, Andy, and the kids, cousins who had never seen Jordan perform were blown away. Andy, who noticed that the usher looked exactly like Aunt Peppy, thought the family approach to theater was a nice touch—Aunt Peppy seating people and Jordan on the stage. But Jordan was back to being Jordan. A wonderful comedienne with a great voice and a big talent.

The Saturday matinee, according to Tracy and Sheila, who are excellent critics and terrific cousins, was amazing. They both confessed that it was not a show they like but this production was a real surprise and Jordan’s performance blew them away.

Wes,Tracy,Jordan,Sheila & mom
Saturday evening our cousins Beth, Michael. and Sam arrived and there was a ticket screw up so they were seated in the balcony instead of the orchestra, but they agreed that Jordan’s talent reached out and grabbed them even from that distance. We all waited until after the show to give kudos but they knew how good they were. Mom would have no early-to-bed stuff so even though she had to be up for her SFO flight at 6am, we all went out for an after theater burger. Jordan and her friend Wes joined us for a quick bite before they took off for the cast party. It was, all in all a marvelous weekend and we remain the proud parents of our children (Jordan was cast in “A Mid Summer’s Night’s Dream” in the fall, once again in the Majestic), and the proud parent of our parents. We’re just sayin... Iris

Gotham City, day to day

The nice thing about New York is that if you stay in town long enough, old friends, distant cousins, and all kinds of other folk will eventually pass through town. We split our time between Arlington VA, Gotham City (good enough for Batman? good enough for me!), and all those other places which engender a work related visit. New York is kind of special because sooner or later everyone comes here. You can't really say that about Grand Junction or Traverse City. The funny thing is, no matter how big a deal NYC becomes, when you're here, it's just like being in any other city, not because there isnt more to do (there is) or greater places to eat and drink (there are) but because anyplace you inhabit over time will become quotidien That is one of those French phrases which you won't find Tom DeLay using. It really means "daily" but it has also come to signify an awareness of the everyday. I just realized that Tom DeLay who has taken, among others, John Kerry to task for allegedly speaking or BEING ABLE to speak French. Remember DeLay at a RightwingLunch introduction: "Hello there, or as John Kerry would say... Bon Jour..." All of which seems curious since his name isn't D'Lay or Dee Lay or ∂´¬å¥ . DeLay sure seems French to me? Maybe he's a self-hating Frenchman who never got over the betrayal of Jean Lafite. Or his family were the peons who cut the grass for an absent Lafayette landlord, during his time in the 1770s. Not quite sure, but to have a name like DeLay, and and urge changing French Fries to Liberty Fries or Freedom Fries.. not sure I get that one.

So, whatever you call your fries, you can find them covered with just about anything (ketchup, vinegar, mayo), anyway you like them in New York. They make better ones in Brussels,and Amsterdam, but like Neil Young's girlfriend, you have to love the one your with. All kinds of those quotidienne moments invest our time here. A few nights ago we met Iris' cousin Chuck, who is building a fantastic new coop apartment building on the West side in a building which used to house a music studio, where any number of famous songs were recorded. Chuck showed us around the construction site, and on the top floors, there are more acres of blue protection material than the Vikings had on their sailing ships. It was wonderful to see a soon-to-be-amazing apartment in the early & mid stages of construction.

Chuck at the Hit Factory
But it was on the way home when I finally managed to let loose my little Panasonic cam on Iris. For the 5 block walk home - just like you'd walk home any five blocks in any town in the country, she was on the fone. I decided this needed not only documentation, but editorial comment as well. So, here, in a quite normal, everyday, nothing special moment(s) Madame is doing business, and I am recording it. Don't you love the way our fones have so taken over our lives?

At the corner of 54th & 6th Ave.

Disbelief at the corner of 54th & 5th

At 54th & Madison

Nearly to Park Avenue

Look! Up in the Air.. it's a Bird, it's a Plane...

In front of the pocket park, where the world is always lit up...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Coconut Cake

There is a Pepperidge Farm outlet near where my mother lives. Today I bought a coconut cake for sentimental reasons. When we were kids it was one of our favorite desserts. You find it in the frozen food department so it has to be thawed before you can enjoy it, but I cannot remember my childhood without a coconut cake.

It’s been a most nostalgic few days. Tina arrived on Wednesday and we have been spending a great deal of time seeing the old sites and visiting some beloved haunts—many of which have changed -- like Kelly Lane. We used Kelly Lane as an escape route. If we got in trouble on Holmes Street, which we often did with the Kelly kids—who were too poor to have a street named after them but so large the town gave them a lane--we would cut through Kelly Lane to Old Boonton Road and from there were had all kinds of alternatives. If you try to find Kelly Lane, you can, but it is no longer a cut through. It only exists on the Holmes Street side, and if you try to walk through you wind up in someone’s back yard. I don’t know how they confiscated the land to make it private property butthe last time I cut through, the people were not excited to see me.

Tina moved to Wisconsin when she was a freshman in high school. I was in eighth grade. Until that time we saw each other every day. Her mother and mine were like sisters from the time they moved to Boonton when Tina was about four. She was a really great tomboy, and I was a really great follower. I admired her athletic skill and worshipped her ability to develop a plan. For example, when we needed to make money because we wanted to buy something that was not on the approved parental list, we would sell lemonade on the corner in front of the A&P. But first we would steal the lemonade from said supermarket so we had no development costs. Or there was a hole in front of Tina’s house which we would charge other kids 5 cents to look into. Once we found kittens in a backyard and tried to sell them but when it didn't work we built a hut in the woods to house them. Months later we burnt down the woods -- by accident. I can remember running from the scene of the crime as the Boonton Volunteer Fire Department rushed to extinguish the flames. On most weekends we would stalk customers in her father’s drug store, making certain they didn’t steal anything – we had descriptions of their clothing, where they walked in the store, what they touched, and if they bought anything. Yes we were hypocrites but our skills were better than the FBI and certainly Homeland Security—and we had no technology. We were usually in trouble, sometimes big and sometimes small, but we were inseparable. That is until we stole the keys to Tina’s dads car (we were eight) and drove up and down the driveway on Yom Kippur and crashed the car into the side of the house. Then they forbid us to see each other—that lasted two days. We encouraged mischief and had not patience for friends who thought twice about doing something outrageous. We smoked when we were ten, had kissing parties when we were eleven and cried bitterly when were twelve and she said broke the news about the move.

But we never lost touch. As our lives moved along we had to find ways to keep connected and we did through calls and visits. I met her husband soon after she did in high school. She met my first husband when we were dating and I went to her house when I thought we could save the marriage. Even then, there was no shortage of antics. My husband was invited to give a most prestigious lecture at the University of Wisconsin in the genetics department. It was thrilling, but not quite as thrilling as when Tina and I appeared at the seminar dressed in full head to toe costumes as Ducky Lucky and Froggy Woggy – I know you think that was the end of the marriage but in fact, that is what made it work.

Anyway that marriage ended, but before it did, we were there for births of our children and grandchildren and the death of Tina’s beloved spouse, Mark.

Over the years we have connected in Madison or Milwaukee Wis. In Washington or Arlington Va. or in Boonton at the old homestead. My mother has owned her home for 55 years, so it was really a place filled with good and playful memories for us. Like when my grandmother would baby sit and we would pretend she was the enemy so would designate territories as hers or ours. We would communicate through a vacuum cleaner hose and we would raid the refrigerator by filling an empty sock with food, tying a rope on it, and pulling it back into my bedroom—a safety zone. Of course, we never cleaned up so weeks after the visit my mother would still find food and drink hidden in my dressers and closet. Life with Tina was always an adventure.

We have been in Boonton for four days. The reunion, as always is wonderful. But there is an emptiness we have never felt before. We are staying at mom’s house without mom –she has moved to assisted living. For years, we would pop in and out, say a quick hello and go somewhere else. We were too busy to spend any time with her. And now the tables have turned. Every time we go to visit her, she is participating in another activity. If it’s not bingo, it’s exercise class, coffee hour or she’s dipping strawberries in chocolate. Next week she’s going to the circus. It's not a sentence I could ever have imagined writing -- circus and mom. Now she’s too busy for us. It’s yet another era. And although it’s for the good, we can’t help being a little sad about a change we never could have foreseen. So we bought the cake and even if we don’t eat it, at least we can feel some things will stay the same. We’re just sayin...

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Harvard of the East

Growing up in the West, you don’t have the same impressions of the great academic institutions that you might if you come of age within an hour’s flight of the East Coast. Where I come from, the Ivy League was a kind of big deal, but Stanford was really the Place to Be. I was of the generation where you applied to two schools, three at the outside. I applied to Pomona (West Coast, smart but not smarty) and Stanford (my mom and various cousins had attended), and as a ‘safe’ school, Colorado College. I hadn’t ever visited any of them (one just didn’t bother) and whilst I wasn’t perhaps the most exciting candidate on the block, I had been on the Yearbook for two years, and was a student body officer. I’ve never really forgiven Mom for not making a bigger stink with the alumni office, though had I actually attended Stanford [ you may indeed read this as a TURN Down from Stanford], I know my life would have been different. Would I have become one of those gnarly overly self-possessed rich folk who think nothing of spending $14.50 for a Martini, and actually like dumping a grand on a hotel room? If so, I don’t think it would have been that much fun. On the other hand, maybe I would have become a Pulitzer Candidate, and won the one award which my brother would have actually thought was cool. We’ll never know, and while I look back at my four years at Colorado College like most students of my era as a great time, with wonderful friends, and (with a rear view mirror) some great professors, and a chance to create a great library for reading in later years. (I think these are the later years I’m supposed to be reading those books.) But C.C. represents to me one of those great institutions where the students aren’t overwhelmed by the organic presence of the school to the extent that you live a wonderful student life, and do what you ought to be doing in college – to prepare for the rest of your life. I know for sure that had I gone to Harvard, my life have gone other directions. Spending four years in that Ivy’d bastion would have made a different person of me. I knew at 17 I wanted to be a photographer, but what kind of photog would I have been? Who knows. All I can tell you is that it took some time finally make it happen.

The Burnett Girls: Barbara, Iris, Jordan
Last week Jordan was one of the leads in “On the Town” at the Emerson Majestic Stage in Boston. She played the role of Hildy the cab driver, a very racy role in 1944. You know, the cab driver who more or less kidnaps a sailor and tries to get him up to ‘her place’ as fast as possible.

Jordan, after a performance
She seems to be a one track sex machine, and it was fun to see Jordan play a different kind of character for a change. And for once, Grandma Salt Lake was in the audience (twice, actually, Friday and Saturday nights) and had a chance to see her granddaughter in full theatrical mode. It was a great show, she was much fun, and it was one of those weekends that once again made me sorry I hadn’t had some Theater activity in my college years. During the day, with time available, Mom and took a trip to Cambridge. Loyal Utah Democrat that she is, she thought maybe we should attend a reading that Sen. John Kerry ( you remember 2004) and his wife Theresa were doing to launch their new book about the environment. So there we were, walking across the Harvard Yard,

Mom in Harvard Square
looking for the Memorial Church (it turned out to have been moved the the Unitarian Church just off campus). But it’s true: we were AT Harvard. During the walk, I turned to mom at one point, and reminded her that while it may have taken forty years to do it, here we were, At Harvard! I have counseled Jordan for years to take the T to Cambridge, sneak into an Organic Chem class one Thursday morning, when, in later life people ask her about college, she can respond “I have a BFA in Musical Theatre from Emerson, and I studied Chemistry at Harvard.” She doesn’t think this is as funny as I do.

Later, over coffee, with Mom, on Mass. Ave just off Harvard Square, we called my aunt Esther, mom’s older sister (Mills, ‘1934) and told her we finally got “into Harvard.”
“We just walked in!” I said.
She responded “well, it certainly eliminates a lot of paperwork if you do it that way.” Nuff said, Auntie. There is a reason we consider her a font of knowledge.

Heading back to Boston (yes, there is Cambridge and there is Boston, separated by the Charles River) we decided that while Harvard might have interesting and well aged architectural jewels, that Stanford and Colorado College were, for us, the right paths to go. In the sixties, we always referred to C.C. as “the Harvard of the West.” So now, I can say I have visited the “Colorado College of the East.” We’re just sayin…. David

News flash… looking forward to the ’08 Presidential election:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — David Huckabee, a son of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, was arrested at Little Rock's airport Thursday after a federal X-ray technician detected a loaded Glock pistol in his carry-on luggage.

Besides wondering what possesses folks to walk into airports with loaded Glocks, you might think that would fall badly on his father’s campaign, but NBC News has just declared the State of Texas for Mike Huckabee. It’s funny what wins votes these days..Now, back to your blobber!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Boulevard

It is beautiful on the Boulevard. You walk along and think about nothing but how beautiful it is. The Boulevard is the main thoroughfare through Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. It is a about a four mile stretch of road which runs the length of this small exclusive lake community. It’s almost as if it were designed for morning fast walkers. And it's not called the Boulevard. It's The Boulevard. As in "184 The

Davey walking on The Boulevard
When we were growing up it was a restricted community. No Jews, Italians, Catholics, and certainly no blacks—but there was maybe one black middle class family within 10 miles in those days, so they needn’t have worried. But it was always a beautiful place and you could only swim in the lakes if you lived in the community — so we couldn’t swim there. (Mountain Lakes is adjacent to Boonton. Very adjacent.) Luckily we had membership at the Pine Brook Country Club, which was not a country club but a swim club. It was a terrific place where we swam, had camp activities and learned to play mah jong—like mini alta cockettes. (an alta cocker is an old fart in Yiddish, we were young female farts).

We never felt that we excluded in Mountain Lakes because truthfully, we never wanted to be included. The Mountain Lakes kids were unattractive at best. They were spoiled and self centered and not particularly street smart. Kind of like the kids from West Caldwell (see my Soprano’s blog). For example, after school activities we would all go to Paul’s Diner. The Boonton kids went to the right and the Mountain Lakes kids to the left, once inside the diner. We were usually pretty good at ignoring them but they always wanted to start a fight. So on one occasion, our friend Andy (now a Supreme Court Justice in a western state), happened to be carrying a hammer because we were singing “If I Had a Hammer” -- and he did. The Mountain Lakes kids thought this was some kind of an affront and on our departure from the diner, they surrounded Andy and decided they were going to beat him to a pulp—not for using the hammer but for having it. Here’s the part where they were stupid. Andy was not just a hammer singing fool. He was very tight with the entire Boonton High School football team. When they saw a threat to one of the Boonton greats—they came immediately to his rescue. And before you could say Trini Lopez, our football team surrounded their anti-hammer athletes. It was basically a draw but they thought twice before they came to the right side of the diner or threatened any of us in the parking lot.

When David and I walk the boulevard I have so many conflicting feelings. It was a place that didn’t want me to live there. It is now a place that welcomes all people. When Jordan was in fifth grade, we moved to N.J. and she went to a small private school in Mountain Lakes. The Boonton schools were terrible so we sent her to a private school on the Boulevard. There were 11 kids in the fourth and fifth grades and school was like having a private tutor for a year. This was a very good thing for us because her fourth grade in Arlington was a disaster. They had increased the number of students without increasing the number of teachers so if you were a girl and you were smart no one paid any attention to the fact that you might want to learn something. We were grateful for the fact that she went to the Wilson School and I was grateful for the fact that it was no longer a place that Jews were not welcomed. A few weeks ago Jordan was invited to the opening of “Curtains” a Broadway musical. She was also invited to the party afterward. As she looked around she saw someone who looked familiar and it turned out to be Mrs. Borlo—one of her favorite Wilson School teachers. Mrs. Borlo almost didn’t recognize this grown and beautiful young woman, but when she did, she was just as excited as Jords.

I digress. David and I walk on the boulevard almost every day that we are at my mom’s house. We have a 2 mile path that we follow and with which we feel comfortable. It’s much more interesting than walking on a treadmill because there are sidewalk ups and downs and inevitably new houses and scenery. It’s fun to recognize the changes and try to figure out what kind of people own the McMansions and have mad exchanges in the houses along the way. We figure most of them are young drug dealers with disposable income—who may be Jews or Blacks but that’s not an issue anymore.

For whatever reason I am still a bit intimidated by the concept of the Boulevard. I don’t know why. The people who walk there are often friends and sometimes strangers who never pause to say hello but nod their good mornings and move along. When we lived in NJ and we were looking for permanent residence, we saw a few places in Mountain Lakes but beautiful as they were I never liked any of them. I’m not sure if it goes back to the “Mountain Lakes Club Community” or the “If I had a Hammer I’d Knock Your Jewish Block Off” mentality, but I just can’t acclimate to anything more than walking along this glorious path and working off a few calories. I don’t ever see us living anywhere in this area, so it’s a moot point but maybe when I grow up I’ll be able to walk the Boulevard knowing that I don’t live there by my choice, not theirs. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Upon Reflection

Upon reflection, Presidential politics is absurd. Actually, it is not only upon reflection—just look at the nightly news. It is too early to predict what’s ultimately going to happen, but it is not too early to predict what’s not going to happen. No one will take the high road. There will be lots of name calling and bloviating (is that the adverb for bloviators or is it just bloviate—what’s the difference, they are all full of hot air.) And eventually they will all cause division in whatever Party they represent. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there might be plenty of opportunity for the young political staff to have unique experiences—if they don’t take themselves too seriously. Yes I know, Presidential politics is big stake, and yes, it is serious stuff—but once you take yourself too seriously you will never act in any sophisticated competent manner because you will be too self-conscious to do anything but cover your ass. Does that make sense? (Why should I start now?)

So it is my belief, and I can't stress this enough, the key to success in a Presidential campaign is to take advantage of every opportunity that has even the remotest possibility of turning into something social. For example, during the Udall campaign (another instance of “when I fell off my dinosaur,”) politically things were looking bleak. While the Candidate and his traveling staff (there were five of us – seven with the candidate and his wife) were in “themiddleofnowhere”, Iowa some political big wig in Washington determined that there was no money left and the campaign couldn't afford a charter aircraft. This was a remarkable decision since the campaign never had any money and we paid for everything (including charter aircraft) on Mo Udall’s American Express card. (Had he won, it would have been a terrific “My Life… My Card” commericial.) The big wig instructed a small wig, to cancel the charter, which was the only mode of transportation the candidate and his entourage (doesn’t that sound so HBO), had to get out of Iowa.

There were no commercial flights leaving from anywhere near where they were physically. And of course there was no way to get to a commercial flight without spending hours and hours driving through a dangerous snow storm. And, as they say in all foreboding tales, to make matters even worse, there was only one hotel in the area and it was booked solid. After many hours of staff begging and pleading for accommodation, the hotel manager, suffering some pressure from the Secret Service, cleaned out what appeared to be an old utility closet. And there sat Cong. Udall, Mrs. Udall, the traveling party, staff assistants and the Secret Service. It took nearly two days to remedy the situation. Campaign credit being what it was (nonexistent) it took two days to convince the charter airlines, the hotel and the rental car and bus people to bill all the campaign expenses to (once again), Mo's Amex card. What has this got to do with romance.? Well after two days of sleepless, tension filled, short tempered, strained and nerve racking confinement, one of the staff aides and one of the Secret Service Agents were still speaking -- Clearly it was love! Did the romance last forever? No not ever, but they had a fabulous time finding their own habitable closets for the rest of the campaign. You see, you just never know when or where that magic moment will happen!

Given the distrust between staff, press and security, I’m not sure this can ever happen again. What a shame. There were oft times when a political staffer, who happened to be rooming with a political reporter, would get a call over some crisis in the middle of the night, and the staffer would swear the reporter to secrecy (‘off the record’--a concept long gone), the reporter would respect the confidentiality, the crisis would be resolved and the campaign would proceed without incident.

Oh, I yearn for days gone by. The days when people were not out to execute their counterparts in politics, the media or security. There was a time when we all worked together to move from point A to point Z. It did not mean you compromised your professional position or your soul. It just meant you respected, rather than feared, your colleagues in the other camp. Everyone has a job to do in a political campaign but it needn’t be adversarial- it can actually be collegial—and that makes it so much more amusing.

For example, when we arrived in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley (the first Dick), met the campaign train. Tina and I noticed he was wandering aimlessly. Tina was not on the staff, she was my pal and she lived in Wisconsin so she came to the event—an arrival was an ‘event’ I those days. Anyway, when we saw the Mayor foundering we felt obligated to help him find his way—but we didn’t know the way because we weren’t from Chicago. So we made it up. Unbelievable as it might seem, there was no security and no staff to guide the Mayor of this large cumbersome city. This could not happen today. But we were so helpful to the Mayor that he invited us back to his house/mansion for a visit. Being always mindful of a social opportunity we declined but asked him for entrée to any number of fun places in his city—he was happy to oblige. And so I maintain that there may be too much press and too many security people as well as a plethora of staff, but there is never a dearth of opportunity if you take the time to look beyond the campaign and find a way to have a sense of humor and just some fun. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Falling Ain't What it Used to Be

I’m back. Sorry for the absence but I didn’t have any words or thoughts about which to write a blob. I was writing work related stuff and I think I left all my words in other files. When I got up this morning I lost my footing, knocked over a glass of water and caught myself right before I landed on the floor. It started me thinking that it used to be funny when I saw people fall. It was always hard to not laugh because there was really nothing else I could do. I mean after the fall I could rush over and try to help them get up but during the actual fall it was impossible to be at all helpful so whether it was a nervous reaction or a lack of control, I usually laughed.

My Aunts were particularly talented fallers. I remember there was one occasion when my cousin Honey and I were walking along with Aunt Sophie. We were busy talking when we noticed Aunt Sophie was no longer participating in the conversation. We slowly turned around and saw that she had fallen into a hole in the middle of the street. She was still holding a whole bag of groceries—and it was clear that during her fall she had not allowed any food to touch the ground.

Falling with food is the best. One New Years Eve, Tina and I were at Honey’s to celebrate. The house was a 1960 split level, so when you entered there were stairs going up and down. Down was to the playroom—not an underground basement -- and up led to the kitchen and living space. Tina and I were sitting upstairs. Most of the celebration was ensuing on the lower level. Joyce, a long time friend of Honey’s was upstairs in the kitchen loading a tray with nibbles. She walked out of the kitchen with food piled almost as high as her face. She took two steps down the stairs, lost her balance and went, touchas first, down the first flight of stairs. The amazing thing about the fall was that she seemed to care more about the tray of food than regaining her balance or saving herself from a painful recovery. We jumped up and raced to the stairs shouting ‘ooh ooh ooh’ and maybe ‘oh!’ We attempted not to laugh, but it was nearly impossible. When finally she landed and we thought we could help her up, all she said was, “food first, please.”

My Aunt Peppy was preparing for lunch in the Succoth one cool Fall day. My Aunt and Uncle actually built a Succoth every year and they used it for meals and prayer. The Succoth was in the backyard right in back of the kitchen, so Aunt Peppy went inside to get meal out of the oven to serve to the guests awaiting this annual extra special treat. I watched as she quickly placed the Chaluptchas (rolled cabbage) on a platter, turned and started back outside. Her foot must have caught on the carpet or something on the floor and she flew up in the air. She came down much more gracefully than she went up and on her way she managed to catch every piece of cabbage that we all thought would surely hit the floor. Once settled on the ground, she looked around, saw I was there, handed me the tray, got up, took the tray back and went about delivering the meal to the guests. There was little to do but laugh and then go and eat.

My cousin Sheila tells this story about my Aunt Helene. She had taken two Passover Sponge Cakes from the seder in Newburgh. It seems she spent the whole trip talking about how great the damn cakes were going to be. She was very careful about bringing them into the house after the 4 hour in each hand. When she entered her condo through, at the front door she tripped and the two cakes went flying... as did Aunt Helene. And unbelievable as it was she fell on her knees landed very gently in each sponge cake – which broke her fall. Her biggest concern was would she be able to shape them back into their original form. That was never going to happen, but they all had a great laugh.

Falling down doesn’t seem as amusing as it used to be. I mean, when I see prat falls on old TV shows, I still giggle, but I think it’s only because I know it’s an act. My balance hasn’t been great for years. I stopped tapping about six years ago because when I did any kind of a twirling turn, it usually ended with me looking up at the rest of the class. I used to be able to drink a martini or two at lunch or dinner without any consequences, but now if I only have one I can’t be sure that I will be able to stand upon completion. I mean I now not only understand the concept of falling down drunk—I have lived it. And the worst part is that I’m not even drunk.

Now the idea of a fall makes me shake. I jump up and over my mother when there is any kind of an indication that she’s going to lose her balance and may go down. I did the same with David’s mom when she visited us in Boston over the weekend. I do the same when I see a baby who is unsteady. I think I may be turning into a nervous wreck about the act of starting on ones feet and winding up on ones touchas. Oh where have the good old days gone—when there was nothing better than a good fall to trigger a great laugh. We’re just sayin...Iris

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Whaddya Wanna Be Called?

Seth, Joyce and Zachary

What do you want your grandkids to call you? It’s not a question that you answer easily or even consider until the reality of being a grandparent hits you. And yesterday we met Zachary Alexander Jacobson, our new grandchild—who is absolutely divine, and smart, and beautiful, and fabulous. (My grandmother would say not to give him a ‘Kunahara’ (jinx) and say poo poo) But forgetting superstition, you all knew he would be. Anyway, over the past few months we have had a little time to think about this and we have, like when you name your own children, considered many options. At first we thought to go the traditional route, like grandma and grandpa. We tried it out for about 30 seconds but it didn’t fit. So we turned to friends for advice.

My friend Barbara wanted to be called Bubbie. It was a little bit of a surprise because in my mind I see my Bubbie, who always seemed old. Our relationship with her was wonderful but we did not see her everyday nor did we spend hours chatting about our lives. In fact, the most conversation I had with her was when she told me the challah I made needed more salt. According to all my Aunts everything needed more salt, but I could see how pleased she was that I was even making bread. I loved her but my expectations were not that we would be pals. In fact, when my parents went on vacation and my Aunts couldn’t take care of us we, we were left with Sadie, my fathers mother who I called Grandma.

She was a fabulous fun entertaining person who, instead of telling us stories (which she did with all the adults) and sing us songs (which she often did on any stage that happened to be in a place where she happened to be), always thought she had to discipline rather than play with us. Such a loss for us. Back to Barbara. She is youthful, energetic, and beautiful. Not my picture of a Bubbie, but for what must be good and probably memorable reasons, it’s what she wanted to be called.

Tina’s grandkids call her Ganya. Her granddaughter couldn’t say grandma and it came out Ganya. It sounds intentional and Eastern European. When I hear it I do think of a peasant with a shmata (rag) on her head—and that’s not Tina. But I like it. And I considered it. Then I thought, ‘If you have to teach a kid to say Ganya, it probably doesn’t work as well.’ And what would David be called Panya?

Marthena’s kids call her Donnie. When I asked her why, she explained that her grandmother was Donnie, for absolutely no good reason, but her kids called their grandmother Donnie, so it seemed natural for her grandchildren to do the same. I tried to have Edwige’s (my French daughter by choice) daughter call me Donnie, but it didn’t feel comfortable.

Was it much simpler in the past? And if it was, why was it? Maybe it’s because now there are often step grandparents involved and we think we need to distinguish between grandparents by giving everyone different names. Maybe because the expectations of grandparents were different and maybe because language was simpler. Who can tell? I think most of us called our grandparents Nana and Poppa or Grandma and Grandpa. My kids call my mom Nana. On David’s side our nieces call their grandmother from Salt Lake, ‘Nana Salt Cake’, and the grandma from Bala Cynwood was Nana Bala.

Kat and Bill are Nana and Boss. David really liked Boss and he might try it. I prefer he be called Poppie, because it sounds so affectionate and Hispanic, but it’s up to him. So what should I be called? I thought something close to an Auntie Mame kind of name. Something easy to say—so a child would say that name before any other—and something lighthearted and with spirit. Then Joyce told me her grandchild is going to call her Mimi. I loved that. It kind of flows and I liked the way it sounded; it seemed to fit. I asked Joyce how she came to that and what guided her decision and she said, “because really, it’s all about me.” As good a reason as any. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is China Ready?

Yesterday the New York Times had an article about China and the Olympics. It was about the difficulties the Chinese have in translating words, and how embarrassing the government thinks it would be for English speaking participants to read the language mistakes that are made. So there is a person who goes around reading signs and making corrections. Cute right? Based on my experience with the Government of China and big events, I believe translating the signs will be the least of the problems at the Olympics.

In 1995 I was the Director of Communications for the American delegation to the 4th International Women’s conference in Beijing. In this role my first task—long before the conference—was to go to China and decide if I thought they were prepared to host a meeting of about 35,000 women. It was a pretty heady job, but the Under Secretary of State felt I knew enough about events and politics to make the decision. In addition, there were a group of advisers to the Secretary General of the UN who would also be traveling a bit later in the month to decide if they thought China was prepared for a UN gathering of that magnitude. I was happy to hear that the UN was even concerned about a Women’s event, since they are probably one of the most sexist organizations in the world.

The first meeting we had, (Joyce Kravitz, the political appointee who supervised broadcasting at Voice of America travelled with me), was with the Director of Volunteers for the Government of China. She assured us that we would have enough people and resources to make the convention successful. They had available to them 4 million volunteers. I have never been a big fan of bodies over talent. ‘Less is more’ when you’re dealing with large events, but I figured that would mean each delegate would have 6 or seven people at their beck and call.

From that meeting we went to a meeting with the people who were building the site in Huairo, about 30 kilometers outside Beijing. We had a meeting and there were drawings but there was no actual ‘site’. The conference was only a few months away and there were no buildings in which to house the delegate meetings. In addition, there were not enough hotels to accommodate that number of people. The plan was to move Chinese people out of their homes and replace them with delegates. I was sure that was going to help improve east-west relations.

We did the usual tourist things, and were surprised that we were accompanied only by the US Embassy Staff. We expected that there would be Chinese watching our every move. And although it seemed we were unsupervised, when we went to a meeting with the Chinese Cultural Minister a few days later, they had an almost minute by minute accounting of where we had been, who and what we had seen. There were other things I found disturbing but not surprising: for example, we were not permitted to have Chinese guests in our hotel suites and, in fact, we were not permitted to have conversations with any Chinese person who spoke English. I guess they didn’t want us to happen on any dissidents. It was uncomfortable to feel like we were suspect, but not unlike the George Bush approach to invading our privacy—only in 1995 when you spoke to Bill Clinton, he only inquired what you were reading, rather than ask the library to give them personal information.

There were other small but not insignificant logistical problems, so when we returned home we reported that we didn’t think China was ready for the conference. Interestingly enough, the UN advisors felt the same way. We suggested they delay the conference until they could adequately prepare. The UN advisors said to change the venue because they would never be prepared. Despite protests from the US Government, the Secretary General decided to go ahead with the conference. And despite assurances from the UN pooh-bahs that the Secretary would attend, he did not.

We made our way back for the conference in September and it rained the entire time we were in Beijing. Our delegation of 40 stayed in an OK luxury hotel in the city where we had offices that were ill equipped and communication there was non-existent. It is true that we didn’t have cell phones then, but it is also true that now they have to provide a satellite that works -- and will that happen? No phones, no faxes, no way to be in touch with the media, no cooperation from the UN and the only Chinese we saw were security guards making sure we saw nothing. Oh, and the buildings they erected were Potemkin Villages and collapsed in the downpour. We were spied on, ignored, and when the Chair of our Delegation, Hillary Clinton, spoke, we were beaten by the volunteers who tried to prevent the delegation from getting into the auditorium. There is a picture of Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services beating her way through the thugs. But the pictures everyone saw in the US and the rest of the world, were not the same pictures they saw in China. In China there was no mention of the conference or the first Lady’s attendance. It was like we didn’t exist—except if we happened to be ironing in the hotel (there was a no ironing sign at one hotel), then security appeared not only to confiscate the iron but all the clothing in the closets of the unsuspecting violator—who in one case was an elected official and Chair of the Australian delegation.

Now I know, you’re going to say it was over ten years ago and things have changed. And I think that’s true about business and tech people. But will the Government release prisoners, I don’t think it has not become flexible or tolerant. Under the best of circumstances, at an event of the magnitude of the Olympics, security is impossible to deal with. I do not believe the media will operate without difficulty and the people who come from other countries will feel unchallenged. It’s like the Hard Rock Café in Bejing. The kids who work as servers try to be like American kids, but their impersonations are based on something they’ve been told, rather than what they have experienced through meetings or visits with real American kids. It’s bizarre because you are seeing an impersonation of a type of server rather than a real server. They know the menu and the product but beyond that communication is impossible, and I think that’s perfectly alright with the government. So is China ready for the Olympics, my bet is probably not, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see and play politics and give corporations a chance to advertise and make money. Some things are universal. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Really Tragic

Is it possible for the news to have taken a turn for the worse? I didn’t think we could ever get beyond Imus and Anna Nicole, Those were terribly boring news items but not tragic. As a parent, I am sick about the loss of al those children in such a horrible, senseless way. Not that the loss of children is ever sensible. The Virginia Tech story is certainly tragic but the media questions are, in a different way equally tragic—because they are so stupid. “Why didn’t you shut down the campus after the first shooting?” Why? Because they were ill equipped to understand the magnitude of what was about to happen. Their judgment was based on academic intuition. What academic institution would have the ability, except maybe NYU, where weirdo’s are always on the campus (because the streets of NY are the campus) to shut down 26,000 acres. I’m not making excuses but the campus police thought it was an isolated incident and who could ever imagine what would ensue. It’s a campus for God’s Sake – a hundred buildings, 20,000 students. It’s not like a snow day when you physically can’t get to school—what do you do? Do the police close down all the entrances and not let anyone in? They thought it was an isolated incident in a small town at a large school. They were wrong about that, but how do you shut down a place where people live? And how do you secure a place like that. I don’t think it’ possible. But I do think it is possible to ask smarter more important questions, that accrue information rather than try to skewer the Va. Tech police force. Now what happens? They install magnetometers and dynaflors in every building. If someone is nuts and wants to kill people, they will not adhere to security measures. So what do you do to secure a campus. Probably, the kids are the best bet, because they know who belongs and who doesn’t and more importantly, their ability to communicate far surpasses any official campus system. Other than the very moving stills, all the media chatter or rather clutter only diminishes the loss of these children and the pain their parents are suffering.

Here’s more bad news, (Oh when will it stop), my mother’s house is flooded. Obviously this is not like loosing 30 children. So put it in perspective. The storms in New Jersey left us with about an inch of water in the ‘rec’ room. Do they still call it a rec room or is it now the media center? The workout room? I can’t keep up. After all I am a grandma. But there is a ray of sunshine—the good news. She’s not living there so we don’t care what happens to the carpet in the basement. (I guess the term basement is still operable.)

We have had a very busy few weeks. Most of this we talked about but not everyone in our audience reads everyday—and some simply can’t remember (even David has started to repeat himself in blobs). First I finished the rewrite of our new book “So You Think You Can Be President? Just Pass This Test”. Then there were preparations for Passover. Then our Gefilte Fish Chronicles was broadcast on WNET in NY. Orders started to come in and David decided to become a fulfillment house (don’t ask). Then David shot video for my new company (early breast cancer detection related and soon to be announced) and we needed to get it edited and going. We ran out of cookbooks and had to reorder—fulfillment was on hold. My brother Jeff (Google: Jeff Groman) flew in from Seattle – he’s also a documentary producer and bicycle business owner. We did the IKEA hit, and bought furniture for mom’s new diggs. David and Jeff assembled everything. Jeff left, his wife Els arrived to help me set up the apartment. We hung pictures and made it a real home. Meantime on the oldest child scene, Joyce was having some contractions and her due date was nearing. Seth was on alert. On the youngest child front, Jordan is getting ready for her show and then broke up with her Beaux. No shortage of drama in our lives. Then we moved Mom into Victoria Mews. Els was fabulous. She has the kind of patience we all yearn for and years ago she had nurses training, so she actually knows what she’s doing. I had to go back to Va. for a day because I had several doctors appointments. We then returned to N.J. to relieve Els and make sure mom was happy. She is. The apartment is terrific, she’s making friends and even one woman, who yells at mom because mom is sitting in her seat at meals, (mom is first sitting, woman is second and is always early) is described as “but she’s so nice”. OK, so we have been a bit frantic. Then Seth called to say Joyce was in the hospital but not for the baby—for a migraine and they weren’t sure if they would keep her or send her home. They sent her home and at 2:30am she went into labor and they went back to the hospital. Much to our delight she gave birth to Zachary Alexander at about 3:30 and all are doing fine. So then came the rains in NJ. When we saw the water in the basement we simply shook our heads, decided to ignore it because it doesn’t affect mom, and went to say goodbye to her at the Mews, took Els to the airport (in the wind and downpour but her flight was supposedly on time), and drove into NY for meetings. David left this morning to drive to a speech in Northampton, I am leaving early tomorrow by train, meeting him in Providence and then driving to Plymouth to see our divine grandchild. Whew!

And what is my point? If I have to have one it is this; we are grateful (and happily exhausted) for all our work and busy days, and we thank God that our children are healthy, happy and we think most importantly safe. An event like the one at Va. Tech just reinforces my feelings that life is so tenuous and brief, we need to forget the crap and try to give each moment special attention. We’re just sayin...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Blue Skies

One of those weeks:

I suppose if I were truly the lucky person to be channeling Alistair Cooke, this would be the week to earn my chops. Cooke, one of my journalistic heroes (though not a photographer, I might add) wrote Letter From America for fifty years, recounting to clueless British audiences what was happening in the U.S. He did it by often recounting seemingly minor events, but tying them together in a way that made perfect sense, made a whole story. So, let’s try it.

A mere week ago, though it seems farther back than that, I was at that point which men well understand, and women can never comphrehend. Iris was in New York, and I was in Arlington. There was no food in the house. (That’s the part that guys understand. Oops, empty fridge!) We’d been away for the better part of ten days, and I’d returned home to get myself ready for a speaking trip to Athens, Georgia. So I made one of those Trader Joe’s pilgrimages which yielded what came to be known as the $52 pizza. Now it would be hard, save for a Batali NY restaurant, to find a pizza for fifty two bucks, but here is how I figure it: I bought dough, ready to roll out; salami (couldn’t find pepperoni), mushrooms, onion, and garlic. There was probably a bottle or two of wine, but all I can tell you is it cost me fifty two bucks to get out of there, and I don’t remember making anything but a pizza.

I rolled the dough out, later, flour abounding on the marble slab, and it looked pretty good. It puffed up nicely, but unless you have that 600 degree oven, they just don’t taste the same or have the right texture. So, fork in hand, I ate what was on top of, but very little crust of, said pizza.

For about four years I have been touring a small photo show, 52 images, called Measures of Time. My first show of just my own work, it was born when a college classmate, Wilber James, called out of the blue to say that since we were doing a 35th reunion, and I’d been to most of the good/bad/interesting places in that time, I should do a photo exhibit encompassing those years. He called five other classmates, and called me back in half an hour to say he had just raised $18,000 to pay for prints, catalogues, and framing. My kind of guy! That show has been to fourteen colleges in the ensuing years, and at each place I have gone and spoken to the photo classes, addressing anywhere between a hundred and four hundred students (and locals who sneak in). It has been a great run. Dave Metz of Canon cameras sponsored the traveling show, and as Dave has just decided to take a well earned retirement, it looks like the show will fold its tent unless we can find another sponsor. I speak pretty well, if I do say so myself, about the subjects in the pictures (normally Sports, Politics among others) and the place of photography in our society, but the tour has been richer for what I have gained from being in that photo-academic atmosphere, than perhaps what the students may have gleaned.

Fortified with pizza topping, I headed on Monday to Atlanta where I was met by Mark Johnson, the PhotoJ professor at UGA/Athens. We then drove to a northeastern neighborhood where 83 year old Carl Beck resides.
Carl was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, one of the Band of Brothers written about by Stephen Ambrose, and immortalized in the HBO series. He still fits into his re-issue ’44 Para outfit, and was one of the vets who jumped in Normandy in 1994, and again in 2004 (at the age of 80) to commemorate the D-Day landings. His house is a little museum of D-Day and Airborne memorabilia. And when you depart, he doesn’t say ‘bye’ or ‘have a nice day.’ He sends you off with the Airborne greeting: “Blue Skies, Dave!” Somehow whatever the immediate weather is, you feel that “Blue Skies” are about to be upon you when you get a greeting like that from someone like Carl. We carried on to Athens, and had a wonderful event that night, opening the show, and my speaking to about 200 j school and poli sci kids. They had some good questions, and sometimes the questions are better than the answers they elicit.

When I returned to DC on Tuesday, I was faced with a real issue: Wednesday morning I was due to show myself in court at the Arlington County Courthouse, and show cause why I shouldn’t be obliged to pay five hundred (yes $500) dollars for having accidently parked for an hour in a Handicap space last December. I guess we have all done it. Who hasn’t parked briefly in a handicap zone while dropping off a letter, or grabbing an ice cream cone. But that really wasn’t our case. Jordan and I had gone to the Apple store the week before Christmas to try and get a laptop repaired. No such luck with the iBook, but in parking we had found a spot which seemed too good to be true. (It was!) I was perhaps blinded by my desire to just get to the store. Jordan was blinded to pretty much anything that involved quarters and dimes. So, for whatever lame reason, neither of us saw the 7’ pole with the familiar blue Handicap label towering over head. It was, for an observant photographer, more embarrassing than anything else. We came out an hour later, hopped in the Miata and went home. It wasn’t (this is from my court testimony now… almost verbatim), Your Honor, something done with any purpose. When I noticed a green flyer on the windshield the next morning, I thought it was a pamplet from a firewood sales guy. They often blanketed the neighbor hood in flyers. But I opened it to see it was a parking ticket. Handicap zone. December 18th. Fine payable: Five Hundred bucks. Ouch! Hey.I would have been happy to pay fifty or maybe even a hundred bucks. But five hundred? That’s the better part of a mortgage payment. It seemed that it was just another case of the county raising fees to meet otherwise collapsing tax revenues. So I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the court and challenge it.

When my case was finally called at 10am (B for Burnett, I was first in line), I approached the bench wishing I had a little more Fred Thompson in my soul and a little less Pee Wee Herman. I was asked if my plea were Not Guilty or Guilty, and opted for Guilty with Explanation. I’d seen this judge be quite reasonable for the previous half dozen defendants, and thought “if I’m throwing myself on the mercy of the court, I guess this guy is as good for mercy as anyone..” So I gave him my spiel. “I am a good citizen, I have had but one speeding ticket in the 22 years I have lived in Arlington county, and while I am aware of the adage that “ignorance is no excuse” in the law, I would hope my case may be worthy of your consideration.” He fined me the five hundred (stomach tightens and I wonder what the hell I have been doing planning for this for weeks), and then suspended Three Hundred fifty of it (stomach reaction: decontraction…), so I was left with $150 plus $55 court costs. I basically made my point about the confiscatory nature of parking fines – that it seems to me that the county uses such fines as a way to raise revenue, and gives little consideration to other implications. I was happy to have dodged the bullet, as they say, in court, and somehow paying the two hundred bucks was almost a relief.

Happily Paying my reduced fine

Yesterday Iris and I drove back up to Jersey, including a stop at our favorite flea market, Cowtown, NJ, near the lower end of the New Jersey Turnpike. It remains an amazing little confluence of modernity in America. There aren’t many native born folks here, save for some city folk from Camden and Philly, but if you speak Housa/Spanish/Korean/Hindi, you’ll feel right at home. It’s a perfect example of what a writer friend once wanted to call the story of immigrants in this country – The Third World At Home. And truly it is.
The fryiing station at Danny's Steaks:Feel the Love!

You can buy about anything you need at Cowtown, and buy it about as cheap as you’ll find it anywhere. Sweet potato pie, envelopes, samurai swords, Amish inspired roasted chicken, and of course Danny’s Steaks: a little bit of Philly Heaven. The bread melts in your mouth, as do the other goodies which comprise the sandwich. Worth the detour.
The final bite

And then we were in Boonton. Rose, my mother in law, has moved this week into Victoria Mews. I’m not really sure what a Mews is, but I think it’s a kind of closed in courtyard. Her place is adorable, and she seems to be getting used to, most of all, not having to deal with the REST of the house. She mostly lived in three rooms – bedroom, living room and kitchen, and a boiled down version has been provided for her, along with help when she needs it. But the big call today was at 230 from Seth: “He’s out…”

He would be Zachary Alexander Jacobson. He would be the First Grand Child. He would be a future singer/writer/modelairplane lover.. well maybe you can’t have everything, but the point is, after a modestly uncomfy labor, Mom and Son doing fine, and Dad sounds OK, too. We’re off to Boston on Wednesday to see the family and have to recite that just about perfect welcome to the newest member of the family: “Blue Skies, Zachary!”

Grandparents Oh My!

David and I decided that the biggest mistake we have made (over the last few months) was not documenting my mother's move to Assisted Living. Oh my God. It’s hard to know where to start but if you have been following the blob you know that mom has had 5 or six caretakers — if you count Connie, who we hired twice — that were very nice people but not who she needed to care for her. It doesn’t matter because she is in a place where she is not only safe but where she is challenged to do things she has not done for the past year or more. She seems OK with what’s happening and although we all agree there’s a little “I hate this but I don’t want to be a burden,” in fact she loves the fact that there’s a lot going on and that she is busy and making friends.

But I’m not going to blob about that till some other time because today was a very important day for us. Seth and Joyce, my children, had a baby boy. Welcome to the world Zachary Alexander Jacobson. Six pounds fourteen ounces, blue eyes and dark curly hair. The best of an Irish Jewish kid. It’s funny because David’s grandma was Irish and his grandpa was Jewish so we know for a fact that it’s a great combination, and what more could we ask for but a great combination.

Toasting Zachary, Joyce and Seth at Rose's new digs.. (with Pam and Els)
It’s funny what you think about when this wonderful thing happens. The kids are surrounded by family and friends and that’s a good thing but I remember when I had Seth and I was so exhausted I didn’t have the energy to eat ice cream, my favorite food. I just wanted to get to know my kid and sleep — anything else was kind of an intrusion — but you never want to tell people you love that they’re intruding, so you go with whatever.

I can remember the first time Seth and I came face to face. I wasn’t breast feeding because in the 70’s there was more concern about the role of the father than about immunities or anything else. We decided not to breast feed so his dad could share the feedings. That was OK. I got to sleep a little and Allan got to know his kid — and not only at pretty moments. It made a big difference in their relationship — all good. But the first time they brought Seth in to see me — after he was clean and tidy — he was in this little glass case. I didn’t pick him up right away because I had never held a baby that small and I wasn’t sure what to do with him. So we looked at each other for a while, me in my bed him in his glass case and then I thought, 'what do I do now?'

I ran into the hall and yelled for a nurse. “Look” I said, "is there any possibility that I can practice on someone else’s kid? Like, there must be someone who has had more than one kid who wouldn’t mind if I diapered them or fed them or dressed them, I’ve just never done this before so" ... But they didn’t have a kid available. So I picked him up and took him into bed with me and started to sing, in my very off key voice, some Jewish melody without words.

He was a little kid, very mushed and not entirely sure he should trust me, but we got beyond that. I had a baby nurse — at my family’s insistence — and couldn’t wait until she left so I could actually have my kid to myself. There are episodes I can remember so well about being a new mom — like the time when I was coloring my hair and I thought Seth had gotten into the poison cleaning stuff under the sink. I was hysterical when I called his dad to report the accident. There I was, color on my hair, half dressed, racing to the drug store to buy Ipacac to make him throw up with, Allan calling everyone in the medical Brandeis medical community to insure he would be OK. He was fine. It took us years to recover.

When he was two, I was very thin and I would wrap a scarf, instead of a top, around my myself to cover my breasts. He wanted to cover himself in the same way. So he would scream until I would wrap a scarf around his top so we would have identical covering. I remember the hours we spent reading and the hours we spent getting acquainted. It never stops with a kid — you’re always learning and relearning who they are. You remember all the firsts and all the foolish. Seth hated the idea of the tooth fairy, so we would have to leave his teeth outside his room so the fairy wouldn’t invade his private sleeping space.

It goes on and on and I know what it’s like to be a parent for the first time, but what’s it like to be a grandparent parent for the first time? Do you give advice, comfort, support, what? We have no idea, but hopefully we will be quick studies. It’s such a different world from when we had our kids. It’s harder because the world is harder but Seth and Joyce have overcome so may difficulties that I’m sure they’ll be just terrific and I pray that we can measure up. So from MeMe and Boss (our grandparent handles) — keep your fingers crossed for us. We’re just sayin....Iris

Friday, April 13, 2007

I'm Rooting For Nibbles

Instead of Don Imus spending all his time saying he was a good person, what if he had said, You know, I’ve been thinking about what a schmuck I am and I’m embarrassed that someone who has my kind of media power could say the things I said, so I’m going to take a few weeks and really think through what I did. Then when and if I come back, I’d like to have more women and people of color on the show and I want to learn how to be more sensitive (without losing my humor) to the people I have offended.

If he had done it himself, instead of letting Alpo Sharptongue and Jesse Helms (oops I mean Jackson—but they’re one in the same.) become the power in the conversation, I bet he would never have been fired. The networks didn’t want him to go or they would have done it immediately. For them it’s all about the money. Now, what could these two civil wrong bullies have said to make the networks cave? My guess is nothing. It was the big foot of GM and other advertisers, (with the threats from Jackson and Sharpton) that caused the Imus demise.

The shame of all of this (and I don’t care about Imus as a self absorbed personality) is that he is a powerful figure with powerful friends and he could have made a difference with a real change and real conversation, for that jaded world of news/entertainment. Woe is all of us.

When Jesse Jackson ran for President I had the opportunity to see how he operated, because my company was hired by the DNC to choreograph a trip around the country with all the Presidential candidates. It was 1984. We leased two planes and I was the trip director on the one with Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, John Glenn, Fritz Hollings--I think and there were others -- but who can remember so many names. Anyway, Jesse and his wife—who showed me a cool knitting stitch, were part of the traveling show. He was deliberately difficult about things that were uncomplicated. I had the feeling that he was new at playing Presidential politics and he didn’t know how to be Presidential—so he was just unpleasant. We have all heard stories about his conversations with CEO’s. Who knows if he strong arms them or embarrasses them into supporting whatever his cause, but he’s been pretty successful. Look at Imus -- I have often wondered what caused him to become a bully while a real leader like Rep. John Lewis, became so elegant and an important—not loud voice. Without rhymes, or tactis, just truth.

Which reminds me, one of our guest bloggers, Clay—who is very sensitive, sent me this hilarious ridiculous story I thought I’d share with you because it’s just that kind of a day.

Rogue Seal Devours Pit Bull
Key West, F. (April 12) - Nibbles the elephant seal is defying his tame nickname by killing and eating anything that gets in his path. Yesterday he attacked a small kayak and ate an eighty pound pit bull that was knocked overboard. Later that evening he then rammed repeatedly the pilings at Mallory Square during the nightly sunset celebration causing the cat trainer "Hugo" to fall into the harbor. It was only due to a daring scuba diver who fired a spear
into Nibbles that caused him to spare Hugo. Nibbles was last seen heading toward Sunset Harbor with a twelve foot long spear sticking out of his backside and howling for all he was worth.

What does this story have to do with Sharpton or Jackson or Imus? Well today Alpo Sharptongue said that there is nothing wrong with hip hop music. The lyrics are fine and it is a wonderful art. Nothing bad about hip hop. No siree. Nothing bad about calling women ho’s. Not a thing. The seal story is not even close to being as ludicrous as the behavior of these supposed Black leaders—who by the way could use a good dose of Nibbles. We’re just sayin...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I'm a Good Person

“I’m a good person.” So says Don Imus. At least he has said so every morning since this Rutgers Bruhaha. I mean the guy has started every sentence he says with, “I’m a good person.” I’m a good person and the sun is shining today.” I’m a good person and my cereal was cold this morning.” “I’m a good person and 16 troops were injured in Iraq.” I’m a good person and I hope Harold Ford is OK.” I don’t know why he hopes Harold Ford is OK. Harold Ford probably just doesn’t want to talk to him. Harold Ford is probably the only guest who has decided that Don Imus is at best a racist and at least a sexist and he doesn’t want to participate in his shameful nonsense anymore. At least I hope that’s why Don Imus can’t seem to find Mr. Ford.

Does giving to a charity make someone a good person? Don Imus makes about $25 million a year. I think it’s easier to be a good person when it’s not painful to be charitable. That doesn’t mean that his charity work with cancer kids or his advocacy for vets, or his profitable ‘green’ thing is meaningless, but giving without having to make a choice between your welfare and someone else’s does have consequences that might lead one to question the “I’m a good person” crap. Maybe that’s not clear, so let me explain. If I write 10 checks to a variety of charities that total $250,000, I am likely to think “look at all this good I am doing for all those unfortunate souls.” If I advocate for better conditions for vets on my radio show, I am likely to think “Look at all the good I’ve done for all those unfortunate souls.” If I spend ten days at a ranch with my name, which I promote, and from which I broadcast, I might think “Look what I’ve done for these poor unfortunate children. I must be a wonderful guy.” After a while, and maybe despite the things I say publicly, I begin to believe I am so terrific, and I am doing such good things, that I am entitled to say anything I want to say, regardless of how distasteful or unkind, because I am a good person – after all, look at my record, my history, my checkbook.

David Burnett is a good person. Today he went to the Arlington Courthouse and threw himself on the mercy of the court because he got a $500 parking violation for unlawfully occupying a handicapped space. He never saw the sign, nor did Jordan when she went out to put money in the meter. (But that’s no surprise.) David is a good citizen, a kind human being, and a wonderful father. He has served on jury duty, he writes letters to our city council, he does not litter, and he is not apt to use racial or sexist slurs — because he really is a good person. I am not saying that we never tell an ethnic joke or make fun of someone who has no taste in clothes, but we don’t do it on a radio show and we would never excuse this kind of entitled behavior by saying, “look at my record, I have given hundred of thousands of dollars to charities-- of course I make millions and I do allow guests on my show to talk about tits and ass and mostly they are all white males – but I’m a good person."

Rose Groman is a good person. She is a woman who has spent her life caring for others. Her children as they grew and her husband who had Multiple Sclerosis and was totally disabled by the time he was 45. She fed him, lifted him, put him on the toilet and yelled him to sleep at night (that’s the way they communicate in my family—see She did her best to supplement his income and his Veterans pension by becoming a beautician (we had a real hair dryer in the basement and dyed my friend Joyce’s hair green), and she sold Banff Knitwear -- a designer knitwear company owned by an uncle, (I still have all the sequins knit dresses—to die for!) As a young woman she worked for the Boonton Jewish Center as a volunteer and then as a volunteer at St Clare's hospital in Denville. She didn’t have any Black friends but there were care givers who helped her with my dad every day and she was always respectful of the work they did and of who they were as people. I never heard her tell a racist joke and although she thought women were smarter to marry rich and not have to work, (she was not wrong on that one), she was proud of all I and my female cousins achieved. Admittedly, when I suggested she have her hair done at the Mews (the assisted living facility) because it would be easier than going to her regular beautician — she suggested I look around the room at the people who did have their hair done at the Mews. But that’s about as unkind as she gets. I discovered that despite her meager income from Social Security and Veterans benefits, over the years she has contributed to more than 30 charities. While it’s $5 here and $10 there, she had to make choices about buying something for herself or giving it to someone more in need. Rose Groman is a good person.

And there are other people who can legitimately call themselves good people – but my list of those people is much too long for this blob. Suffice to say, they have given of themselves without having to be thanked or even noticed. They are teachers, organization people, mothers, daughters, (go to photojournalists, writers, business people and corporate wonks. They spend their lives trying to make things better, as opposed to trying to make a point about being a good person. Are you sick of the “good person” stuff? So am I.

Here’s something you might find interesting. The highest form of Tzedukah (charity) in Judaism is to help someone help themselves. And, here’s the most important thing about it, when you give you need to do it without any notoriety. Real charity is about being kind and selfless. That’s how one qualifies to be a good person. We’re just sayin...Iris

Are We Talkin Cart, or Horse Here?

It is tough to figure out the bottom line on the Imus spectacle this week. Agendas become fueled when a chance for victory, however specious, raises its head. The Rutgers women’s basketball team is a tough bunch who fought their way right to the end of the tournament, and who are not, I suspect, pushovers. They clearly saw something as the season came along, and became theirs, and could, until that last game, nearly taste the victory. Fate was unkind to them. Yet nothing will diminish their effort. And for Rutgers, to have a great football team, and basketball team in the same season, it’s a richness for Exit 9 of the Turnpike. So when you start to take into account all the shootings from the hip which have taken place in the last 3 days, it becomes difficult to figure out just where Right lives.

Imus, as we all learned from the 1999 TV Correspondents dinner – when he ripped Clinton, Peter Jennings and various other media darlings, New Orifices. People got all bothered for about ten minutes about his crass style, but lets remember that they invited Imus (track record from 1969.. hey folks , No Surprize!) not Dr. Bergen Evans. And it seems that every day Imus manages to annoy someone with some silly ass dictum, myself included. Yet he serves a real purpose in a Media Culture which gives never more than 28 seconds to tell the most complicated and complex stories. No one else will give Kerry/Lieberman/Richardson/Buchanan 15 minutes to actually have a conversation. I truly believe it says much more about the stupidity of our media system that Imus has to be the one venue where a real conversation, albeit, an often kiss-ass one, can take place.

The real issue, I suppose, in light of Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson’s call for his firing, is whether it’s just time for these two gents to scoop up a little more media attention, or do they care about the way black women are portrayed in our cultures. Not culture, but cultures. I'm well aware of that fact that I'm a bit square, though I try not to be, but there are things I just don't GET> If you have cable , just turn on the Uncensored RAP music channel. You will find more anti - black women remarks and descriptions in five minutes of listening, than in a year of Imus. BET, the cable channel runs tons of music vids which are not exactly PTA material. Talk about sending messages to kids? Maybe there are a few other places to start. I would feel less annoyed about Jesse’s rant (did he resign from politics for his Hymie Town remark?) and Reverend Al – who, it must be said, was one of the few clarions of intelligent banter during the 2004 Democratic primary debates – who, as far as I can tell, has never repented for slamming the white cop who he falsely accused in the Tawana Brawley fraud a dozen years ago. I wonder what Tawana’s opinions are on all this.

Five years ago I spent a few days with one of the top college football prospects, a young man of 21 who was about to be drafted into the NFL, given a contract of thirty something million bucks, and who arrived at the NFL hotel in New York with a small but dedicated, and truly amusing, posse. Included in his entourage was his 7 months pregnant girl friend, a beauty he knew from school who was already part of the family. I spent a lot of quality time with this young man, a smart, and thoughtful kid who was about to be drowned in the culture of cool. At one point he took me aside and said to please “don’t take pictures of my girl friend (who was very obviously preggers). I don’t’ want to lose my Ho’s.” My jaw probably dropped a foot or two, but I just took it in. And we carried on the rest of the weekend. The way he said it was almost endearing, as if Ho’s was just another moniker for Groupie or Chiquita. Maybe it’s me (I’m sure it is.. you know.. old, white, uncool) but there was a moment that I just couldn’t imagine referring to any women you might actually be even a little fond of, to as a Ho. Go figure, the old Jew from Utah just doesn’t get it. But perhaps a bit of introspection, and finding what the elements are in our society which encourage otherwise upright, cool, talented guys to refer to comely women as Ho’s would do us better than slamming Don Imus, who was, let’s face it, doing a really bad imitation of a Hip Hopper. Really really bad. I mean, have you seen the guy dance? It’s like me at Jazzercize. They see you move once, and you’re not invited backl. We’re just sayin…David

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Imus in Trouble

It took me three days to find out what Imus actually said about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Apparently, when he was commenting on their victory he said something like “there are a lot of nappy headed ho’s out there.” Well, I guess that wasn’t a nice thing to say. This morning CBS and MSNBC decided to suspend him for two weeks. I agree it was a terrible mistake and he has apologized for the entire three program hours every day since he realized what a stupid ugly thing it was to say. (It's become overwhelmingly tedious and self serving). And while it was not the first time he has said something offensive, the times dictated that his sponsors do something about it.

What is remarkable is the racial divide this event has produced. And although it was not a murder like OJ Simpson, it is breathtaking how many blacks want him to go permanently and how many whites have stepped up to say, “he’s a good guy, who said something terrible and the suspension is enough. I think It’s all about the money and the media. Jesse Jackson has a new platform. And he loves being the "Black" voice of moral outrage. This time, however, his outrage is tempered only by his hypocracy. Have we forgotten when he was running for President and referred to New York as Hymie Town and then refused to admit it was a racist comment. He 'rhymed' about how he meant it in a loving geographic statement—or some such crap, we allowed him to get away with it because he was black. We do the same with Al Sharpton--another more acceptable hypocrite.

Imus is often a self serving sexist racist schmuck but he’s no different than so many radio talk show hosts-he just has more interesting guest, some of whom are good friends of ours, some of whom are idiots. You have permission to speculate about which are which. To tell you the truth (this is merely something I say when I want you to think my truth is your truth), I am more offended by the ongoing banter about the attractive women with big boobs who work for the station and by the two dworks who do imitations of notable people (like Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, A Beach Boy and the Pope) who are mostly white. I find it offensive that as supposed comedians, they are simply not funny. I find it offensive that his talent free wife and brother have so much air time. Imus was on his way out the door until he did the White House Correspondent’s Dinner a few years ago, and took off on President Bush1—who was in attendance and not happy. People loved that and became his friends and guests.

Percentage wise, there are very few women and fewer African Americans in leadership positions in the media.. And those who are in senior positions will never speak up about it. There are all kinds of Black and female organizations that supposedly advocate for their constituencies—it’s not enough and they are never considered when people get promoted. If you look at the Imus staff you will find he has one or two senior minorities or women as producers. I’m not sure how many of them make policy decisions because I suspect that happens among the people you see on the show. But it’s certainly not limited to the Imus show.

When I was at USA Networks the CEO was one of very very few women who founded and ran cable network or any media conglomerate—I guess Sherry Lancing was her counterpart in the movies. In fact, Kay was probably the only woman who was in that position in television. She had created a corporate campaign called “Erase the Hate.” Developing the campaign became a big part of my job. But you can’t just tell people not to respect individual differences, you have to each people the reasons for respect at a young age – before they are taught to hate. And the campaign shouldn’t be about money, which is hard to explain to people who’s job it is to make money. So we were the “Erase the Hate” network with the most racist sexist successful program –World Wrestling, It happens and you just do the best you can to make your points and try to make the world better. But the other thing is that you have to realize that, as “Ave Q” says, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” We just are, it’s impossible not to be because we tell truly funny jokes that attack all different kinds of people. Constant political correctness is boring and unrealistic. Being politically incorrect does not make you a racist, it makes you not smart enough to talk with people who may be as irreverent as yourself. Being a racist on TV or in the media is stupid. And beyond that, with an Imus, it means you feel entitled to blurt whatever comes into your limited mind on or I suspect off the air.

Imus is a boys show which some girls watch –mostly those interested in the political guests. Because it is the only morning show where the guests have more than 30 seconds to talk about major world issues—only Star Jones gets more than that on the network morning shows. I don’t want Imus to get fired. I love picking on the white male turkeys who host the show and I love screaming at Imus when he says or does something ridiculous or self serving. If they are going to rethink the show they should leave the ‘salon’ approach alone and find a way for Imus to stop acting like a sophomoric high school boy when he decides how and who he’s going to talk to. And really, he needs to have more honest conversation with Black and Female guests. We’re just sayin...