Thursday, May 31, 2007

What's On Your Eyes?

Kathleen looked at me today and said, “Those sun glasses are horrible. They look like you’re wearing saddlebags on your eyes. You look like a ... like a Texan.” She said it like there was nothing worse one could be, and other than lobbyist, lawyer, or axe murderer, in this town, and she’s right. I say this realizing some of my best friends are axe murderers.

One Set of Glasses: Many Looks

Over the last few years I have developed a passion for sunglasses. At one time I would buy antique purses, both metal and beaded, but they got too expensive. Then I went through a hat stage—which I am still in but for a long time I just bought hats, now I try to wear them as well. My yearning for cool sun glasses is a direct result of the fact that Jordan has cool sunglasses and the coolest sunglasses are very cheap in always available in places where we have access—like street fairs in New York and, of course, Cow Town.

While it is true that the cheap sunglasses often fall apart, it is also true that I lose sunglasses at the same rate I watch Law and Order SVU. That means almost every hour of the day. So if you lose or break a pair of sunglasses that cost $142, you are much more upset than if you lose or break a pair that cost $3. This is not the point, well it is part of the point, but the other part is that sunglasses can reflect who you are. Or in my case, who I would like to be depending on the occasion. For example, the “saddlebag” look is only what Kat sees; I see kind of ‘movie star simple’. They are big aviators with little diamonds surrounding each lens. They are fabulous. And they only set me back $3.

The other day when we were out picking up just a few things we didn’t need, Jordan spotted an enormous pair in red. Actually she spotted two pairs, one was not so enormous but they were a little more expensive than the usual price. They were 2 for $9. Ordinarily I wouldn’t go that high, but she did love them and they looked soooo cute.

When are in New York we keep our collection on a shelf and always have them available for us or guests, depending on our mood. We have a few pair in white, some in tortoise, one pair in blue and my favorites, which I got at a NY street fair are pink aviators with hardly any frame. This particular pair was in need of repair almost immediately. The plastic separated from the frame. It was heartbreaking – so I did the only thing I could do -- and searched to replace them almost as immediately as they broke. Well, I had to wait one week—till the next street fair and, much to my surprise, they weren’t easy to find. I walked the entire length of the fair, passing dozens of Italian sausage stands and Pashmina sellers, looked at thousands of glasses and although some were similar, it took another closer look to find the identical glasses. My inability to land the glasses immediately was disconcerting, so knowing they would break again (even though David glued them together), forced me to buy three, not one more pair.

When I thought about it I realized that I had, in fact, spent $12 on the sunglasses, not $3. But who cares, I loved those glasses—two pair have broken over the course of the year – but I still have one. There is only one other thing about cheap/very cool sunglasses you should know before you race out to Cow Town or a street fair. It is almost impossible to see through them. Yes, they do have a label that says UV 100%, but what does that mean? I guess it means that either the coating is so thick and cheap you can’t see a thing, or the label is a lie and the plastic is just dreck. (Dreck is another of the Jewish words that means ‘crap’ or any derivation you choose to use in mixed company.) Whatever, as they say to the point of annoyance, it is the one area that does not require me to think about the expense.

A few Thanksgivings ago David decided that sunglasses should be our theme. So my favorite sunglass picture turns out to be one that was taken after our big meal and before anyone had a chance to get shy. We took pictures of everyone in the sunglasses my mother has been wearing. But my mother also has many sunglasses, which she insists on wearing all the time—so she can’t see when she is indoors. That being said. these pictures were really fun and Seth took the shades home—so mom couldn’t wear them and not see. Moving on—so as not to be frustrated by mom’s behavior.... Seth took the glasses. They looked great on him and once again I proved my point. We are what we think we can be, and all that is romantic about it. We’re just sayin...Iris


Communication on the internet is always a bit touchy. E-mail, as wonderful as it is, is not always the best way to send a message. First of all, it’s too immediate, so people react by hitting the reply button without thinking through what they should say and how they should say it. What happens is the reply is not always consistent with the original message. And this is the second reason for the danger. No one is smart enough to read a tone on a message... you can’t hear what people mean by what they send in note. So messages are often misunderstood or misconstrued—it’s like the difference between a speech and a written essay. There are often opportunities for pauses and emphasis you can add when you speak, that you simply don’t get in a written text. It’s harder to write something that will convey meaning than it is to say it aloud. And finally there’s a great deal of garbage that lands in our e-mail. Some of it comes from solicitors and some from close and wonderful, well meaning friends.

Just Press HERE
A few months ago I finally said to a few friends, “please don’t send me any more inspirational poems. I like good jokes but I do not want to be inspired – it’s much too late for my somewhat cynical constitution.” And additionally, you never get just one inspiring set of sentiments, you get them over and over and over and over. I wish I had a quarter for every duplicate inspirational verse I’ve received over the years. After I mentioned to my friend that I didn’t want to hear it anymore, they said that it was too bad and they weren’t going to edit their lists, because there might actually be something important they needed to tell me, so I had to live with the ‘intrusions’. My telling them not to send something did not hurt their feelings because the things they sent were not personal. It was simply an inconvenience in which they refused to participate-- but I’ll get back to that.

OK, OK, in a way they were right. But here’s the problem, it is impossible for me not to read what I am sent. Maybe it’s the yenta in my soul but I do have a need to know what people think I should know. It took me years to finally delete stuff (before I opened it) from strangers. I consider that, and not clicking on porn sights offered on a daily basis, some of my greatest internet achievements. So when I open one of those really insipid e-mails, I just groan and delete. I am no longer afraid that if I don’t send something to ten friends, like “Chicken Little”, the sky will fall on my head, or I will suffer some other unlikely disaster.

Any of us who have spent anytime on the net know that we can find anything in that virtual dictionary of useless information. I mean, we can learn about diseases we think we have. We can discover interesting places to shop, how certain foods affect moods, what to do with misbehaving children, what’s the best on Broadway, and millions of blogs about nothing. There is no end to the questions we can answer— accurate or otherwise. Somehow, wanting to find something is different than not necessarily wanting to know something. But that’s the reality of being exposed with an e-mail address.

Anyway, back to sending and receiving. Given my wish not to receive certain things, I am particularly sensitive about what I send. And although I am delighted about the birth of our new grandson Zachary, I have only sent pictures to my list two times. Once when he was five days and once at a month. I mean I have been very careful to control my tendency to shove our happiness down other people’s throats. So imagine my surprise when I got an e-mail that said, “He’s cute but we don’t need to see pictures of your grandson every two weeks.” Whew! That hit me in my heart. I wanted to write back and say, “Are you aware of the Delete option on your computer.” Or, “I know your mother taught you better manners, so what is this about?” But I didn’t because clearly, whatever that reply was about had nothing to do with Zachary. It was about hitting reply without thinking about the consequences, or it was about trying to hurt my feelings, either way it was their problem, not mine. But I did have to ask myself why someone would be deliberately rude, and I thought maybe not deliberately I had done something equally painful to them and rather than addressing it, (and because the internet is a good way to avoid person to person discussion), hitting me in my joy was their revenge. There has to be a better way to connect. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day Thoughts

Yesterday was Memorial Day and there were eight more American deaths in Iraq. The public reaction is kind of like a line from the musical “Annie”, where there is some kind of problem and she merely reacts with an, “Oh my goodness!” It is not an outcry by any means, it is simply “and your point is...?”

The White House is now talking about cutting the number of troops in half by the middle of 2008. It seems so far away that I am reminded of a friend who used to discipline his kids by threatening that if they didn’t behave they would not be able to watch video’s two weeks from Wednesday. It had nothing to do with a child’s reality—if it doesn’t happen today, right now, it doesn’t exist, so why should I make changes today when nothing is going to happen in the reality I know—which would be today and at best tomorrow. Woe is us. We are still allowing the political policy know nothings to play “Simon Say’s” with our children’s lives.

David went to the Viet Nam memorial yesterday, as he always does when he is home for the holiday. He noticed something that was inevitable; the Viet Nam vets are starting to look like World War 2 vets—that means we are an aging generation. It shouldn’t be a surprise but, just like when you look in the mirror and expect to see a twenty year old---it is. I also noticed something. Costco was closed. While it is true that our Costco is located right next to the Pentagon, most are not. My guess is that it was probably the only supermarket/discounter that felt they should shut their doors out of respect to the holiday—Target and K-Mart were open for holiday sales. Isn’t it awful that I was surprised a store was actually closed for a Monday holiday? Truthfully, I didn’t think about it until Jordan and I went to the Giant Supermarket and the woman checking us out remarked about how she hated the fact that all the stores were open because it showed a serious lack of respect.

Here we are again, back with that word and concept—respect. Think about all the days marked as Monday holidays. Is there one which has not become a day to shop and party rather than relax and reflect. Probably not. And, although I don’t think Monday holidays should be like Yom Kippur, where you don’t do anything but reflect and pray that God writes you into the book of life for another year, I do think the designation of a day should be more than an excuse for commercialism. I also think that a trip to participate or watch a parade is a far better way to think about a special occasion than a trip to Loehmanns – but while David went to pay respects, we went to Loehmann’s and I’m not proud of it.

Part of the problem is that we don’t think about any war, especially this one. We mouth words that claim we support the troops but we don’t have to act on that sentiment, in any way. Sure gas prices are out of control, but we don’t think about that as a reflection of the war. We think it’s just more gouging by the oil companies (which is also true). We are feeling little or no pain about this conflict unless we happen to have lost someone and then we have to find a way to live with the loss—and we certainly don’t want these young people to have died in vain, so we rationalize their deaths by saying they were fighting for our rights. What was it the President said “we are fighting there so we didn’t have to fight here.” What a bunch of crap. We are fighting there because a few old white guys decided they needed to finish a fight that even the President who started the first one, knew couldn’t be won. We are fighting because it is making a few of the corporate friends of these old white guys very rich. (This includes the oil executives). We are not fighting for any reasons this government pretends are good reasons. I have said this before, they start the sentence in the middle, ... “and now thanks to our intrusion in their lives, they have Democracy”.... no water, electricity, rights, feeling of safety, sense of US loyalty, or real leaders, but they have Democracy. I don’t know what that means. But I do know that everyday we lose a few more lives. The President says “it is the sacrifice we have to make”. I would like just one press person just ask, “why do we have to make the sacrifice”—I want specifics. And when he answers with, because we’re fighting for Democracy, I would like to have the same press person ask the President if he ever took and passed a course in civics, or government, or international affairs, because if he did then I guess he must have copied his answers from someone who had respect for what those terms actually mean. And on this day after Memorial Day, we can only say about the last four years, thanks for the Memories. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, May 28, 2007


People determine the kind of activities in which they will participate depending on how they like to spend their time. And that certainly is unpredictable. My grandma Sadie, for example, who lived in Jersey City, depending on the season, liked to go to the Jersey Shore and to Florida. While she was there she would entertain her friends – from the stage of wherever she was staying. It was terrific to watch. She told jokes and sang songs and performed without reluctance. Jordan probably got some of her “love the crowd” genes. She had a great voice and quite a knack for comic timing. But that’s not the activity for which I most remember her. Whenever I was visiting, she felt like she needed to feed me. She was living in a hotel where all her meals were paid for, so like all good Jewish grandmas she took food from the restaurant so I wouldn’t starve. But she never wanted to be obvious about the theft so the food had to be something no one could possibly imagine could be taken from the dining hall.

On many occasions she would bring jello to me wrapped in a paper napkin. It was Florida. Need I tell you how much of the jello survived the trip from dining facility to sidewalk meet? For a long time I thought only Jewish grandmothers took food from their meal service—hotel or restaurant and saved it for later – not true.

When we were at the Camelback Resort in Phoneix there was an elderly woman who sat next to us at breakfast who ate and then stuffed all her leftovers into her oversized purse – I assume for later or maybe she had a granddaughter who she thought wasn’t getting enough nourishment.

Golf is another very popular activity. When we were kids my Uncle Phil would take us to hit golf balls. That was a great deal safer than taking us out on a golf course—accidents were less likely to happen. Stevie and I got very good at hitting the balls great distances but we never had a chance to go out and play with the big kids. What we did required little skill.

Future PGA champ J. K. Burnett?
David is a pretty good golfer but it is not an activity we do together—until last week when at Camelback we went to the “Pitch”, “Chip”, “Hit”, “Smash”, “Miss”, and Putt, course and played three short holes. It was a colorful activity. Jordan’s first attempt hit a tree and ricocheted, so as to almost hit her in the head. I had trouble even hitting the ball—let’s be honest, that ball is just too small to be taken seriously.

Chuck and Stevie, spent many hours playing pool in Aunt Sophie’s basement. They got pretty good-- Chuck was better, but we all had a talent for hitting that ball. Maybe size does count. I haven’t played in years but last week, while we were in Colorado Springs we found a pool table and with Jordan and Chuck on one team, and David and I on the other we played three games. They whipped us. Chuck kept encouraging Jordan to smile and breathe, which she did (“S and B, S and B”), and they defeated us three to zero.

As I mentioned a few blobs ago, we went to the Grand Canyon and Sedona. So in the Grand Canyon our activites were limited mostly to sight seeing, but in the GC or the Canyon as they say in Arizona, we spent a good amount of time riding in the car (singing only a little) but listening to books on tape.

In Sedona we stayed at a resort, so we swam, lounged, steamed, read, watched sunsets, showered, (the kids are big on showers) and played a little table tennis. David took the kids on a hot air balloon and he’ll blob about that. We also shopped and walked and walked. Sedona is gorgeous, and so it’s quite overbuilt and there are 200 too many T-shirt shops, but we had numerous laughs and we were all very clean. At the Tlaquepaque shopping area,

JK and Ben at Tlaquepaque
a newly retro (Neo-Olde?) project with plenty of stairways, balconies and arches. Jordan and Ben would craft a scene for each: West Side Story, Evita, Wicked. It was a short course in Broadway.

When we left Sedona we drove to Scottsdale, (Desert Mountain) to stay with Chuck and Eileen. I’m not sure if just being with family is an activity but in the Dubroff family it should be. Maybe, if you are following our blob, you know that many of our adventures have included being with family, who have traveled great distances just to share some fun. Like when we went to Denver to open “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”. We had about 25 family and friend who accompanied us and they didn’t come from Colorado—they came from NY, Utah, NJ, Arizona, Virginia, and other parts unknown. Anyway, we visited Chuck and Eileen for dinner and an overnight. It was terrific. They invited friends to join us for drinks and for dinner. We had a barbeque and our kids entertained the assembled. But here’s the thing, when you are with people you love—hopefully that includes family—which in this case it did-- there were no pretenses. We just laughed a lot and enjoyed one another’s company. Why can’t the activity of visiting or sharing good times always be that simple.

Today, we watched a video David shot eighteen years ago of a seder—it was the first gefilte fish chronicles. The Aunts, Rose, Peppy and Sophie were vibrant and strong ajnd recounted so many tales of their youth. The Dubroff progeny was young --Jordan was about three, Joy was two, Seth was nearly seventeen, Adam was nine, Deva, maybe 11. Matthew, brought his intended, Shirley, to introduce her to the family. Andi and Honey discussed the impending nuptials of their children, Micki’s then boyfriend, who has since passed away, was a part of the picture. Michael was healthy and clearly a super supervisor. Debbie was pregnant, Joanie reluctant to be in the film and Uncle Moishe anxious to get to Temple. Aunt Helen wasn’t there and we still can’t figure out why—although Uncle Phil was still alive so maybe he was sick. There is a wonderful moment when Elaine, who died much too soon, tastes the horse radish and is unable to breathe. It was a time when we all were still connected. There was no animus and certainly no unfortunate misunderstandings. I guess there was a time when we were not so determined not to forgive. There is a simple sadness for me in remembering what was and a hope that maybe, for our children, being with family is an activity that can be important again. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sunrise of the Rising Sun

It was 4:40 when God said let there be light. We were all still in bed so we needed to hurry because we didn’t want to miss the sunrise. Hurriedly, we jumped out of bed, tried not to hurt

With Ben on the Ivories, we managed to butcher a few show tunes at the Tovar Lodge

each other—the room was itty bitty and with two queen beds there wasn’t much floor space—dressed and started out the door to get to the rim before it was too late.

Us at the South Rim, where thousands gather every morning

When we arrived at the rim we scurried around trying to locate the best spot from which to view the actual sunrise – it was light but the sun was still a bit below the horizon. As it turned out there were probably 20 Japanese tourists who found the same perfect spot as we. They were scattered on the rocks but fairly close in proximity to one another and to us. It took me back to the first time I went to Japan. I was with Joe Duffey and his wife Anne Wexler. Joe was the director of USIA—the public diplomacy arm of the US government. As you may have guessed given the state of US diplomacy—that agency no longer exists—the worst mistake the Clinton Administration made. Yes, there were others but folding USIA into the State Department was right up there on the list. Anyway, one of the items on our list of tourist attractions was the Emperor’s Palace. It is important to know that Japanese people wait for years to get to see the Palace. In fact, we were told that when a Japanese child is born he or she is given the date they will get to tour the palace. As diplomats, we didn’t have to wait that long. We got our appointment in a day. We felt very fortunate. We walked along with 15 Japanese citizens, a tour guide, and an interpreter. The tour guide narrated more than a few points of interest and with each mention of a place of particular interest the Japanese oohed and aahed—at exactly the same moment. It was hard to be polite and not guffaw because it was like a Saturday Night Live skit. We managed to maintain our decorum and at the end of the tour we got in the car and laughed for an hour.

The sun rose at 5:15 a.m. The excitement on our rock mounted and when the sun came up the Japanese all clapped and cheered as if it was the first time they had seen the sun come up—like they didn’t know it was going to happen. To tell you the truth it was thrilling to watch their joy. I never fully understood their pride in being the Land of the Rising Sun until that moment.

And they clapped at the Rising of the Sun

Then we went sight seeing and did what I refer to as a ‘Burnett’. This means you never end up where you thought and inevitably plans change based on a whim of some kind. So here’s what happened. We went to the Painted Desert and then to Little Colorado River Gorge – which has an 800 foot sheer drop that was totally terrific. The kids pretended to drop off.

Help! Help! they cried in Stage voices

They were a bit too close to the edge for my liking but they lived. It was early so we decided to go into

JKB in the Alan Ladd suite at the Monte Vista in Flagstaff

Flagstaff—people in the Canyon said it was a fabulous place, and it turned out that it was.

At the Weatherford Hotel, near the room where Zane Grey wrote his Western Novels (Flagstaff)

We found an adorable old hotel and determined that this would be much more fun than going back into the Canyon.

Into the car we went and drove back to the Canyon where we got our bags, checked out of our room, got back into the car and drove back to Flagstaff. We took all our stuff into the Monte Vista hotel and proceeded to the Walter Brennan room. Each room is named for a movie star because so many movie stars stayed there while they were filming on location. It was fine until we turned on the sink—which was totally backed up. So, because we couldn’t locate the front desk clerk by phone, I ran down four flights of stairs and changed the room to the Carol Lombard room—the air-conditioning didn’t work so we moved yet again to the Alan Ladd. But the place was so cute we didn’t even mind the move. Well we minded a little but not enough to be in a bad mood.

Flagstaff is a colorful place. For example, when we arrived there was a rock band in the plaza (on a Thursday) where people not only listened to the music but they jitterbugged—with people they obviously did not know. It was like Lincoln Center in the summer for a swing dancing event.

Another view of the Alan Ladd suite

There are no shortage of good coffee places—places that only serve espresso-- and there is even a bike/jogging path that is dressed up with greens but runs along the railroad track, so you can move along without interruption and the only distraction are the trains that run frequently and toot loudly. (That goes on all night but with a noisy old air-conditioner you hardly notice the noise).

The Classic Hotel enjoyed by so many over the years.

When we left for Sedona this morning it was not without some sadness. Chances are we will not come back to Flagstaff –with friends and family in the Phoenix area a trip north is unlikely. But it was a treat to discover this neat little place and we enjoyed every moment. We’re just sayin….Iris

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Not a Bad Graduation

Dr. David Burnett, what a concept! Colorado College is quite an unusual institution of higher learning and obviously a place with distinctively good taste because Monday they honored David with an honorary doctorate. And yes, that means he can treat honorary patients with honorary diseases - we've heard that at least four times-but it is cute.

Paging Dr. Burnett, Stat!

Graduations, where you don't know anyone on the podium except the commencement speaker and the college President, have the potential to be pretty boring once the speaker has spoken, but this one was really fun. Obviously, the kids are dressed in caps and gowns so you don't get to experience individual style except in the footwear and the accessories attached to the plain black robes. Some of them pretty telling. Like the Hawaiian flowers worn around the head, neck and ankles-by young women primarily from the Island state but by young men as well. There were some kids wearing flip flops, sneakers, loafers, and candy apple red very high heals. There were pins that glowed, there were earrings that shimmered, there were medals, chains and the usual neck ties and hair ribbons. Oh, and there was one kid who created an elaborate cap that looked like a whole pizza. Everyone was celebrating in their colorful individual way. As you can imagine, I love creative personal statements. However the most entertaining and yes, ingenious statement was made by a young man who, because he was short one credit and not allowed to 'walk' decided to streak at the same time that his name should have been called.

He also had his moment in the sun, if slightly more so.

It cause quite a stir in the audience not far from where Jordan and I were sitting - well where I was sitting. Jordan was on her way back to our seats when the streaker, passed by her so closely that he almost knocked her down. Her face was priceless. Kind of a “why isn't that guy wearing a shirt:, that quickly turned into a “oh my God, he's not wearing anything at all!” It was the perfect distraction in what was becoming a much too long series of degree awards.

Needless to say, we were all very proud of our newly annointed photo doctor. And we were thrilled that our cousins Chuck, Nan and Norm, could be with us to share in the day. It's always more fun when you are surrounded by people you love. (Additionally, the weather was beautiful and the ceremony was outside which made the entire experience even more wonderful.)

After lunch we said our goodbyes and drove back into Denver to visit with Micki, Chris, Tanner and Finn. Although it is unfortunately not a place we visit frequently, it is a place we love to go because they are among our favorite cousins. I have always been close with Micki - even when she was an impossible kid. And you know how your mother used to say, “when you have kids I hope you get back twice what you gave me.” Well I think with two little boys, just 18 months apart-this is likely to happen. It's so interesting to watch when they're not your own kids because then everything they do is funny. It's too bad that as parents, we can't fully enjoy their antics. Micki and Chris are unusually calm and patient in their parenting -- so the boys are fabulous. Funny, smart, adorable, creative and not overly anxious to listen what their parents have to say. They are not disobedient, just challenging - it's in their job description and it is incredibly amusing.

Jordan, after months of seeing SONIC commercials, reacts to actually visiting a SONIC for the first time.

Dinner was margarita's and quesadilla's at a local Mexican joint where the waitress had more tattoo's than most motorcycle gang members-all in all a colorful evening.

Tanner, Finn and Jordan in Margaritaville

It was a long day fulfilling day and we didn't want it to end but our flight was really early so we decided to stay at an airport hotel. The boys were disappointed about our decision not to sleep over. We promised them we would come back and spend more time and we will try to do that. It is simply too entertaining to stay away.

We were at the airport by 6am, on our way to Arizona before 8, and off to pick up Jordan's pal Ben and begin yet another adventure - this time in the Grand Canyon. Will it still be Grand after five days and four people in one room- one can only hope the doctor is in. We're just sayin…Iris

Doctor, Doctor - Gimme the News, I Gotta Bad Case...

There have been many times in the last forty or so years when I have thought that a description of college once uttered by a fellow student kind of made sense. “It’s just four years to collect a bunch of great books to read when you’re old and retired.” Because there were so many times when I couldn’t really trace anything I was doing as an adult to something I did in college, I’m sure there were times I wondered if it had been worth attending school for four years at all. So few people, save perhaps for Law school or Med schoolers, ever have a chance to directly apply something learned in school to a situation in real life.

D.B. & Holga, courtesy of Sean Cayton
Yet there is no doubt that the time honored tradition of ‘formation’ and ‘preparation’ of someone for a life ahead is truly a worthwhile endeavor. Many of us who are long away from school look back with all kinds of regrets and “I just wish I’d done …..” but in the end, the time spent in school, whether it be Harvard, Pomona, or Northwest Texas State Teacher’s College, are to be valued looking back at them, rather than at the time you are actually there.

Photo by Jordan Burnett
I ended up at Colorado College simply because my dad had once driven through Colorado Springs, and reported that “it’s a lovely looking campus.” My first two choices were Stanford (my mom’s Alma mater) and Pomona (a place I thought would set me on a proper path to help NASA build the moon rocket.) Neither of them felt as passionately about my being there as I did, so after the first two rejection letters came, I was pleased to have had a Yes from C.C. Tom, my older brother, had gone 3 years before back to Williams in western Mass. He was having a great New England experience, but somehow I didn’t feel drawn to the Eastern schools. I already knew that I wanted to be a photographer (if it works out, you can count it as a gift to KNOW what you want to do when you are 16) but I knew that college was expected of me, and frankly, once I was accepted to C.C. I could still say, with no small amount of Utahesque humor, that I was “going East to college.”

Having "Gone East" D.B. now speaks to the Grads

I made a lot of friends at C.C., though curiously the folks I am more in touch with now are people who I barely spoke to at the time. (This is a plug for going to your 5 and 10, and 15 year reunions. You cannot imagine how the stuck up twits of Freshman year blossomed into wonderfully well rounded, gregarious, smart, and fun adults.) So it was with not a little surprise six weeks ago when I got a note from the Dianne Benninghoff (also from my class of ’68), who for years ran the Alumni department and now is involved in the broader planning of the future of the College, asking if I would be the Commencement speaker this year. I was a little floored, I can tell you, but I think I immediately said Yes. I was told that the guidelines for speaking were simple: twenty minutes; they sort of hoped I would say something nice about the concept of a Liberal Arts education, but that was it. The rest was up to me. Having been in the journo biz for four decades, yet seldom actually writing anything of note, the thought of having to sit down and put words to paper was a little frightening. I began making notes about the kinds of things I wanted to mention. Moving them around as the number grew, excising a few along the way. At the “Hey! I already have two pages written” stage Iris jumped in and helped me to craft the flow a little. And within two weeks I felt I had something that was a pretty good blue print. The hardest thing, once you realize you DON’T get a teleprompter, is organzing a speech on 8x11” bits of paper. You pray for a non-windy day. You read it over a bunch of times, out loud so you can hear yourself, and try to mold phrases so they really work. I had a bunch of rants from the “Honey, you’re yelling at the TV again” group of Burnett observations, and wanted to try and include a few of those too. In the end, I wanted it to be helpful and explanatory without being a finger waving lecture. We all know how successful finger waving lectures are (I guess it depends on WHICH finger is involved). I had a few friends read it, both contemporary colleagues and their kids, and made a few adjustments just about every time I read it. There are no “Ask not what your country can do for you..” lines in there, but maybe there are one or two images that will propel one or two kids to think once or twice about doing something they might not have done before. That’s good enough for me.

For the trip to Colorado Springs, Iris, Jordan and I came out Saturday ( you remember the famous Hotel Hell column, right) and since then the trip has been just the most fun. Jordan made a couple of great pictures during the procession, I didn’t stumble too badly on the delivery, and at least a dozen parents and students came up afterwards to tell me how inspiring I was. It’s been a while since anyone said such nice things about my pictures. And thanks to Sean Cayton who nailed a snap of me photographing President Dick Celeste, festooned with dollar bills, at the end of the ceremony. In a new tradition, the students who feel like they want to start contributing back to the college, even as they accept their diploma, pin or tape a dollar to the President’s robes as they walk across the stage. It’s pretty cool. (I think I have a great HOLGA picture of Dick from the back, covered in bills, but being film instead of digital, you ‘ll have to wait a week or so to see it.)

The text of my speech, which was broadcast LIVE on a CC webcast, follows in a separate column. It isn’t often in my life that I get to emulate the phraseology of the position papers which political candidates use: “In remarks prepared for Delivery today….” So, now that I am officially an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (and I have the hood to prove it), I can, as one friend pointed out, now treat all kinds of Honorary Diseases. We’re just sayin…David

Framing a Life: David Burnett, Colorado College commencement, 2007

President Celeste, members of the board, faculty and staff, distinguished guests and parents of students, and -- members of the class of two thousand and seven. Let me just say what an honor it is to be asked to share a few thoughts with you today. I'm a proud member of the class of 1968 - the beginning of the baby boomer generation - and though none of us can believe it, we seem to be becoming, ever so modestly, graying grandparents,- a few of whom I see here today to share this fine morning. But as I remind my daughter Jordan often enough, we don't Yet THINK that we look like Mickey Rooney's grandparents in all those 1930s movies.

I'm especially touched by the fact that there are some fascinating, accomplished people in our class, so I'm all the more moved at being asked.

I kind of feel at a little disadvantage here. It's the first time in twenty-five years that I am not speaking to present my photographs, and like a number of photojournalist colleagues have said over the years.. “I became a photographer so I didn't HAVE to make speeches…”

Well, my luck's run out, but I hope yours hasn't.

I would ask you to imagine a few important moments without the aid of my photos.

Picture an aspiring young self taught photographer who arrives at a college where there are no journalism classes, and no photography classes. Nothing that would get him started in his already chosen career, except perhaps the most important thing of all: a broad based liberal arts education which will help to shape his view of himself, and the world around him. He majors in Political Science, but curiously, the poli sci dept. doesn't have its own photo lab, so he ends up spending late nights in darkrooms at the Worner center and the physics dept. And most importantly, he knows where the keys to those labs are kept.

He begins taking pictures of football games, the hockey players, most all the sporting events, and other stories around campus for the Tiger - now the Catalyst, newspaper. Sadly he doesn't realize that the most interesting and important thing he could do would be to train his camera on his own life. Not sporting events. Not convocations or speeches. Not the symposium. Sure, these things were interesting, but life immediately around him - coffee at Benji's, studying at the Library, late night bull sessions in the dorm, softball games with the Thetas at Monument park, sneaking onto the ice rink at midnight for some late night hockey practice - before the walls went up - a poker game before lunch at the fraternity house; the anti Vietnam war silent protests in front of Cutler Hall every Wednesday. That was the life - those were the moments - he should have photographed and preserved. The one he did understand was the magical power of the still photograph. We all have a chance to express ourselves, and slicing life with a camera was his calling.

Picture another moment in this young man's life. He is in Professor Tim Fuller's Senior political theory class discussing Hobbes and Locke. One classmate poses a question about the Hobbesian 'state of nature.' He asks “but how does any of this relate to what's going on in the world now?” And Professor Fuller replies, “Mister Swim, this is not a course in immediate relevance.” Yes, it IS possible to vividly remember One Sentence, spoken with conviction, for the whole of your life. The power of those few elegant and eloquent words… has only grown in the young man's mind over the last forty years.

In the world we are giving you, so much is about nothing BUT immediate relevance, whether it be the fascination with Anna Nicole Smith's baby, Brittney Spear's hair cuts, or Imus and his lousy radio jokes. But truth be told, these are diversions from the real potential of observing life in the world, seeing history unfold everyday at our feet.

Picture the same young man a few years later. He keeps thinking that his world is about nicely packaged events which make for nicely packaged stories in nicely packaged magazines. He's had a spinal fusion from an ice hockey injury, and following that, in the contentious summer of 1967 he takes his Army draft physical in New York City, the only one of the 300 kids in the hall that day who wore a corset - and little else, in the examination. Most of those kids ended up in Vietnam as soldiers, but he has been classified 4F - unfit for service - yet- in pursuit of the biggest story of his day, he head to Southeast Asia, spending two years in Vietnam as a photoreporter. But he still doesn't quite get it and after arriving, tries to figure out what project to cover, and how he can jump start his career. Then he meets a committed Welsh photographer, Phillip Jones Griffiths, who had made it his life's work to document the war in Vietnam. Phillip was brief and to the point: “Real life,” he said “ isn't about doing this or that story for TIME or LIFE or Newsweek magazine.. its about immersing yourself in the world around you. So put 50 rolls of film in your camera bag, go upcountry to Danang, and don't come back to Saigon until you have shot every roll.” It was one of those moments of clarity that you will hopefully have in your lives, when you look back and say to yourself "it was so obvious, why didn't I see that before ?” Life is about staying focused. Not simply focusing an image in the viewfinder of a camera, but keeping your eye, your soul, your mind, all in focus in the viewfinder of the life you choose to lead.

Photographers understand that most important thing we control is the edge of the frame of our pictures. We choose where to look, how to look and when to press that button. But if you make the effort, you'll have a life where you never stop seeing. And you never stop learninging. Yes, the whole of the rest of your life is going to be a long chain of Blocks, with probably very few block breaks. Take advantage of it.

Those are moments in the life of a stranger -- so rather than picturing any more moments in this photographer's life, I want you to picture yourselves in 2 or 5 or ten years from now. Twenty seventeen! Where do you think you will be? What do you think your world will be like? Will you have had a midnight cup of ginger tea on a grassy hill with a young shepherd in Ethiopia? Will you have seen the morning light on Sacre Coeur in Paris, having climbed the hill before dawn in order to see the first glints of sunrise? Will you have tasted a simple meal of fresh pasta and truffles, thinly sliced onto the steamy plate at your table in a workmen's café in Italy? Will you have struggled, and maybe even a few times with success, to express yourself in Mandarin, Portuguese, German, Arabic or Hindi to a cab driver who knows no English? That could even happen in New York. But, there are a million moments waiting out there for you to discover and make your own. And remember that anything you do which someone describes as a "once in a Lifetime" event, is probably something you should try and do at least a couple of times. And while you may think the world has shrunk because of the internet, cable television Myspace and Facebook, in many ways it feels even more insular, less like a community. Who here believes that the manners and flaming reactions one sees on blog commentaries make for the kind of thoughtful dialogue you would wish for when sitting around with a half dozen actual PEOPLE, having coffee and talking about those same compelling issues. All the more reason not to stand by and accept at face value, what some cable news bimbo - and believe me, men can be bimbos, too - with great hair, a logo on their microphone, and a satellite uplink truck has to say --live and in color -- from some farflung location. In an age when Live trumps thoughtful, it behooves you to keep trying to peel back that onion and see what really lies inside.

Make it your goal to see that world, and find out for yourself. Embrace the upside of the new communication tools and toys which are now available - blackberrys, cellfones, laptops, and the things not yet invented, but don't become a prisoner to them. Above all, don't give up on your own ideas, and your own thinking just because you can always text message or email some more Senior person, to make sure it's ok to do something. When in doubt, think it through, then act first, apologize later. And if I see you on the campaign trail next year in Iowa or New Hampshire, when you're running an event for some unlikely presidential candidate, put the blackberry down long enough to have an Eye to Eye, face to face, conversation. Those conversations will take you much farther than the wordiest and wittiest text message ever will.

The world we are giving to you is full of its own challenges and opportunities. Everyday, new technology permits things to happen which are being done for the first time in Human History. Yet, the great failure of my generation was to forget that common sense should be the first premise of civic life, instead of the last. Where is the common sense when 6 year olds are handcuffed by police in kindergarten for making a ruckus? Where is the common sense, when a group 13 year old pranksters give exlax-laden doughnuts out at school and are arrested for it. Hello!! Its called a prank. No one was hurt, and no one died. In the end, there might even have been a few people made healthier by that substitution. But arrested? Where is the common sense? And the kind of thinking which came up with "zero tolerance" adds more legal murkiness than it eliminates. In the end, Zero Tolerance is just further proof to children that adults are thoughtless and stupid.

Maybe its because our generation, having been given so much by our parents after the depression, after World War II, came to think of ourselves as the Coolest generation. Not the Greatest certainly, but maybe the Coolest, and that therefore our kids… YOU ... must be the coolest kids. And that we therefore had to make sure that OUR kids were supported, treated, and indulged, beyond all reason. We lived through you. We yelled at your soccer coaches when they didn't give you enough playing time; we berated teachers who might not have seen your obvious genius, and we pushed our way into the front of the line at McDonald's in order to make sure that our kids got the Happy Meals first. So, please, please - as you go out into the world at large, try and remember to keep a little common sense in your back packs and laptop bags. You have had the gift of studying in the block system – which like many great advances in higher education started the year after I left C.C. And it truly is a gift - trust me -- having a French, Physics and International Relations final all on the same day, is no picnic - so take that gift and run with it. Don't be afraid to put your feet into uncharted waters or unknown territory. The rest of the world in so many places no longer thinks of us in the idealistic way they might have in the 70's and 80's. Yet a world which sees others more as equals could become a more welcoming place. So it's up to you to take advantage of your opportunities. And don't forget how you got here. No one does it alone. Think back to all the teachers, coaches, counsellors, and most especially, your families, and include them in your list of thanks for having made this trip. Not just for the financial assistance, though you'll perhaps only come to understand that when you, too, are parents. But the emotional and intellectual support which everyone needs to flourish in a world of new ideas. Though you don't realize it at the time, your college experience is not really, an end in itself. It's about getting you ready to face that bigger world, the one which starts at the edge of campus, and never really ends. The joy of learning how to learn will let you be able to spend the rest of your life AS IF it were college, learning something new everyday.

I've had the chance to work in over 80 countries, I've photographed, Kings and Queens, Shahs and Ayatollahs; Presidents and stable boys, Olympic champions and test pilots. Each and every time you push that button, you try and capture a moment in life, one that distills the power of that moment into something we can see, something we can hold in our hands. How you frame life through that viewfinder will decide if it's successful or not.

One of the stories about which I felt most proud and that had the most impact on me was when I recently photographed some high school students in Cleveland. In pursuit of a way to engage young people in the idea of service to the community, a small group of boys at St. Ignatius Catholic high school got together and formed a Society of Pallbearers - not something you immediately think of as an after school activity. In the Catholic church, the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy provide a writ that any political campaign or political party could find worthy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, aid the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. With an ever larger number of people dying who have neither family nor friends capable of carrying them to their final rest, there was a need for someone to step in and help. To see these high school Juniors and Seniors give of their time in those most difficult times of all, gave me great hope for the next generation. Three years ago, when they started, they performed 3 burials. Word of their work spread quickly around Cleveland, and in the last year they performed 112 funerals. And as I moved the frame of my viewfinder, left to right, up and down, in search of that telling picture, I wanted the power and poignancy of those moments to become something which could be shared.

Spending time with those boys was a rare privilege. And as many of you already know, there is no question that more you give in this world, the more you benefit from it. Money and material things have their place, but nothing you can buy will equal the sense of personal fulfillment you get by service to those around you. Two years ago, after the terrible earthquake in the mountains of Kashmir, in Pakistan, aid was painfully slow to arrive. But among the people who felt they needed to help were a dozen young para medics, not doctors, but paramedics, from New York City. They didn't wait to be asked. They didn't go as part of a political campaign or government relief program. Like you and me, they saw the news on tv, and felt they just had to be there. They trekked by foot and by mule, far up into the valleys where roads were obliterated, and entire villages destroyed. But they did it, and one by one, each time they were able to treat someone, the world got a little better. Why did they go? It's simple - as one volunteer put it: "We're health care workers, and health care workers want to help people." A simple act, perhaps, but profoundly important. These are the kind of people who will eventually help to bring this world a little closer together.

As someone blessed with being able to spend four decades wandering the world with a camera - my work gave me the excuse to parachute into other people's lives. Sometimes it was a tough, even frightening story. Other times it was poignant and touching. And often it was full of humor and the kind of little person to person moments which make up the richness of life. So you might ask, at this stage in my life, do I have regrets?
well.. maybe two:
I wish I'd had a date before I was 27.
And I wish I'd had more children, since the one I have is pretty great. She teaches me much more than I think I'll ever be able to teach her.

But now, as you leave Colorado College, to wander in the world at large, and sign up for those next 500 Blocks, put your feet on the ground and share the richness of the experience you will come to have. Look carefully at that picture of who you are, and who you want to be. Keep moving the edges of that frame around. Don't settle for the first thing you see in your viewfinder, and don't snap it until you're satisfied that what you see, really will make a difference.
Class of 2007, thank you - and good luck on those many roads ahead.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Absentia

That would be me. I’m the one who hasn’t’ contributed a word since the French Elections. I mean, what kind of a blobber is THAT? I ask you! I plead mild diversion: I had a big commercial job which took me out of the loop for two weeks, and which just finished last Thursday (the 18th). I know that with all the doodads now available (Editor’s Note; I do NOT own a Blackberry) there is supposed to be no time when you are really able to be out of touch, mentally, if not physically, anymore. But when you are rising early, working all day trying to be an artistic person, or even a commercially artistic one, it is difficult to find those few minutes to jot thoughts down which others might find amusing. It’s true that I don’t really stop SEEING.. or at least I try not to, during those busy times.

On a flight out of Atlanta to Boston ten days ago, I exercised one of my primary travelers Points of Information: that if you end up sitting midway or or the back of the plane, and you are laden with photo crap,the kind of bags which most photographers are somehow obliged to schlep with them.. cameras, lenses, laptops, etc., you are much better off just sitting your can in the seat for an extra two (countem’, two minutes.) while all those slow pokes behind you deplane. Then, slowly and with precise unhurried movements, you stand up, stretch shoulders, legs and arms, and gently reach up and grab all that photo crap down from the overhead bins. Over the years, I acquired a number of really unfortunate and severly annoying neck and shoulder muscle twists and pulls by trying to rush the process of putting up and taking down bags from the overheads. In the early eighties, especially when traveling with all my 35mm gear, PLUS my traveling computer (if you are under 35, take note!) which was a 32 pound, 26”x16”x9” OSBORNE with a whopping 64K of RAM, it was a major effort to stow and recover bags. Often as not, in a rush to avoid the evil eye from fellow travelers, I’d rush it, and Pr-r-r-r-roing…. Something would pop in my neck, arms or shoulders. Then one day I timed how much extra time it would actually cost me to wait until the alte kachers, and moms with baby carriages all left the plane. It was, in most cases, something under two minutes. At that point I decided, since Ill be waiting at least ten minutes and maybe much more in the luggage area, why not just wait till they’re gone, and take down my gear at my own sloth like, healthy pace.

Since 9/11 and the wave after wave of new rules about what, who, whom and where you can schlep bags onto airplanes, things are kind of simplified: there are all the things you cannot bring on board anymore (my saddest to be banned is the Swiss Army knife: those multiple blade beauties were the solution to more problems than you imagine, and frankly I would feel a whole lot safer on a plane if EVERYONE had a Swiss Army Knife, than no one except someone of ill intent.) It does become a challenge to shoot FILM in the age of digital, since you cannot check film (everything gets xrayed by the Film killing machines, if it goes in the baggage hold), so carrying film, and gear remains the biggest single challenge.

Last week I was on a job which took me from New York to Atlanta, Boston (where I had a rare chance to see Jordan and her roommate David for dinner), back to New York, and then a couple of days in rural Minnesota. (All that airplane boarding is what made me think about the carry on saga.)

How's that horizon! Alexandria, MN
There is one amazing thing about western Minnesota (and I guess the Dakotas, too, though I haven’t really ever worked there.) It is big sky country, rather like the Montana plains further west. Vast fields of agro businesses punctuated by small towns, the kind which still rely on Volunteer Fire Departments. It is something to behold, one of those crisp blue mid-west skies, after a couple of weeks of working in the city. It’s very striking: lines of trees, puffy clouds you could top a Dairy Queen sundae with, and the occasional body of water. I was working at a lake which we called # 7289. In a state with ten thousand of them, someone has to start numbering them somewhere, and I figured that labeling ours #7289 was a heckuva start, and that eventually the Powers that Be in St. Paul would appreciate my organizational skills. And of course, no matter where you travel in this country, you always end up at Walmart. Buying AA's, a sweatshirt with hood...

maybe just a four pound bag of Beef jerky. (You have any idea how big that is?)
And of course once you actually buy the stuff you need, there is always the opportunity to get work when you pass through those amazing Portals:

Hourly work? I just might say YES!

I contrast that with the newest of the New York sites, the Apple Store on 59th St. and Fifth avenue. You cannot image that even in New York, a store which remains open 24/7 would attract such crowds. I had to buy a couple of small portable hard drives, and as it was just a short walk from the apartment, off I went. It was just stupefying. Hundreds of people of all ages, including a lot of single digit age kids with their “I’m trying to figure this out” parents, occupying virtually every piece of display space. And there is plenty. But the most striking thing of all, perhaps, is the building itself. Situated in the plaza in front of what used to be (or is it still?) the GM building (or is it the Nextel-Kellogg-Winston-GM building now?), it is a series of crystalline monoliths, with one big illuminated Apple logo floating in the middle. If you were in the Mother ship, coming from another world, it would seem a very logical place to set down your space craft for a visit.

So, I suppose it isn’t much of an excuse, but it’s the only one I have. The week following, which blobs shall follow, were an altogether different kind of voyage. Stay tuned, because like me, you just never know what will pop up next. We’re just sayin…David

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hotel Hell, and then some!-Updated with Pix

We were so looking forward to the weekend. David being the commencement speaker at Colorado College, Jordan meeting us in Denver to share the excitement. And things were going pretty well. We landed in Denver within five minutes of one another and had no trouble connecting. We decided not to go right to Colorado Springs but instead to stop in Denver for breakfast at our favorite little place called the Snooze Cafe. It's on 23rd and Larimer. If you get to Denver this place is a must--I'd go with the pineapple pancakes or the crisp hash browns covered with cheese and onions and go for some eggs on the side, although the steak & egg benedicts are not to be ignored. Here's the thing, go with a whole lotta people and share everything. Adam is the host and if you're more than eight he'll take a reservation.

DB,JKB and IJB at the start of the trip
We left "Snooze" feeling pretty great and made our way to the Cheyenne Mountain (Last) Resort. And I do not say this in any frivolous way. Maybe it was just a terrible hotel Karma day, but it started bad and never really got better. Here's the tale --not a fairy.

We arrived with 9 bags. We thought we would pack light and I only had one carry on, David two and Jordan a small bag. But then with all the new rules you can't carry on hair gel or shampoo or sun tan lotion or anything you really need (hair spray) and you don't want to buy or you'll have 12 of them. So you need to put at least one/make-up, medication bag through. Then, since we're going to the Grand Canyon we needed clothing for hot and cold weather. That's at least another bag or two to put through. Anyway, before you know it you are schlepping mega amounts of luggage. But we could actually carry everything without help--not comfortably but manageable.

In a favorite line from F-Troop, Jordan channels Corporal Agarn (Larry Storch) having been told by the Chief.."Turn Right at the Rock that Looks like a Bear, and Left at the Bear that Looks like a Rock."

When we checked-in we were told at the front desk not to drive around the building because there was construction. I have been in hotels with construction so I asked, quite pointedly, if it were anywhere near our room. "Oh no" the registration clerk replied. Off we went, nine bags in hand, on foot and on wheels. It was quite a distance to our room. When we arrived in 509, it was so noisy we couldn't even hear our own complaints. The construction was not only near our room, if it had been any closer it would have been in the room. So we called and asked for a room change. But before we moved everything we asked to see the room.

This room was in another building. The noise was worse, but this time from the heat and air conditioning vent. We went back to the desk. Well, they did have another room but we would have to wait for them to finish cleaning it. "And why didn't we wait in the lobby" the clerk suggested. "No, we're going to go back to 509, change into work-out attire, go to the fitness center and then we'll come back and chnage rooms."
They weren't happy about us taking up space but reluctantly agreed.

The fitness center was weird and the weights were locked up but we exercised for 45 minutes. When we returned to the room it was 5:00, we were tired and we needed to get moving for our cocktail and dinner commitment at 6:00. We called the desk and asked for a bellman to help. We were told it would take fifteen minutes. I asked if there was a luggage carrier we could use ourselves. "No, there were none", we were told.

Jordan and the Construction (see, we didn't just MAKE this up!)

We put all the suitcases together and once again shlepped them though the lobby on the way to the next building. One our way we ran into the manager and he was apologetic and sympathetic and helped us carry our bags. There was, of course, a luggage rack right outside the door to the main entrance.

We got to our room and finally unpacked. Three people in a small room need to be organized. We did choose to all stay in one room because it's more fun - but it does require more thought about what goes where. It was now 5:20 and we all needed a shower, in our new digs.

This was not to be and this was not our final destination. The shower was not working and not fixable, according to a lovely young man who was desperate to make it work and us happy. But we were no longer dealing with desk clerks, we had the manager's phone number. We called Mr York, or David (we had quickly moved to a first name basis) and gave the bad news. He said he would change us again. But now we not only needed to schlep from one room to the next we needed to pack and badly needed a shower.

He appeared at our door within a reasonable time and we moved again. We cleaned up in a short amount of time, dressed and were on our way by 6:30. We were not relaxed. We needed a drink.

Dinner was fun and David's hosts were terrific. We are looking forward to the rest of our trip and figure our accomodation situation later in the trip can't compare--they can't get worse. Forget I said that. As the poster child for glass half empty, they can always get worse. We hope they won't. We're just sayin...Iris

Monday, May 14, 2007

Today We Had An Adventure

Today was an adventure. I took my mother, my aunt and Helen, my mother’s amusing and spirited next door neighbor to Plymouth to see my wonderful children and my astounding grandbaby. As I said, it was an adventure. No one is under 60 and many over 75. This is not an issue with my Aunt and age is not an issue with my mother but paying attention has always been difficult for mom. She looks everywhere but where she’s going. So she went to the bathroom at Seth’s and she fell—which of course freaked everyone out but me. I am, unfortunately, used to it.

But it was like a sit-com from beginning to end. My Caddy—the gold caddy, lost air conditioning when I was on the road to NJ—or before, I’m just not sure. All I know is I thought I was having a flash, but I was having overheat in the car. So I took the car to our favorite place on Washington Street in Boonton and I told him to try to fix it or sell it or give it away—I had bus tickets so I didn’t care. Then I walked backed to mom’s, and Auntie and I decided we might have to have a donut for the road, so I went to the Dunker and got six wonderfully sweet pastries.

I got back to my mother’s and thought it might be a good idea to call Helen—but I didn’t have her number so I walked next door to find she was about to make a ham sandwich but would sacrifice it for the egg salad I had already prepared. And we were off. Well, not quite off. We needed to pick mom up at the Mews. We drove uptown and picked up my mother and her medication and then we were off. Well, not quite. Mom decided she needed to have the Diet Ginger Ale in her fridge and, of course, the door was locked so someone had to get the key. And then we were off.

Joyce and Zachary, Gigi, and Auntie
We drove for about two hours and when I looked in the rear view mirror I noticed that mom was draped/leaning across the back seat. “She didn’t hang herself on the seatbelt, did she?” I asked Helen, who was sitting right next to her. “Oh no she’s fine” Helen said. Thank God, I thought. I’d hate for her to have an accident and off herself on the way to see her grandchild and first great grandchild.

And on we went. We stopped at a rest area in Connecticut and decided we would eat our egg salad in the car, but go to the bathroom and get drinks at the stop. Which we did without incident. And then we were on out way again. Well not quite. Helen got gum on her shoe so she spent the next fifteen minutes trying to remove it. And then we were on out way.

When we got to Joyce and Seth’s we couldn’t have been happier. They were so excited to see mom and auntie, and they were thrilled that we had made the trip. They are incredibly wonderful children or remarkable actors. So we arrived before two, and then at four mom had to go to the bathroom. And instead of calling me to help her—it was not handicapped accessible, she decided to get up, and she fell. Who knows how. First she thought it was her neck then she was black and blue on her shoulder—do I need to go on? It was horrible for the kids and additionally horrible for the traveling party.

Your Humble Correspondent Getting Quality Time with Zach
We left before dark because I didn’t want her to negotiate in and out of the car in the dark. We got back to the hotel and I put her to bed—it was after eight. Her bedtime. And I told her not to get out of bed and I left Auntie to babysit while I worked out my anxiety on the treadmill. But I couldn’t face having to deal with all of it right after my exercise so I went to Bertucci’s, right next door, and had a soda, listened to great old Italian music like “Come Onna My House”, a Rosemary Clooney favorite, and watched a Red Sox game. I hate baseball but it was preferable to going back to my room and listening to the TV at a million decibels. What can I say?

Tomorrow we’re heading home. Another adventure. Thank God Auntie is with me so we can laugh about the adventure. And thank God this is the last trip we will need to make. Seth decided he would bring my Zachary to see his great grandma, or as she calls herself, Gigi, next time. I am happy we came, because seeing my kids is fabulous, and I am happy my mom saw the baby, and I am happiest that the adventure is almost over. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Who Invented Mother's Day?

Who invented Mother’s Day? Was it the card people or the restaurants? I feel sure it has to have been someone who makes a great deal of money because really, there is no other reason to have a separate day to celebrate being a mother. Mother’s should be celebrated everyday – or maybe I should be more specific.

Let’s be honest. It is incredibly easy to become a mother. It takes no intellect -- hardly any thinking at all. You and whomever, simply decide that having a baby is something you want to do and so you have a good time and if you’re lucky nine months later you have a baby. Having the baby automatically makes you a mother. Or sometimes, you don’t decide that it’s something you want and it just happens. That might be OK or maybe not. Look around and you can see too many cases of “it just happened”. Here’s where the, “what kind of a mother are you”, becomes an important part of the celebration picture and here’s where me and Mother’s Day part company.

I think it would be fine to celebrate “Good Mother’s Day”, or “Mother is Really Trying to Do Her Best Day” or even “Mother’s Going to Get There Sooner or Later Day”, because that implies that there is a person who wants to take an active role in their child’s life. This is not always the case. In fact, what I see today (not with my kids) it is more likely that it is not. I don’t say this easily or happily. But what I see far too often is that the act of reproducing becomes the last real involvement too many young women have with their children.

For obvious reasons, women are forced to make choices between their family and their careers. For most of us we simply can’t work a full time job and have time to be the primary parent in our child’s life. So someone else becomes the primary parent and it’s not usually dad—it’s a day care center provider, a babysitter, or a young woman from some foreign country that wants to come to the United States on a temporary or permanent basis. The child, for which this person cares, is not usually the end all and be all of their life. The child is often a means to an end. And I know, it’s not an easy predicament in which to be, but where is it written that everyone has an obligation to reproduce. They don’t. People can have sex without a consequence. Am I being too cynical? Probably. What else is new?

I was lucky because when my kids were little I was there for them. I could be. I didn’t need to make a choice right away. But then when Seth was three I went back to work and that took me away from home far too much. Eventually, when I went home, there was no longer a place for me—so I had to find a new place and again, it left me without my child for too much of his life and mine. I was luckier with Jordan because when she was little my work was close by and never took up too much time. I was a University Professor. I did have help but they took care of me rather than her – I took care of her. I have never regretted having my children because I really wanted them. Sure, part of it was the entertainment factor but I desperately wanted to be with them. I wanted to know them. I wanted to watch them grow and develop as people. And my kids, happily have the luxury of not having to be apart from Zachary because he can be with them at work or play. But it’s not even about having to go to work and leaving the baby somewhere else with a stranger or a relative. People have to work. They do the best they can. But that’s not who I’m talking about. What I see now far too frequently, and I hardly know them —but I know their helpers --- is far different. I hear the disturbing conversations and they have kids because it’s the thing to do—it’s what’s expected of them. They have no real interest in the children -- just in the competition. Is their kid smarter, cuter, better dressed than what’s “their name” in the play group—supervised by a care giver. Does the kid have a better grasp of baby Einstein tapes than their neighbor’s kids? It’s all about being and having the best. And this is all before the child goes to pre-school. It doesn’t have to do with love or making a better world. It’s all about them. Should they be celebrated?

For me Mother’s day is a reminder that I wasn’t the kind of mother I wanted to be and my mother wasn’t the kind of mother I wanted her to be. For me, Mother’s Day is a chore, always pretty painful—like I can’t even go out for lunch at the diner without waiting in line for hours. My grandmother used to say, “every day is Mother’s Day” and so you don’t need to send a card or buy a present to make a point. Of course that’s what I think she said, because her English wasn’t so great, but I’m with her. Everyday should be a celebration of being a caring, concerned, involved, mother. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Who Wants a Job?

A job by any other name is still a job—maybe. David has never had a job. He has had a million assignments but he’s never gone to work at the same place every day for a certain number of hours. I have had a few jobs, but mostly they were really wonderful so I didn’t think of them as jobs, in the traditional sense. When I think back, I can’t remember a time when I was miserable at work—except at Snelling and Snelling the employment agency, but I was young and they hated me because I thought you should place people in positions where they would be happy. Happy schmappy, an employment agency declares – they just want to make placements. As a matter of fact, when they fired me and forced me to leave within the hour, they said that I should think about being a social worker. I don't remember why I had to go so quickly but I think they were afraid I would take my files. Now what would I do with 60 undesireable unfilled positions?

I was thinking about this today because my new job is yet again, not too traditional – but very important because the company has a non-invasive tool that will help with the early detection of breast cancer. Having had only one job that was not on a political campaign, working as a consultant to other people, or being a Presidential appointee, I am not sure what it’s like to report to a place where you don’t want to be because you need to survive.

The one job I had was at USA Networks and I started at the top rather than working my way up the corporate ladder.
It was a bit disconcerting to pick up and leave my job and my home on Friday and start work on Monday. David and Jordan didn’t come right away so I lived alone at our apartment in New York while I was getting adjusted to my new world. The adjustment was not easy. For the first two days I sat at a desk on the 20th floor near some senior people but not the people who worked for me. I was miserable. I had to decide if I wanted to office with the humma humma’s, and be perceived as incredibly important or or with my staff and actually get something accomplished. I opted for the latter.

Having come from a place where I successfully managed a staff of 100, but made decisions that affected thousands, I was pretty comfortable with the staff of about 20. They were amazing energetic young people—the eldest of whom was 32, I was 50. But what I learned too quickly, was that the politics at a TV network are far more complicated than the politics in a campaign or government. For example, as the senior VP for communications my boss expected me to position her and the network in a certain way. But in order to do this I had to think about the kind of programming we were doing – so the head of programming hated me because I told my boss the truth about some of the things we were doing. In politics the stakes are very big in terms of power. In TV the stakes are all about the money – I am better at power than money. However I also had to choose between managing up or managing my staff. The people who manage up in TV—that means they don’t care about how they treat their staff, they care only about kissing up to their supervisors. Again, I choose to manage and defend my staff and their decisions --that put me into a difficult place with some colleagues. I am not sure I ever really got those politics but I think I did a great job and fulfilled the expectations of my boss and myself. It was a terrific experience but I never want to do that again.

Since I have had a somewhat eclectic career, people often ask me about my favorite job. Hard to decide. If the job was one in which I could learn something and laugh a lot, it rated very high. I loved being the Director of the International Visitor Program at the State Department. Cultural Exchange is one of the most underestimated but important things the US Government does. And I traveled all over the world and was pretty much unsupervised so that was great. Being Chief of Staff at USIA was also amazing because I worked with Joe Duffey-- a great visionary-- got to make some real changes for women in Government, my travel was at a senior Diplomatic (four star general rank) and I spent a considerable amount of time at the White House dealing with all kinds international issues. I loved being on the road with Congressman Udall during his Presidential campaign and having my own business did have it’s benefits—like doing the world premiere of the film Gandhi and spending weeks and weeks in India with Richard Attenborough. And there were many more because I did change ‘jobs’ about every four years. In other words, I can’t decide what was my favorite way to spend my day. Well, that’s not totally true. My favorite way to spend my day was with my kids. Unfortunately, when I was young and paying my dues I had to spend too much time away from Seth. It was easier with Jordan because I was established and no longer had to prove myself professionally – and I had David, no small thing. But being with them was easily the greatest work I ever did. How fortunate I have been to have hardly ever spent any time doing something that didn’t make a difference. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An Unfiltered Newton

There was a white tie State dinner at the White House last night. (I guess they wanted clothing to match décor). Maybe you heard that the Queen is in town and they were going to toast one another in the East Room. When I saw the menu I noticed that the wine accompanying the first course— a pea soup with lavender (we eat tuna with cream cheese so who can explain taste) and a fancy name—was an unfiltered Newton Chardonnay. This brought to mind a number of things. First is my mother’s split pea soup.

When my mother or my Aunts made soup—other than chicken, the recipe was pretty much the same but the ingredients changed. Exactly what do I mean by that? Well, first you sauté some onions, but never with butter and usually dry. You do this for two reasons, they taste good and they smell great. This was particularly important when they lived in an apartment in Miami because all the yenta’s who lived nearby thought that the good smells were an indication of excellent cooking skills. Actually it just meant they discovered the secret to making the hallway smell great.

Anyway, once the onions are sautéed you need to add water or chicken stock – we hardly ever used beef stock because, while they did cook boiled beef, they never saved the water after they boiled the beef into oblivion—it was not used for stock. Why bother when it could if added tomatoes, cabbage, sugar, salt and pepper it would become a cabbage soup. However, if you were not using beef, once the water came to a boil you added chicken and probably a dried vegetable or bean. The you cooked it for two or three hours—until the meat/chicken was unidentifiable and the dried bean or vegetable was mushed enough to becomes part of the liquid. However, you didn’t want the soup to be too thin so you added potato, rice or thin noodles to thicken it up. And at some point (early in the process) you might want to add celery, carrots, parsnips, dill, and absolutely enough salt (to taste) and pepper—preferably white pepper. Are you confused? So was I my whole life—but it’s how I learned to cook and now I am never afraid to take a chance on anything – cooking or life.

Back to bringing things to mind. There I was watching C-Span prepared to guffaw at the Queen’s outfit and the President’s toast. Did anyone ever tell him that toasting with water is bad luck. It’s the last thing he needs. He really ought to consider tea, juice, or cola. Well, the Queen did not disappoint me. I can’t get over the constant element of dowdy. I often think it must be intentional because she has advisors who probably give her some fashion direction which she chooses not to take. Do you think she’s repressing her sexuality because she doesn’t want to drive His Royal Highness mad. Who knows? However, I must admit that I do love the crown and have been looking for one just like it for most of my life. A tiara just won’t do when you’re in the market for a crown. Maybe I’ll try Claire’s – it’s inexpensive and, of course, totally tacky.

Moving back to the first course. I don’t know much about unfiltered Newton Chardonnay except what I read it is “Bold and concentrated, with layers of ripe fig, pear and melon that unfold on the palate. Holds onto the opulent flavors and finishes with a long, persistent aftertaste” and it is also the favorite wine of my friends Jane and Jerry. On the other hand, I do know something about the Newton’s – a truly wonderful and most interesting family. Grandpa Newton (who also founded then sold the Sterling Vineyards) was born in England and came to the US as a young man where he met, married, and had two children. The daughter, Gail (a person of marvelous wit and great humor) stayed in the US, married and had a child, while the son, Nigel (a person of note and good taste, and additionally he publishes "Harry Potter”), chose to go to college in England. Where he met, married and had three children.

One of those children, William lived with us for about three months while he interned for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2004. And what a delight it was to have him here. Jordan had just left for school and we were seriously feeling her absence when my pal Eric called and asked if we knew anyone who had some room for this young British lad. “Well I do”, I said without hesitating. And the next day Will, clearly unfiltered, smart, well mannered, absolutely adorable, and over six feet tall, (I had to stand on a chair to hug him goodbye around his shoulders, I would hug his knees), appeared at our door. We had fabulous time with him and I believe, despite my over-mothering, so did he.

So last night, my two worlds collided at a State dinner during the first course. It was quite remarkable and the only thing that I thought would have made good sense but was missing -- my invitation of course. We’re just sayin...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Zat Frannnnsch Guy Ova Zere

Leave it to the French to describe a 53-47 election as a Landslide. I suppose it could be considered a decisive victory, but Landslide? Not sure. You have to remember, and I’m sure you don’t, that when Giscard won in 1974, he beat Mitterand by something less than a sneeze. I believe in the final runoff he had something like 50.81%. That means that in defeat, Mitterand nearly nailed it himself. When people talk about a big win as 53-47, I have to remind them that if you line up ten people in a room, like you might at a Student Council meeting, it would be impossible to describe that victory as anything other than 5:5.. Even twenty people, it would be 10:10. See what I mean? For all the talk about a big victory, you really have to put a LOT of people at the table to show what could be construed as a victory.You need a real crowd.

In fact, I’m always amazed that the elections are so close. You end up, most of the time, with fiftysomething to forty something, and its rare indeed when its actually as much as a 3:2 ratio. And in the Student Council model, you end up with a nearly even house. In the most recent US elections, it goes without saying that its nearly a toss up. How does that happen? Are we really so easily divisible into two groups, and if we are, how is it that those groups are nearly equal in size. The curious thing is, that given how many jerks are in politics, we don’t have more 70-30 or 66-34 counts.

In High school, I ran for Student Body President, and while I cannot imagine they did it now, at the time, the ‘authorities’ deicded only to announce who won. They didn’t announce the vote. Freaked me out. Still does. I mean, out of 1500 votes, did I really only get 85, and they were trying to shield me from such ignominious public humiliation? I don’t’ recall the administration of Olympus High being quite so humane. They ran a good school, and now, I suppose, given how ‘bad news’ is kept from most children, they’d definitely want to shield the poor child from the vicious truth.

David B (on left, in role as 2nd Vice Pres.)
The truth is rarely a bad thing, however. And shielding a youngster from truth which might be considered grim, while it might be a very New Millenium thing to do, wouldn’t really protect the child, and might even make growing up a more unseemly experience, since their view on reality would be tainted by adult intervention. I think we probably shield kids from too many things already, and reward them for things which aren’t worthy. Everyone gets a medal for just showing up. What does THAT do for excellence. In the mind of the winner (and there should BE a winner) they’ll perhaps know. But excellence should be rewarded, and now it seems watered down with ‘you all did so good, just by being here, you all get a commendation.’ In Vietnam, I remember a picture of some sergeant giving an award to a REMF guy ( loosely translated as “Rear Echelon M___ F____) and explained it with the statement that “.. anyone who stays here a year SHOULD get an award.” Maybe so , but it isn’t lost on the people who really do deserve recognition. At Olympus High, we had a rule that the loser of the Presidential final would become 2nd Vice President (should the President and Vice President become unable to fulfill their duties…. i.e. should they get ripped at the Winter Formal, and fall on the ice in the parking lot) the 2nd Vice Pres. would take over. The major thing I tried to do my Senior year was to pass an amendment (unsuccessful, in the end) to abolish the position of 2nd Vice President. I tried using the “who wants a Presidential reject” argument. Didn’t fly. So, as far as I know, they still have a 2nd Vice President at Olympus, and he or she is waiting for the higher highers to slip and fall on the ice. In France, now it looks like Segolene Royal, the woman candidate who proved that women candidates don’t’ automatically get the feminine vote, can go back to baking cookies (biscuits!) and telling people that they “wouldn’t ask that question if I were a man!” Bravo to her for having run, but too bad she was so disorganized not to have made a better run at it. Sarkozy, the winner, is the sun of Hungarian refugees. It’s almost like the 1700s. Though instead of a royal marriage across country lines (Marie Antoinette/Austria w/ the Dauphin/France) , the people actually got to choose him. Maybe Segolene could become the 2nd Vice President. She’d have plenty to do in reorganizing French election laws.

Meanwhile, that landslide of 5 people over there, who defeated the 5 people over there, is in the rccord books. See you at the Polls. We’re just sayin… David