Friday, September 28, 2007

Three Reasons to be Grateful

Today I had more than three reasons to be grateful for my children and they all manifested themselves in the form of other children. But first a pause in that thinking so I can talk about another kind of pause, the Dubroff (my mother’s family) “pause”. I am going to share this story because my mother had a another pause. It was not a stroke or a TIA so we are referring to it (in good Dubroff form), as a pause. Until my cousin Michael had a stroke, no one in the Dubroff clan ever had a heart attack or any ailment (except cancer) that was given a name. Instead, my aunts appeased themselves by calling the interruption of good health “a pause” . In my first novel, “Schlepper”, which I may have mentioned was a publishing disaster, there was a story that explains their thinking. It begins with my aunt relaying a tale to me or my other self “Sadie” the novels main character about my Uncle Teddy, but Jack in real life.

“Well, I went out to dinner last night with your mother, Uncle Milton, Aunt Sara, Aunt Harriet, Uncle Teddy. We had a very nice time. The food was hot—you know how it’s never hot. Well, it was hot. So when we finished eating, your mother said, ‘Where’s Teddy?’ And we looked around and then Milton saw Teddy on the floor. So your mother said, ‘Teddy, what are you doing? Cleaning the floor? They pay people to do that.’ And Teddy didn't answer, so your mother said, ‘Teddy, get up!’ Well, he didn't and then we thought maybe he had fainted or God forbid was dead. So Aunt Harriet started to scream, ‘Get a doctor! Call the police! Get an ambulance!’ And we pulled Teddy up off the floor, and I said, ‘Teddy. Don’t go to sleep, for God’s sake don't die Teddy, not here—not at the Hunan One!’ Milton kept putting water on Teddy’s face and his eyes kept rolling back in his head and then the rescue workers came.” She took a quick breath and continued. “They did a wonderful job and then Teddy threw up all over Hunan One. I guess we can't go back there. Anyway, they took him to the hospital in an ambulance with the sirens and lights and all. And Doctor Hammerman was there and Teddy felt better when he saw Doctor Hammerman. Teddy didn't have a heart attack.”
"Well, Aunt Frieda, if he didn’t have a heart attack, what did he have?” She asked with as much calm as she could muster.
"He had a pause.” There was a breath that was almost a sigh. “And maybe he’s a candidate for a pacemaker.”
A pause? Why am I not surprised? My whole life they tried to make things easy for the kids to digest. Bubbe didn’t die, she was in Florida. Uncle Herbie didn’t have Parkinson’s, he was just a nervous wreck. It was not unusual for them to make up a story. They didn’t want anything to be or even sound or as horrible as it was. So, of course, Uncle Teddy had… ‘A pause’.

I have books available if you’re dying to fill in 300 other stories but that’s another blob. Now, in keeping with the theme of making things easy for our children I will return to the topic of being grateful. There are some things I don’t usually do and one of them is to have a manicure and pedicure. I am not crazy about feet so I am always reluctant to impose my feet on other people, but I did it today. The place I go is an itty bitty little shop with five massage chairs, four manicure tables and 6 women who staff the place. Two of the women are Korean, two are Chinese, one is from Viet Nam and there is one young woman from Panama. As my friend Laura says, it doesn’t matter if they don’t speak English -- what they are saying to one another.
Unless you go in the morning when they open, it is always busy bordering on chaotic. All of them are friendly, pleasant and respectful. When I go (all two times) the woman who I make the appointments with is Young. She is Korean, married and has two children in college, and she is an artist. When I went the first time, we were the only ones in the shop and she shared some of her art work with me. It is quite beautiful.

So there I was having my manicure and a young woman about sixteen comes flying through the door. She looks at Heidi from Panama, who is working with a client and yells, “When are you going to be done with her?” The shop is 10 feet by 12 feet so there is really no need to yell. “I will be quite a while”, Heidi says, clearly not taking any guff from this pisher. “Shit”, she grumbles, “I guess I’ll have to get stuck with someone else.”
No, I thought, you can pick your spoiled ass up and leave. But I didn’t want a scene so I merely thought, ‘thank God I have a well mannered daughter. ‘ Then, not fifteen minutes later, I was walking up 54th street and there was a little boy (about 6) getting out of his limo and, when the driver said goodbye, he merely said “yeah” slammed the door and walked away. Obviously, I don’t know if this is a daily ride or just an occasional trip but whichever, I don’t believe there is ever an excuse to be dismissive or rude. So again, I thought, I am so grateful that my son never behaved that way – or I would have smacked him upside the head. Then as I walked on I noticed this little girl, not more than three, holding her cell phone in one hand, gesturing with the other and walking with her nanny, who was holding on to the back of her sweater. As I got closer I heard her conversation with the person on the phone, her mother. And she was screaming about not going to some party or event which had been promised to her. I mean the kid was shrieking and every so often would say, “Mommy, I hate you, you’re a liar, I wish you were dead.” On the top of her lungs. I tried to get a picture but I’m not David so I couldn’t find the camera setting on the phone and they were walking briskly. The performance was truly breathtaking.

While it is true that in New York there are a great many entitled children, I just can’t imagine, One: who gave birth to these brats and Two: how do the parents live with them and maybe Three: do the parents behave in the same way? Anyway, my interaction with all was temporary and they are not within my realm of caring but you have to think, surely there will be consequences for absence of good behavior for their lack of civility. Consequences not only for their parents but for the people with whom they will come in contact during their careers and personal lives. I think it may be necessary for all of us to insist that these people, old or young just take a pause. We’re just sayin...Iris

But Look Who's Running for VEEP

Who’s running for Vice President? Most people are assuming that the Democratic Presidential candidate will be Clinton, Obama, Edwards or maybe Kucinich.... OK maybe not Kucinich but he is the only one who appears to be a real person, and wouldn’t reality be nice for a change? But the more interesting question is “who’s looking for the second spot and how are they conducting their campaign.” By the way, it’s more fun to run for Veep than for President because you simply don’t have to measure up in the same way.

There are two ways to run for Vice President. The first is to endorse a candidate and become a surrogate or spokesperson. We can assume Ed Rendell the Governor of Pa. is hoping to be selected as Hillary’s running mate. He has been an outspoken supporter. And seems to be the person that they look to for response to any Hillary attacks. The other way is not to endorse (duh) but rather to be available to everyone. I think Wes Clark best fits this description. He has the military credential and he has the gumption to defend his credentials. Unlike John Kerry, Wes won’t let the right attack him for being a hero and reduce him to being a whiny war protestor. There are other people who are also vying for this coveted slot – it’s a nice job without too much responsibility and lots of perks. Vilsak is running, Bayh, may be a contender, and who knows, Corzine is an attractive guy—except that he speeds and has some girlfriend issues—but he’s not married so those will go away.

Of course there is a third way to campaign. That is to run for President and hope that you don’t antagonize whoever becomes the nominee enough that they won’t consider you. So if you take a look at the field you can see the possibilities. Hillary and Biden is nice. Of course, he is really pompous and doesn’t want to hear anyone’s voice but his own. But if you send him all the way to the Old Executive Office building that’s not a problem. It is true that Delaware has virtually no delegates, but the guy is, at the very least, an internationalist. And he’s had a hair transplant so while he loses the balding crowd he gains the respect of other men yearning to cover up.

How about Kucinich and Hillary. He’s not much taller than she so he won’t be a threat in places where tall is a problem. He’s smart and funny and while she’s smart he could make up for her lack of public humor. Or how about Hillary and Edwards. I’m not sure if Edwards has stepped over the cordial line with her—we know Obama has. But there’s always Obama and Edwards. Someone from the South and someone from the Midwest. OK, Edwards didn’t deliver his own state last time, but then the public didn’t know and adore Mrs. Edwards. Let’s look at more possibilities. How about Obama and Richardson. Maybe that’s too much ethnicity for one ticket but Edwards and Richardson or Clinton and Richardson might work. Do you think it’s possible that anyone would consider Kucinich, the real voice of the Democratic party. Probably not. Too bad.

Who am I missing? Dodd and Gravel. Both reasonable people. Dodd, a Senator from Connecticut who, when he announced said that he didn’t think anyone else in the race would do as good a job as he; and Gravel, who helped to end the draft during the Viet Nam war and was a Senator from Alaska. Gravel is probably too liberal for any of the candidates, and he, like Kucinich, talks too much truth. Dodd is a terrific person, well liked and respected and he could certainly run with Clinton, Richardson, Obama, or Kucinich. I think combining him with Edwards or Biden would be a mistake because they have resumés that look much alike and to be perfectly honest, it’s just too white bread. Whew! I have exhausted my thinking. There are simply too many attractive, yet pithy combinations for any ticket. Let’s talk about something else.

How about those Republican’s. Who’s running for VP on that ticket. I think Huckabee is a likely choice for Guiliani or McCain or maybe even Romney. He’s a good ole boy who, even though I don’t agree with anything he says, at least has a sense of humor. And what happened to Fred Thompson. Wasn’t he supposed to have a dramatic impact on the race. We know he won’t be the Vice President because his house in Mclean is nicer than the official Vice Presidential residence, so why would he be that inconvenienced and move. Besides, what would all of his “Law and Order” fans (I being one) do without him. But Newt says he’ll come into the race if he can raise 30 million dollars – if he can’t then I would be surprised. He can do it just from dollar donations from people who believed in “The Contract for America”. But here’s the thing, Guiliani and Newt have each been married three times. They didn’t have nice divorces and that has to have some impact. Guiliani and Romney have changed their minds about every position they ever took—and they were both elected from liberal states because of their liberal positions. McCain is simply too old and inflexible.... and I think he’s not attractive to reasonable Republicans who think the war and this President are way out of step. Brownback, Paul, and Tancredo are terminal jerks. So who else can they turn to? Maybe Hagel is the likely choice.

But what difference does it make. None of the candidates considered serious, Republican or Democrat, have anything courageous or fresh to offer. I think we have come to a point where if they simply said “Blah blah blah blah blah”, it would be far more interesting than what they’re offering. We’re just sayin....Iris

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

All Zos Frennnnch Guys...

In my fourth and last day of this quick trip to France, I keep seeing, hearing, noticing things which are very much “of France” and not, shall we say, “of New Hampshire” or “of Idaho.” This doesn’t always mean they are better, or necessarily worse; just a bit different in the way they exist, and how they are interpreted. Let’s start with hotels. Well, actually we should start with Money/Economy. The dollar is sucking major canal water these days. Those of us who remember the early days of the Euro, that toy currency which worked all over the place, was valued at about 85 cents on my first “no more Lire/Franc/Mark visit.” It actually seemed about right. The terrible thing which happened in all of Europe after the change over seemed like some kind of plot by the forces of darkness and evil in Brussels (and now, with the Euro Parliament, in Strasbourg.) Overnight, as the French went from Francs with a buying power of 20 cents or so, the jump to the Euro (5 to one, roughly speaking) was accompanied by enormous ACTUAL price increases. Something which had been the equivalent of a buck was now more than two. All the merchants seem to have decided to do the same thing at the same time … raise prices drastically, taking advantage of the adjustment time, and make a killing. The issue for the locals here remains the fact that things never went back to the pre-changeover valuations. So in many ways, the cost of living the same life you’d gotten used to, and could afford, was double. There were some rumblings but I was frankly astonished that not a single European Capitol Legislative body was burned to the ground. Had the peasants revolted, stormed the National Assemblies, they surely would have had my support. Meanwhile the folks in Brussels keep thinking up things like “lets make sure Italian farmers in Piemonte, who have made cheese XX for a hundred years, are only allowed to produce a third of that. We have to protect the Norwegian farmers don’t we?” Bad decisions made for bad reasons. Over the last few years as one country after another has voted against the European constitution, the rumblings were a bit more apparent. Now, of course with the US struggling to maintain its leadership role (oops, that was six years ago, wasn’t it!) and the economy over extended, the strength of the dollar has plummeted. Sure, in some places, Cambodia, Honduras, you can probably do all right. But if you are paying $1.40 for a Euro these days, and realize that the only thing you can buy with it is a mini pack of condoms and an espresso coffee while standing at the bar (its 3+ Euros if you sit down), the shock and awe of the inability to live well is startling. Im currently in my “modest” $400/night hotel in the 7th, nice enough I suppose. Sure, a little more velveteen on the chairs than at the Comfort Inn in Portsmouth, New Hampshire two weeks ago… but about 1/3 the size, only 11 crappy t.v. channels (not that I care, but it’s kind of a barometer) and an internet line reminiscent of Compuserve Dial up in the 1980s.

less than half of the price at Costco

I will say this, you can buy drugs cheaply. The two drugs I am stated to be intimately involved with for the rest of my life are less than half of what Costco (the cheapest we’ve found) charges, so Im buying six months worth, in hopes that between my cholestorol and my prostate, I have made a great bargain. It isn’t quite the administration telling us we can’t reImport from Canada, but it kind of feels like it.

Apparently I’m not the only one annoyed by the state of things. Today, in all the big cities in France, the cab drivers went on strike in the middle of the day for several hours. I went to Strasbourg to photograph Michel Rocard,

A digi of what the 4x5 should look like

the former Prime Minister under Mitterrand, a gent who I took pictures of 30 years ago, and wanted to follow up on. When I got out of the station in Strasbourg (give them credit for the TGV trains: they haul ass, and are really on time. Not Amtrak time, real time) I hopped a tram towards the European Parliament offices on the edge of town. There must have been two hundred taxis and drivers huddled around. If you had to be somewhere today in a cab, you chose the wrong day to try and be somewhere different than where you are.

Me, trying to see what the light looks like..

The trams (good bargain) run smoothly, quietly. The only time it got a bit rough was when three professional drunks, dragging their worldly items with them, had one of those “I love you , I hate you” conversations. That got my attention all right., even though they didn’t ask for money nor wine.

But I forgot, I think I’m telling you things to do and not do: In no particular order…

1) buy a public phone card for 20euros as soon as you hit the ground. They make calling the states a reasonable proposition, and you can chat in town as much as you want. I also bought a SIM (electronic) card for my old European system Samsung cell fone (2000, Sydney Olympics – we had to buy them!) from a local TABAC dealer: They are one of those French fixture things…as in, nearly every corner has one: You can buy a beer, a cigar, a paper (in some) and cards and recharge cards for a mobile fone. Sounds like a good idea, right?

1a) Don’t smoke the cigar you’ve been carrying around for two months INSIDE that public phone booth. Non, the French could careless, but for those few of us who use the public facilities, the smoke backdraft is quite heavy duty.

A no-no: Backdraft in the Fone booth..
2) If you take medicine in amounts that would choke a racehorse, take an RX from your doctor (in Italy you can just by them, in France you need an Rx). You, too may be the lucky winner of affordable medicine.

3) Don’t be afraid to try the Specialité of the day: today it was, in a small bistro in downtown Strasbourg, a version of Choucroute:

Appetizer plate, Eggs and Mayonaisse.

Give full credit for made In-House mayo, though the eggs aren’t deviled (NOTHING like the ones Joyce grew up with in Mass., trust me on that one). The smoked meat did briefly make me wonder if it was smoked, indeed, or perhaps just strapped to the manifold of a TGV train for three hours. The mound of kraut? NO ONE needs that much sauer kraut in a sitting.

The red wine: Never turn it down. Even the house Plonk is quite suitable.

Somehow they manage to serve 4 tables and bring the check

Unless you pass by a great little (patisserie) pastry shop, desserts can be those pre-frozen things which were eaten by PiltDown man 70000 years ago.

Just because they are covered in flavor crystals doesn’t mean you should say yes. Do say YES to Rucola salad at any pizzeria, even in France. Don’t ask why, they just seem to know what they ‘re doing.

4) Make sure the bathroom is not given onto an outside window. If you have to reload your 4x5 holders, there isn’t enough duct tape in the world to black those windows out. Just go for the interiour bath room. Your Tri-x sheets will thank you for it.

5) If you have a meeting with someone who was once in politics or business, but are somehow unsure as to which title to use, always use “Monsieur (or Madame..) le President”, for as an AFP pal once confided, even if the guy was only the President of his bowling club, he WAS the President.

I was the President of the Jury for the Lagardere Prize on Monday of this week, and so henceforth, I would appreciate if you lose the David, Dave or Snookums, and just call me by my rightful appellation: Mister President.

6) If you live anywhere near a language school, or have the Rosetta Stone cd program, do practice your French for a few weeks before coming. It makes a world of difference in how people treat you and react to you. Stumble if you will, but that is the one area, for sure, where the French, in cultural appreciation, will cut you a major break.
6a) Don’t use the Tu form of You with people you haven’t either raised or slept with (Ill admit that broadens the talent pool.) There is something old fashioned about using Vous, and folks don’t always get the joke of American informality. Once, years ago, I called the President’s offce and asked his secretary “comment vas-tu, Madame?” Claire Senard, whose fone I was using, had to be picked up off the floor. She had probably never heard anything so gauche in her life. Moi? Well it seemed natural, but you do have to watch these little things.

On my first trip ‘en famille’ to Europe in 1960, tender age of 13, we met up with a former Salt Laker, Selden Wells, who in addition to having a super cool name, had left the states in the early 50s and settled on the Left Bank. He became very French without losing his kind mountain west roots. He showed us the town like few people could, managing with his perfect French skills to open all kinds of doors for us. It was wonderful. I kind of have a vague memory of mom telling me Selden died twenty years ago , or so, and as I sat in a bar in Odeon, yesterday having a coffee,

"a deca' creme..."
and getting ready to visit the Senat to photograph Pierre Mauroy, the former Prime Minister, a guy came in and stood next to me. He was in his 50s, which is kind of how I remember Selden, though, born, in 1922, he must have been not even forty yet. This guy, at 11:30, ordered a draft beer, looked lovingly at it for a minute, then slowly polished it off in about a five elegant gulps. Paid, gave one of those “Ok, now I’m ready to get through the middle of the day!” sighs, and off he went. He kind of reminded me of Selden, and made me realize how much, now that I’m a grown up, I would have loved meeting him this trip in Paris, hitting an old favorite bistro for a great little dinner, see a gallery or museum show I otherwise wouldn’t have known about, and just sit in the Champs de Mars, watching kids take pictures of the Tower, their necks craned at full tilt. It’s a pity we can’t always have the people we’d like to have, when we’d be able to appreciate their company. I suppose we need to appreciate it when it’s given to us, because as we all speed through here on our own tickets, you don’t always get to choose who’ll be around for that beer and who won’t.

We’re just sayin… David

Monday, September 24, 2007

Another Note to the "People of Western Europe"

I flew to Paris yesterday (Sunday). I am the President of the jury which determines which young photographer will receive a “bourse” – a grant – of 15000 Euros..which while it may have been only about $12000 just a few years ago, is now worth some $22000. (This could be an accidental plug for ‘buy and hold’ investing, as long as the investment in question is one that challenges the Dollar.) It is quite something for a young photographer to get a grant like this. There are a few places around the world (the Gene Smith, and Getty grants in New York, and others) where a large chunk can give someone a headstart on a project which they otherwise would be challenged to finance. In many ways, you can – once you have spent a ton of money of digital cameras, back up gear, laptops and hard drives—operate rather cheaply. You keep re-using your memory cards as you back up your work on small, portable hard drives, and the $20-30 per roll for film, processing, contact sheets, etc, which formerly made the cost of shooting hover around a dollar a shot, plunges significantly.

With a handful of Memory cards, whose price keeps falling as quality/speed keep advancing, you can produce a LOT of work which has a fairly low sustenance cost. Of course the $1500-4500 per camera, the laptop, the drives, all amount to a good chunk of money just to get out of the gate. And such economics do, I believe, change the way younger photographers will look at the world, and how they will attempt to capture that world in pictures. The high school/college kids just now picking up a camera may very well have never actually held a roll of film in their life. They don't really know what a "roll of film" is. We are producing, for the first time since the invention of photography a hundred and sixty something years ago, a generation of photographers who not only have no idea what the chemical/physical processes are in the darkroom, but whose idea of a “negative” really means nothing. There is no ‘Negative’ in the digital camera. There is only the little picture on the back of the camera’s screen, which more or less confirms to you right away that you screwed up.. or not. But the alchemy which made photography that something special all these years, has been, like so many things, pedestrianized with the digital revolution, and made available (horrors!) to the masses. What of course hasn’t’ changed is the way which individual photographers take the camera, and put themselves at the moment of key interest, in front of a subject, camera at the ready, and finger ready to pop the button. It’s the ‘getting to that place’ bit which makes photographers different from most other folks. It’s knowing what might make a good picture, where you have to talk your way into, who you have to deal with, and with all that done, and carried out, still having a clue as to just when the Moment of moments will arrive.

How do you sleep with this guy riding by your bed all night? Really!

Everything we do in this day and age is so aligned in the ways of modernity. All you have to do is turn on the TV in your $450 French hotel room: there are a total of about 11 stations – much above the long standing 3 of the years as late as the 1970s - though a rounding error on a modern US Cable system. The three main French broadcast channels (1, 2,and yes, 3), Canal Plus ( 4, basically, a kind of lousy version of HBO and which my hotel doesn’t get), and a smattering of Spanish, Italian, MSNBC(world), and CNN(International), fill out the mix. The French are still strong with those long winded talk shows, not of the Jerry Springer, or even Jay Leno variety, but something more akin to Arthur Godfrey: half a dozen blowhards sitting around a table, yammering about things which you have to really care about in order to stay tuned. Mind you, I’m not against “conversation” or even the French definition thereof, but I still find that as late night fare, these shows don’t match up with Nightline, or even TCM 1940s movies. And the news shows have almost no News. It’s all done like Headline news, which of course means that if you leave the set on for more than a half hour, you will hear repetitively, the news of Marcelle Marceau’s passing, the return of Fujimori to Peru, and the lack of a Sony presence at the Tokyo Game show. You have to wonder what is the point of all this technology, sometimes.

One of the sanities I carry with me is the very personalized – as most are – iTunes selection which graces my laptop. I was getting squeezed for space – my 60 gig drive, between music, media, and pictures was filling up. You know you’re pushing it when you have to zap to the trash some long favored file just to bring a new one on board. So, having just left the comfort of Applecare, the Apple 3 year insurance policy, I sent my aluminum beauty off to MacSales in Illinois for two days of upgrading. It was like sending your laptop to a Day Spa in Palm Springs: it came back with a dual layer DVD burner (8 gigs instead of 4), more memory, and most importantly a 160 gig drive. So for a while, I can add an Eisenhower speech or Al Bowly tune, and not have to erase something just to make space.

Most of you who care (are you both listening?) know of my fondness for the people, places, and meaning of D-Day. Almost by accident I went with a couple of pals to the 30th anniversary in 1974, and became enthralled with the place, the vets, and, yes, the hoopla. It seemed to represent for me, all that was good in that “greatest generation”, the selflessness which was manifest in the young troops who stormed an inhospitable beach on a not very nice morning, in hopes of establishing a beachhead, and eventually of ridding western Europe of the Nazi presence. I was born two years later. I grew up in a world essentially at peace, despite the ColdWar-ArmsRace-MissileGap-DomRep-Lebanon-Vietnam conflicts of the 50s and 60s. Europe was still the Europe we kind of knew about: to make a phone call, you had to buy a coffee at a café, ask the bitchy woman on the Caisse desk, would she be kind enough to turn the pay fone “on”, would she be kind enough to sell you a Jeton – a token which would arm and make the phone ready to use, and hope that when you dialed the number it might actually go through. Quaint enough, surely, but the coffee was always good, and dealing with the bitchy cash lady probably did, over time, great things to extend my ability to speak French. Now, of course, anyone who is anyone has a mobile fone, and the will to use it virtually anywhere. The idea of France, this giant country of wine, and veal scallops in cream sauce, and funny looking cars (yes, the Citroen DS from the 60s STILL looks like a Frog ready to pounce on a bug), under armed occupation is something that few of us can conjure up. One of the tracks I keep on my iTunes is Ike’s speech to the People of Western Europe at the time of the Normandy invasion. The speech had been taped a day or so ahead of time, each word vetted (the addition of “in conjunction with our great Russian Allies” being one of those political addendums). He had prepared a speech for failure as well, in case the onslaught had been so repulsed that it would have made military sense to get everyone the hell off those beaches and back to England to try and fight another day. History, written as it is by the victors, smiled on our side. But there is a soft, yet insistent tone in Ike’s speech which I find harkens to another era. The pleas to members of the underground to wait until they can be of maximum use, the apology for damage which is yet to come (the destruction of the town of St. Lo in July ’44 seems almost pre-ordained), all make for a combination of sincerity and, at the same time, a firm demand. Ike was 54 when D-Day took place. When you are older than the age of someone who did something astounding (organizing D-Day without a laptop, a desktop, or even a Palm or Blackberry?) it makes you think about what you do with your own time.

This morning, before meeting with the other judges of the photo bourse, I will play Ike’s message to Western Europe, and try to imagine what it must have been like to sit in a small living room, with a radio turned on loud enough to hear, but soft enough to go undetected to neighbors, in a building perhaps right next to my hotel this morning, on Avenue de la Motte Piquet, and wonder if I will be saved from Occupation by the man behind that far away voice. We’re just sayin… David

Friday, September 21, 2007

So, Move On, Already!

This blob may seem a bit jumpy but it’s the end of the year (Jewish calendar) and I have so much to do I can hardly think straight. It is Erev (the night before the day we fast) Yom Kippur, and we don’t have a Temple to go to hear the Kol Nidre so we are watching a service on line. It is quite wonderful and we are enjoying ‘even’ the sermon. When we were kids and the Rabbi started to give his sermon we would flee and fast. It wasn’t until I heard a sermon by Rabbi Jack when I was in my fifties that I actually appreciated a speech that wasn’t given by an Emerson graduate. I never liked anyone preaching about what kind of a Jew I should be. And I liked even less, a sermon on Yom Kippur, about what kind of a Jew someone else thought I should be.

The Wilshire Bld. Kol Nidre Service, as seen in Boonton, NJ

When we were growing up we had to go to Hebrew school (the highlight of which was when my cousin Stevie put a pencil under my backside as I was about to sit down. The lead went into my tuchas and my cousin Larry had to come and take me to the doctor because my mother and my aunts were missing in action) and Sunday school (which was OK because our friends were in church and we had no playmates) and Junior Congregation, (where we would learn prayer and songs and laugh behind the Rabbi’s back).

We were not religious Jews but we were steeped in tradition and superstition and always had a sense of ourselves as Jews. I was not Bat Mitzvah’ed because my grandfather (who had seven daughters, was never a sexist and, in fact helped to found the Beth Rivkah school for Girls), did not believe that girls should read from the torah. I think he would have changed his mind if he lived a little longer but we didn’t miss the ceremony and it didn’t make us feel like second class citizens. We still thought of ourselves as integral to the Boonton Jewish community. Of course, we also thought of ourselves as integral to the YMCA community, which was right across the street from the Jewish Center and they had dances on Friday night.

Anyway, I have been thinking about things that make sense and I alas, (don’t you love that word), I am confronted by incredible stupidity. How tired are you of the controversy about the General and Move I say move on for real. First of all it is not a controversy. It is merely a way for the President to move the conversation from a discussion about failed policies, to a discussion about Democrats and their lack of respect for the military. I don’t get it. Why would any member of Congress participate in that conversation? What does condemning an ‘ad’ have to do with the reality of this foolish, costly, horrific war? The only sensible elected official was Obama, who refused to vote and thereby refused to be drawn into yet another White House public relations fiasco. If all the Democrats had abstained as he did, the Republicans would have had no one to talk to, and whatever condemnation they constructed would have been seen as just what it was, political garbage.

And speaking of sensible, my editor, a most sensible and talented person, sent me the edit of our book “So You Think You Can Be President”, (in bookstores in January) and it is incredibly funny. He did a great job on our great job. I have to finish my edit this week and then we go into production. It is a non-partisan book, which by asking 200 humorous questions, points out the foibles (yet another wonderful word), of both parties and all the people involved in partisan politics and the government. If you think you, or maybe a friend want to have a new career, you should take our test. For a few bucks, we might even decide you have passed it and are qualified to become the most powerful person in the world (other than Brad Pitt – Brittney Spears is passé). A new career, why not?

We have decided to take mom to Seattle for the winter. It’s not like she’s going to Florida, (see blob “Please Don’t Go To Florida”, but it’s still pretty far.) We think it will be very good for her to be in a place where she won’t be alone. Jeff and Els are there and they’ll be close enough to see her all the time. David and I are taking her First Class because she loves to fly First Class, and we are looking forward to the adventure. It should be pretty colorful, the trip as well as the move. We will take lots of pictures and pretend it’s a vacation, and who knows, maybe it will be a happier time for her. We’re just sayin... Iris

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why We Blog

One of our readers had a terrific idea for the blob. He suggested I/we write about what we’ve learned from blogging. It’s a great question that I’m not sure I can answer. But first I’ll attempt to explain why we started. David used to yell at the TV whenever he thought a network had done a crappy job of covering a story—or he felt there had been a brilliant display of journalistic incompetence. Many people yell at the TV, but unlike most of them, David picked up the phone and called the station to explain why they were idiots. David is a gentle forgiving soul, so this anachronistic behavior always came as a surprise. But as someone who is constantly trying to teach a lesson, I appreciated his candor.

Bloggers (not Blobbers!) at a D.C. CPAC convention: If we ever join them, please steal our laptops!

This will be a choppy little blob but eventually it will build a picture. About a year and a half ago David went to a political event and met the blogger for the campaign. He asked the very young man if he collected quotes or did any research to substantiate that the information that went up on the blog was accurate. Something David felt every journalist should do. The blogger looked at him like he was nuts. “Why would I do that man, I’m a blogger, I just say what I want.” When David came home he said that he was astounded about the power of these political bloggers, who mostly know nothing and speculate about everything. “We could do that and actually be somewhat knowledgeable” he said. I agreed. I knew we could do that and more importantly we actually could have some fun doing it.

We hope her shirt doesn't tell the real story!

I guess I have mentioned that I have a book coming out in January. For me, continuous writing is not only a discipline but an important part of my day. It’s kind of like exercise. Once you start to do it, you have to keep doing it or you start to suffer from symptoms of withdrawal. My hands start to twitch, my eyes start to roll back in my head and my ability to talk on the telephone is hammered by the fact that all the words I want to use have been left in yesterdays blob. If I don’t write almost everyday I get lazy and find that the rhythm is gone and it’s hard to get it back. Further, I love to see what visuals David comes up with to enhance whatever I have written.

What we have learned is that it can be fun to express on paper what we would ordinarily do verbally – or only to each other. When we talk, or more accurately bitch about something, we say it and it is gone—lost. We now have a record of all the things that were important enough in our lives to write about. For example, we have a list of things that we think can be described as a “sit down and shut up” event. Like people who get on a plane and dilly-dally in the aisle figuring out where to put their belongings and their spouse, when you are waiting to take off. Or, when you are waiting in line in the market, people who ask the checker stupid questions about sales items from the week before. (You get the picture). We used to chat about these things in exasperation. But now we write about them and other people can relate to what we say. People don’t comment so much (save for our few, cherished regulars) on the blob, but those who know us do e-mail or call.

We have learned that, while we can make up stuff, we usually don’t because enough stuff exists that we can write about issues accurately (even though much of it is opinion) without having to enter the world of fantasy theater. We have also learned that there is an audience for what we are doing. It’s not a gigantic audience but we have about 100 people a day who follow what we write. We are flattered and grateful-even though we don’t necessarily comment.

About six months ago, I wrote some things that were an repulsive (I think misunderstood, but perception is reality) to some readers, mostly my family members. I wrote things that I thought were funny and readers thought were terrible. David started to edit my work because I had no judgment about what I thought was funny. So I learned that humor is not universal. But I also learned that if you are going to write about what you honestly feel, then you cannot be swayed by what anyone else says. If I think I’m funny then I shouldn’t have to worry about being not being ‘properly’ appreciated. I’m not yet in that place. It’s OK. The point of our blob was never to hurt feelings but rather to entertain, inform, and maybe even provoke conversation at sit-down brunches. And I think that’s what we do.

The last thing I learned was that it is easy to get attached to people we don’t know. In fact, my son is quite attached to people he doesn’t know but with whom he has ongoing and very funny conversation about the Red Sox and the Yankees. To be honest (blah blah blah), I never thought about the blob as a learning experience. But it I have learned about love, compassion, humor and short sightedness from people we know and don’t know. It’s really been a trip and I want to keep getting my tickets to travel. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Smart, Smart, Stupid

Some people are just plain dumb. Like today, I’m taking a walk with the love of my life (and please! no one in my immediate family should get jealous), Zachary Alexander Jacobson. To be accurate, I am walking and he is riding in his pram—after all he is only five months old. So there we are, on a glorious day, sightseeing and working the crowd, in Plymouth Ma. We walked by the disappointingly protected Rock and as we are approaching the Mayflower a woman approaches us.

Mimi with the Sleeping Zak

“How old is your baby?” she asks. I should say that we had just left a coffee shop where a pregnant young woman had mistaken me for Zak’s mother instead of his grandmother. Of course, I was flattered and corrected her and she was most complimentary. “Oh” she said, “whatever you do I’d like to be doing as well. Can I follow you around?” (OK so that woman wasn’t so stupid, just blind). Anyway, having received this praise I expected that maybe this other woman was about to say something nice. I was wrong. “He’s five months,” I said.

Zak sleeping fitfully, oblivious to the yenta

“Well you better watch out”, she started. And then she launched into a tirade about school shots, school yard bullies, infant diseases. I was clearly not interested in what she had to say. I tried to say goodbye but the woman wouldn’t hear of it. As I turned and walked away she actually followed me. I started to walk faster and she kept up with me. Finally, in desperation, I said please leave us alone, I am trying to get the baby to sleep. Zak was enjoying the ride, he could have cared less about the nut tracking us step to step. But that’s the point, she did not appear to be a nut, just someone who was overly concerned and without any common sense or judgment.

It’s like the week before I had my skin cancer surgery, any number of people shared horror stories with me about people they knew who had similar surgeries and were now deformed. One friend, at least waited until after my ordeal to tell me that she had a friend who had a dot sized mole which turned out to be so deep she practically had to have her face taken off. And it’s not that I’m so vain. I am simply cute. You know hard it is to be a cute 60 year old? Further, you know how much harder it is to be a cute 60 year old with a giant facial scar. As my cousin says, “so consider the alternative” – my cousins are mostly very smart. Anyway, it’s hard to repeatedly hear these things. There were also people who told me it was nothing—they were smarter and a little more sensitive to the possibility of my pending hysteria. But why is it that people feel they need to share or compete with any awful things they have either heard abou,t or experienced, in order to participate in someone else’s problems?

How many times have you started to tell someone a story about something terrible or something wonderful and the person to whom you are speaking says, “Oh that’s nothing”, and proceeded to tell you a whole other story—not even necessarily on the same subject – that in some way related to them. Maybe it’s just that people like to talk. before reality TV was a core part of our viewing fare, I thought it would be great to go to a swimming pool in a retirement community in Miami and simply film the answers to the question, “So, how do you feel?” In about three hours you would have enough material for an entire season. And it would be hilarious. You would not only hear about Sadie’s ailments, she would share the trials of Alma and Hilda. And whomever was with her in that squared sea of turquoise, would do the same, and more.

But back to people who blurt with seemingly no control. I know a woman (who is not my friend), who absolutely cannot hear anything without commenting. She is an expert on everything from building furniture to nuclear proliferation. There is never a time she is without something to say – and it’s mostly filled with doom. If you are pregnant she will remind you of all the things you have consumed that will inevitably kill you (or worse), the baby. If you say your kids are in public school she will make sure to talk about the incidents of a strain of hepatitis that is running rampant in public schools. And you can’t escape it no matter where you live. When Seth went to private school it was no different – he was bound to be a drug addict because people who sent their kids to private school were so rich they bought drugs for their children, who would immediately sell them to your child. If you mention your kids are having a sleepover, she will talk about all the kids that have been kidnapped and murdered at pajama parties. When Jordan started to drive, this woman was capable of quoting the statistics of every car accident with which any kid between the ages of16 and 19 had encountered in 35 states over the last 5 years.

And it’s not only about kids (although that is a priority, and, let’s face it, a rich vein to mine). The market where you shop is known to have bugs in the cereal. The furniture store where you made a purchase never delivers on time. And the hotel where you stayed for a few days, never changes their sheets or pillowcases. Are you starting to get the picture? I am sure you know these people as well. They are certainly in the “sit down and shut up” category, but if you told them to sit down and shut up, they would merely reply that you were stupid not to listen to good advice. The old “in one ear and out the other” doesn’t even begin to describe these people.

Have you noticed I am brimming with aphorisms today—it must be the weather. So here’s another. You just have to “turn a deaf ear”. Or maybe a simple “I know you are but what am I?”, will stop them in their tracks. Probably not and “I don’t want to hear it”, doesn’t work either. Here’s the reality; there are people who know no boundaries. They actually believe that you want to hear what they say. Maybe they are lonely or perhaps so self centered they can’t get beyond the fact that what they have to offer may not be important or accurate. I’m a simple cute person so any analysis is beyond my comprehension. I just think that no matter what their I.Q. , as my mother would say, they are “smart, smart, stupid!” We’re just sayin....Iris

Friday, September 14, 2007

Who Can Find the Time?

We never have enough time to do all the things we want to do or see all the people we want to see. On this the Jewish New Year, when people call to wish you a happy New Year, you start to understand how many people you don’t have the opportunity to stay connected with on a regular basis.

Maybe it’s me, but why would the President give a major address on the first evening of Rosh Hashanah. I think it’s disrespectful. Would he give a speech on Christmas Eve? But respect is not something I would ever expect from a person who has never shown any real character. My unofficially adopted son, Will, called yesterday to wish us a happy New Year. When he came to live with us three years ago, I took him to holiday services as a way to expose him to some religious cultural differences. He had never been to any Jewish services, let alone High Holiday services.

Will, I, JKB in Boston

Will is from England. His grandfather came to the states, married and stayed. His father grew up in the States and Will has an American passport, as well as a British passport. He’s at Georgetown as an exchange student—I don’t get it but I don’t have to. Anyway, there is nothing I would like more than to spend some time with Will. But who can find the time and I’m not geographically in a place where that’s a possibility.

Today I am going to see my grandson — the fabulous Zachary Alexander Jacobson. Seth and Joyce live just south of Boston in Plymouth (yes, that one, the Rock, not the car). They have chosen to make their lives in this area for many reasons. They grew up in there, her family is there, they have good jobs, there are good schools, their friends are around, and they see it as a place with lots of opportunities. I love New England but I hate the weather. I lived in Boston and the surrounding areas for about thirteen years and was in a bad mood for ten of the twelve months each year. Maybe it wasn’t only the weather but mostly it was. Anyway, much as I would like to see the kids everyday, it can’t happen because I don’t live nearby and it is not easy, with just every day demands – and a winter that lasts forever.

As a matter of fact, I have lots of close friends who live in Boston who I can’t see as much as I’d like. Our dear friend Tom Herman, who David and I think of as a brother, and who Jordan has adopted as her uncle. There is nothing she likes better than hanging out with Tom. True, he has a great apartment on Commonwealth Ave, but that the apartment is not the draw, it’s the warmth and comfort she finds in Tom’s company that has the real appeal. We love spending time with him but sadly, we don’t make the time to do more of it.

A Prized Iris Challah
Last night we had a lovely holiday dinner with Jordan and her roommates. We made a kind of beef bourguignon I prefer to call “beef you can eat with a spoon”. The meat was accompanied by a delicious wheat noodle kugel, green beans stir fried with mushroom and garlic, tomato caprese, an apple crisp, and of course, a cake challah. Becky, Jordan’s roommate who was brought up as a religious person, was feeling a bit low because she wasn’t with her family and it was hard to find a temple that didn’t charge for a seat—it’s a real problem for so many people who don’t belong to a congregation but would like to celebrate the holidays. We talked about services and how the prayers in the siddur (prayer book) are written by people not by God. And there was no reason we could not write our own service. The kids determined that they wanted the “service” to be a sharing of aspirations and goals. So that’s what we did and it was terrific – even better than the food. The girls are both thoughtful and articulate about their dreams – and they are not yet hardened to what they will have to do when reality strikes. But that doesn’t matter. Their drive and determination are breathtaking and poetic. In that light, after dinner, we did a musical play reading. Camille, wrote it based on the old song “The Muffin Man”. She wrote the book and the music and it is very good. I’ve paid more to see less on Broadway.

We had been invited to Beth Stone’s. (She’s our cousin by choice and Soozies cousin by birth). Beth is a creative, talented and beautiful public relations professional. But most importantly, she’s a generous and loving person. There has never been a time when Jordan needed anything, that Beth wasn’t there to help her. She was having about 20 people over for a 5 course bite. We had already committed to the roommates, but Beth is another one of those people who I would like to see on a more regular basis.

Much like on Christmas, friends from around the country have sent cards with good wishes. Some of them have been by snail mail and some on line. I’m not sure how I feel about cards on line. When people send me a note on line, there is a part of me that feels like they just didn’t want to be bothered going out, selecting, and then mailing a real card. It is easier to link onto some card site, scan a selection for 5 minutes, and press a button. Then I think, well would I rather not hear from them and additionally, they are as busy as I am, why would I think I am alone in not being able to find a minute to do the things I want to do -- so then I think any kind of communication is fine. So, going forward into the New Year, please slow that clock down just a little. We are lucky enough to have a lot of people to get around to. We’re just sayin’… Iris

A New, New Year

Every year about this time, if you were a Jewish kid in Salt Lake City who got out of 4th grade for a day or two for services, you would spend a good part of the day at Temple, usually somewhere near the back, where you could barely hear the Rabbi’s intonations in Hebrew. But because of a great guy, a goy, mind you, who had been hired for years as the cantor of the Temple, we actually learned to sing a number of the prayers and, something they don’t seem to do in the eastern provinces, what the translations of those prayers meant. Kenly Whitelock always seemed to me to have been an ‘older’ person. (He was actually just about my mother’s age, born in 1915, and in 1958 would only have been in his early 40s.) Maybe it was the balding scraps of grey hair which in the 50s meant ‘old’, but he was a high spirited soul, whose eyes would glint through his granny (grampy?) style glasses. He sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a local Methodist choir, and had the knack of being able to look at a piece of music, or hear it once, and play it straight away. Not only that, he’d early in the 1950s written the Olympus Junior High School song.

I always get hammered by my family when I describe how our services were in those days, as if I am proving that once again, being from Salt Lake, I’m not a real Jew. But you are what you think you are, or you are what you say you are. But like most of the things we grow up with, we think of them as the norm, and no matter what else transpires in the intervening years, those are the things which seem the most ‘real’ and with which we are most comfy.

I can still remember with great detail those Saturday mornings, the whole of the Sabbath school populace in the sanctuary, with Kenly leading our singing ( you could call it ‘chanting’.. but that would be wrong..), and repeating the verses we were to learn. Like our sense of smell, there is something quite astonishing about memories of sound. To hear a phrase embedded deep in memory, no matter how long ago it might have been, will rekindle a moment from an earlier life. Each time I hear the beginning of the prayer which praises God – the Mi Kamocha.. it fills me with a kind of warm remembrance, a feeling once again that even sitting on that not so comfortable pew with my folks, or trying to pretend to pay attention on a Sabbath school morning service, it would produce the most profound sense of assurance and fulfillment. Maybe those are the kind of moments that truly make you feel what you are.

If there were a test to see who gets to be a Jew (maybe that should be Iris’ next book – So You Think You Can Be Jewish?) I m pretty sure that I would fail miserably on most of the detail questions of liturgy and orthodox tradition. Hey, I’m the guy who went to a deli with Uncle Mac twenty years ago, glanced at the menu without really reading it, and ordered (clearly without much reflection) a ham and swiss sandwich, and a glass of milk. These things happen!

Yet, I know that in my own heart, I make a good effort to try and follow those most simple words from Micah, the ones Iris cited the a few blobs ago: What does God demand of us: To do Justice, love Kindness and Mercy, and walk humbly before your God. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. I know that for centuries scholars have gathered for days on end to determine the correct way of interpreting this or that scripture, in hopes of some new discovery of what God meant when he burned a bush, accepted an offering, or caused a river to change direction. I suppose I will leave those details to the learnéd. We have so overtaken the simplicity of our lives with things both good and bad, but so many of them, that little time remains for simple reflection. For me, the services this morning were a chance to glance through not only the Holiday prayer book, but the Old&New Testament bible (the Fabrangen services take place at the N Y Avenue Presbyterian church, the simple elegant notion of which never fails to impress me) and read a number of verses in the Bible which are extracted in the service. My ability to read Hebrew is pretty bad (I’m sure I’d end up running a lot of road signs by accident were I to drive in Israel), so during those long recitations, it gives me time to wander back into the other scriptures and read things which I have probably not, except for a possible skip through at a Marriott hotel years ago, ever read.

The sad thing for me today was not to be with Jordan and Iris, as they are in Boston. Iris baked two superiour Challahs last night. When I called, I could almost hear the ooohs and awwws of Jordan’s roommates. And rightly so. She has pretty much mastered the giant knotted bread thing. (Gary S., take note, your seminar will begin shortly!) After today’s service I walked several blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue looking for a bakery that might have some (storebought) Challah. None today. For some reason it will be all over town tomorrow. Go figure.

I did find (at the Bread Line.. a great little inhouse bakery/salad place near 18th st.) a wonderful floppy piadina bread, grilled, with humous and some salad on it. The big floppy, folded over loaves reminded me of the middle eastern breads that I used to enjoy in Egypt and Jordan with eggs for breakfast. The grilling adds that sublime smoky taste. The other stuff sort of stays stuck in there while you take a first New Year’s bites. For a moment I’d left the Euro tradition and was back in the ancient desert. Eyes closed, I chewed silently, amid the din of the cafe. Feeling the touch of a New Year beginning with the promise of hope and the threat of worry. And somewhere over the cacophony of the office crowd, hustling through the cafe, their minds no doubt fixed on a later meeting, call or strategy session, I could hear the tenor voice of Kenly Whitelock, the firm masterful tones, this time in English reminding me that

Who is like Thee
O Lord. among the gods
Who is like Thee
Lord there is none else
You are awesome in praise
Doing wonders O Lord
Who is like Thee, O Lord

We’re just sayin’.... David

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The End is Never Easy

When I was a freshman in high school we had to take Home Economics. That meant for one semester we took sewing and the next we took cooking. We were delegated to kitchen and ‘home making’ arts. I was not happy about this but I really had no choice. I was lucky to have been allowed to take a college curriculum, when the advisor in eighth grade said I would never succeed, so I should just try to be a good secretary.

Aggie with Joyce and the kids (Susan & Scott, Jaime, Joyce & Ronnie) - Xmas 2003

Anyway, there I was struggling to make a skirt—that was our first assignment, when like a gift from God this person appeared and said, “you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, why don’t I help.” Since I hated what we were doing I decided to allow her to help me. If we had waited another minute and I knew who she was, I would have begged her to do the same. Thus began my life long relationship with Joyce Silbernagel. She not only made my skirt but understood I was so inept that she simply completed everything we were required to submit. The skirt she made and I took credit for was fabulous. The fabric was quite classy and not high school quality. I kept that skirt for 20 years and then sorrowfully lost it in some move.

The girls (Iris, Joyce, Pam) and their moms

Joyce was a straight A student, on the student government and she was a cheerleader. You couldn’t have found a more perfect child. But her parents seemed never to be satisfied with all her accomplishments. She was not allowed to do things we all did—like go out for fun. When we all went out after a game or an afternoon of pretend study, she was forbidden to go. So, to her credit, she simply lied about where she was and played with her friends. Her parents were nice people but they just didn’t get it. At some point, she moved in with my parents because dealing with hers was hopeless.

Flash forward twenty or more years. We are all married with children. Our mothers, who never spoke when we were children, are all invited to celebrate Christmas at Joyce’s. Aggie, Joyce’s mom, is a bowler and a wonderful athlete. She has had the courage to have some plastic surgery, so at 80 looks 70. Claire (Pam’s mom) is feisty and fun and never at a loss for words. My Mom is surprised that she enjoys being with all of them, but doesn’t hesitate about how much she looks forward to it. They bond like they had always been friends and we are grateful because we daughters have been friends forever. We spend 10 wonderful years celebrating the holidays. We have established traditions such as Jordan being required to sing a medley of songs she has rehearsed for some performance. It is amazing that all these relationships have come together and it is surprisingly comfortable.

Rose, Aggie & Claire

Aggie died yesterday. She was in nursing and hospice care and she died peacefully and without much fanfare. There were no hysterics because after months and months of her waiting to die, she did. But does that make it any less sad. I don’t think so. I had known her for 43 years. Sure she was my friend’s mom but I spent many hours at her home and more hours trying to convince her that she should let Joyce have a date—it didn’t work. But I loved her and respected how strong and determined she was about right and wrong.

Joyce took such good care of her. There are pictures of Aggie 20 years ago when she looked 20 years older than she did 10 years later. She was a beautiful woman with a smile that lit up the room. On Christmas, she always wore a red sweater that made her glow far beyond expectations. The mothers, who, as I said were not friendly when we were kids, found new and interesting life issues to discuss. It was so much fun for us to watch them connect. And it was unexpected. And we daughters found a new closeness in their new found connection.

Joyce has six brothers and sisters who were moderately involved in mother care. Mostly Joyce and Ronnie did what was needed to be done, with the help of their children. They were exhausted by all they did, but never complained that it was too much. They just did what they needed to do. They went everyday to make sure she was eating and last week when she stopped eating they watched helplessly as she faded away. They talked about how, when they passed a Carvel or someplace where they went with her, it was strange. There was no longer a need to stop at any of these places or the nursing home. It felt strange and lonely. As much as they talked about having to do it—now they missed it. I guess, they understand how deep and important is the loss. I will miss those times with all the mothers. Last year Mom was too sick to attend, Aggie couldn’t walk and Claire was with her family. It may have been a sign of things to come. I don’t know what you do to end a tradition, but whatever it is—it doesn’t come easy. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Pause For Some Politics, Please

A pause for some politics: Hillary is having a National Women’s Summit Conference at which, for $2300 you can have a picture taken with the Senator. If you don’t care about the photo op, the price is reduced to $1000. Obviously, just working class women can’t go. They will not be able to hear Mandy Grunwald or Mark Penn talk about the message. They will not learn about how to run a campaign from Patty Solice. They are not going to spend their money on this kind of event because they need to feed, educate and clothe their children, pay health care costs for their families and if they are anywhere from 50-65, they are probably caring for an elderly loved one. If you think I don’t like Hillary you would be wrong. I am not going to the summit because I’m traveling and I have heard it all before at a finance meeting. I like Hillary a lot. I think she would probably make a good President. And I will work for her if she gets the nomination. That being said, I would like to see a little more attention paid to women who can’t afford to go to a Summit fundraiser. As far as I know, at least in the metropolitan DC area, there has only been one small ticket event. An event that would attract young women and working women and homemakers and women who have not yet been given the opportunity to succeed. And I know these women must be in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and just about everywhere in the country. Obama knows it as well and everywhere he goes he does a big ticket and a small ticket event.

Oprah has endorsed Obama. This has consequences beyond a celebrity endorsement. First of all, Oprah is the friend of all the women I just mentioned. Oprah is the connection between Obama and women who can vote. Notice I said can vote. They might not vote without a reason. But then, so many of them weren’t reading before Oprah started her book club. These women are the same women Hillary was counting on to put “a woman” in the White House. Wasn’t it William Bendix in "Life of Riley" who said “What a revolting development this is”. That’s how the Hillary people must feel. Additionally, the Hillary staff is probably whining about how they wanted to meet Oprah.

Celebrity endorsements can be more trouble than they’re worth because they are never without complications. For example, they may give you their time for free but their hairdresser and travel runs into the thousands. Or, as the candidates surrogate, they may say something stupid or even offensive. The demands are often high and the expectations even higher. In some of the Presidential campaigns on which I worked I was the celebrity or surrogate scheduler and could I tell you stories! But I won’t because I don’t “tell tales out of school.” Well just one. When I was working in the Hart campaign I had telephone numbers for many movie stars. It was not until long after the campaign ended that I found out Seth had decided that he needed to talk to Jack Nicholson. Actually, Seth decided that Jack wanted to talk to him. I’m not sure if they ever connected but it was colorful. Suffice to say, having a celebrity endorsement is sometimes problematic. But they are often important for many reasons. Bruce Springstein walked hundred of students right from a concert to a place where they could register to vote. Lot’s of young people registered to vote because they were inspired by a celebrity endorsement. Unfortunately, they registered but they didn’t vote in 2004 but that’s a whole other blob.

Back to O and O. I heard Oprah talk about her decision to endorse Obama on the Larry King show. And I have to say that she wasn’t able to articulate any real reasons for the decision but that didn’t matter. She doesn’t have to understand policy in order to feel strongly about a candidate. And she clearly feels like she wants to devote her resources to putting him in office. It might work if she understands the power of her target audience. And my bet is that she does. So what is she actually going to do? Let’s make a list – here are 5 things. I’m sure you can add to it. Tonight she is throwing a $2300 celebrity fundraiser. It’s not a Summit, it’s just a place to be seen. My guess is that (1.) she will ask her friends to help in some way, either financial or as surrogates. (2.) She has said she will not have candidates other than Obama on her show. Around 4 million people (mostly women) watch the show. (3.) She will donate money and time – for commercials etc. (4.) There will probably be features in the magazine. (5.) She will not give advice—other than about things with which she has some expertise, like marketing and messaging.

So you ask, Is there a downside to an Oprah endorsement? In all honesty (there I go again with the honesty thing), I don’t know. Celebrities attract attention but in the end, don’t usually make a difference. Obviously, there are people who don’t like Oprah or don’t like Black people, or don’t like women. But those are not people who would vote for Obama with or without an endorsement. I guess if Oprah began acting like the campaign manager or appeared to interfere with campaign workings that could be a downside. But that usually doesn’t happen unless the celebrity and the candidate grew up together or the spouse is an old friend—those people always interfere with the campaign. And maybe if the press go after Oprah and she blurts some kind of obscenity that might be a negative. But this is a woman who took on the Beef industry and defeated them. So it’s unlikely that she will make many mistakes.

Here’s the so called bottom line. Women are going to decide the election. They may decide they like Rudy and his three marriages, Kucinich and his straight talk or Huckabee and his sense of humor. They are going to vote for the candidate to whom they can relate and who they think will really make a difference in their lives. And women are smart and intuitive about who is telling the truth and who is full of crap. But there has to be a reason for them to take time out of a busy day and go to the polls. If Hillary can do this with Bill’s help (he’s a damn good surrogate) then she will win. If Oprah can give them a reason, in addition to what Obama can do, he will be in good shape. And if John Edwards can get his wife to campaign often and actively, then the other candidates better watch out. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, September 07, 2007

Make It a New Year

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God.

This is a biblical quote from the book of Micah. My mother in law, Barbara Burnett has always lived by this. And I think, when it comes to the way we live our lives, it’s a pretty good guide. I figured enough blob whining, let’s get spiritual for a change.

The Jewish holidays are upon us. This is the time that, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God decides whether or not to write us into the book of life. Recently, I have had serious thoughts about whether or not I will always want to be written into that book, but that’s another blob. And by the way it’s David’s birthday. Happy birthday sweet sixteen—oops I got that number backwards.

Anyway, when Jordan was little we belonged to conservative temple in Shirlington, about 20 minutes from home. We never got involved in the activities, but we liked the Rabbi, Jack -- despite the fact that he was adamantly opposed to interfaith marriage – even if one party converted. Mostly, we loved his Yom Kippur sermon, which always brought every member of the congregation to tears. One year he told a story about forgiveness and not putting things off. Although much more eloquently, it went something like this. When he was a kid he had a best friend, Paul. They were inseparable through high school and into their college years. But after they graduated from school they were not in touch because of some foolish misunderstanding – Jack couldn’t even remember what it was. Every year, around Yom Kippur, Jack thought about finding a way to reconnect with Paul. They had a special bond and Jack really missed all that they had meant to one another. And every year he thought, well maybe I’ll call him later. Then one day, after Jack finished his Rabbinical study, he got a call from his mom who mentioned she ran into a neighbor who told her that Paul had been ill for many years and had recently passed away. Jack was inconsolable for weeks. “If only I had called, maybe I could have comforted him in some way,” he thought. But he waited too long and it was too late.

Tina and I, who were also inseparable, had also had a falling out. When I heard that sermon we hadn’t talked in quite a few years. I don’t remember why. But I figured the sermon was a sign and I should try to reconnect – which I did with a note pretending there was no distance between us. We decided to meet that following February in New Orleans and spend a few days getting reacquainted. Jordan came with us because I thought it was important for Tina and her husband Mark, to get to know her. Well, we had a fabulous time. It was like there had never been any estrangement. Jordan loved them so much she decided she wanted to spend all her birthdays in Milwaukee. They were so wonderful that she wanted to celebrate with them—because there would be no place (except maybe Disney World) that could possibly be more fun. They had a very special relationship. Mark even started to teach Jordan how to drive an old stick shift Toyota. Of course, Tina and I had to watch this adventure so we snuck over to the empty parking lot where the lessons were to take place, and watched Jordan and Mark moving long with many short stops and bouncy halts. We were hysterical. To this day I thank Rabbi Jack for that sermon because Mark died only a few years later and Jordan would never have known this kind and generous person who she depended on for advice, so many good times and much love.

We left that congregation because the only thing we liked was Rabbi Jack, and joined a Reformed temple. We thought we would fit in because the services were in English. Jordan studied in their Hebrew school and because we liked the Cantor, had her Bat Mitzvah there. She was among the first students to actually sing her Torah reading. It confirmed for us that she had a great voice as well as a personality. We were wrong about finding comfort in this Temple. We never liked the Rabbi and made only two friends. So when Jordan’s Torah studies were complete we moved on to Fabrangen. This is a Congregation without a Rabbi. It is no frills. You make a contribution but there isn’t a fee for joining or attending services. High Holiday services are held in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. It’s an amazingly spiritual group, and the services, which are conducted primarily in Hebrew (but lots of the prayers are sung without words just syllables. So you can just join in and feel like you are actively participating,) are never the same because the Congregation determines what’s going to happen. For example, the Torah is often passed from one congregant to the other, rather than having the President of the Sisterhood and all the people who give the most money, parade around the temple with it. In addition, the Yom Kippur service is always moving and meaningful. During the memorial service for those who have died, someone inevitably touches your heart with a story. My favorite part comes at the end when the 23rd psalm sung in English and Hebrew. I want that sung at my funeral in 120 years.

We are not going to Fabrangen this year. David is traveling. Mom doesn’t feel strong enough to go and I will probably just hang around with her. I have learned that I don’t need to be in a place of worship to pray for all the people who could use a little help in the prayer department. Or to be written into the Book of Life. I merely need “to do justice, to love kindness. And to walk humbly with my God. We’re just sayin...Iris

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The YANKEEs Win!! And So Do I

When you spend much of a summer in New York, there are a couple of things you have to do. Visit Sammy’s Roumanian Restaurant on the Lower East Side, and watch the strips of skirt steak fall over the ends of your plate while you listen to Yiddish music. Take a stroll through Bryant Park at just about any time of day or night, and enjoy the “oasis” quality of the place. Hundreds of people hanging out – it’s very European, really – many with laptops at work (the whole park is a free wi-fi zone, something which should be more prevalent in other parts of the city, as well as other cities across the country) or just lazing over a Latte from the cafe joint on the corner. Nothing is rushed in Bryant park. Families, loners, lovers, they are all there, and everyone is on Chill Mode. It’s a very pleasant break in what can be a difficult city to maneuver in.

Among my short list, too, would be attending a baseball game. I still haven’t had the chance to see the Brooklyn Cyclones play on Coney Island. Essentially, I’m much more of a fan of minor league ball. I enjoy the small qualities, the lack of overdone marketing and hype, and i still believe there is something fresh in players not yet making millions pursuing a dream to play ball. Most in the minors will never make it in the Bigs.... so the essential joy is to be found in the game itself, not in the swirl of big money which surrounds it on the highest level. That said, there is something profound about attending a game at Yankee Stadium. Yesterday, thanks to Chris Murray, the colorful and energetic proprietor of the Govinda Gallery in Washington DC, I had a chance to see the Yanks host the Mariners. Chris’ brother has, through one of those great stories of inheritance, come to ‘own’ four terrific seats on the fourth row behind the Yankee dugout. (It’s a great provenance, a tycoon, his nephew, his niece, a marriage.... as Cindy Adams would say.. Only in New York, Kids, Only in New York.) I was supposed to meet Chris this week and talk about our Bob Marley book project (circle next fall on your calendars), and during our chat to find a time, he realized that he had not yet found a fourth for last nights game. He nominated me, and I, without seeking my party’s approval or run in a Primary election, accepted. We drove north about 6 o’clock (no traffic!) and were inside the stadium by 6:15. The glow of skylight over the outfield was that rich blue that Maxfield Parrish used in his GE Mazda lighting ads of the 30s. It was THE kind of look, the moment when you say, “I’m very glad I came tonight!” Entering Yankee Stadium is rather like many of the great halls of this country. I still feel a slight chill of excitment when I enter the White House grounds, or the Capitol building. To know that John Quincy Adams, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson strode in the same place, touched the same bannisters on the stair wells, gives one a personal sense of history, and our own place in it. (Do I think the President in 2020 will walk along the press room saying “Wow, Dave Burnett leaned his monopod up against the railing!” – uh, No, I don’t) But as someone who still cannot resist a tear when I listen to the Bobby Thomson home run recounted by Russ Hodges in 1951, I do feel it a special place when I get inside Yankee Stadium, knowing that it was the House that Ruth built.

Eat Your Hearts Out: 4th row, Dugout

Last night was a perfect night for baseball. My $9 beer lasted me 8 innings. Sip? Did someone say sip? The crowd was lively and excited when it needed to be. After a Seattle run in the 2nd, the Yankees responded with two runs, and led most of the game. In the 7th inning, it was one of those amazing innings you can’t really believe you’re watching.

Joe Torre, the alchemist

The Yankees batted around the order, scoring 8 more runs, including two home runs (in the same inning!) by Alex Rodriguez. I remember wondering about his multimillion dollar contract when he came to the Yankees a few years ago.

After the National Anthem, the hats go back on: brims in front

But everytime I have seen him play in person (which, admittedly doesnt include his 0 for 21 playoff performance last year) he is the consummate ball player. Hits, runs, fields, hits with power, and seems every bit a team leader. I hate those big salaries, but at least the guy is delivering without bitching about it.

The Fans: If you build it, they will come

I was at a Yankee/Mets game in July this year, shooting for New York Magazine, a day game where I arrived at 8 am, and left at 7 that night.

A-Rod, on deck

For the first few hours, I was just about the only person there, trying to get a few pictures which would have a sense of the soul of the Stadium (next year it will be torn down, and a new Yankee Stadium, nearing completion just next door, will be the new venue for the team) as it ends its long run.

Badda Bing (he swings, it's up and outta here..)

Badda Boom (two in one inning!)

At last night’s evening game, the most astonishing thing to me was the number of cameras present. It seems every other person is shooting pictures with either a point/shoot camera, or a cell fone cam. It’s amazing. No wonder my business is changing. Sooner or later, these people will get that picture which those of us who see it as our life’s work will either miss or just have a bad angle on. Ubiquitous is the word for it. Everywhere. They’re everywhere. Such is the new world we live in, where the camera is now a tool of the masses, and carried by the masses in all places, at all times. Even if it isn’t a Leica or Nikon, a Nokia or LG is the next best (or worst) thing.

A tip on the cap from Jeter to A-Rod

Watching the fans is always a full time job in itself. The style of dress (Wall Streeters with their fancy suits, college kids in blousy shorts with tatooes abounding, kids in Jeter shirts) is as varied as the seats they fill. But as we pulled a Ted Burnett (webster dictionary definition: “To leave a baseball game in Salt Lake City in the 50’s at the beginning of the 8th inning, no matter how close the game, no matter who is playing, in order to beat some of the departure traffic out of the garage.”) and slinked back into the city, a little piece of me stayed there in section 33, row 4, seat 6. And in looking at the simpatico quality of that night, I’d have to agree with Yankees announcer John Sterling, who would end up saying “...the Yankees win... the New York YANKKKEEEESSSSS WIN...” We’re just sayin.... David

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Another Chapter..

And the curtain descends on an act fraught with suspense and angst. Today we moved my mother out of Victoria Mews – her beloved assisted living retreat. We haven’t told her that we did it because there really is no need for her to know. When she’s healthy and walking we will put her on a plane (we decided an RV simply wouldn’t be as colorful as we imagined) and we will take her to Seattle to be near Jeff and Els. The thing is that she needs to be someplace where someone will see her everyday and that is no longer in New Jersey. Even her friends, who were fairly steady in their appearances are now too sick to make the mile and a half trip. Helen’s cancer has spread throughout her body and Rose’s balance is way off. She says she pulls to the right whether she’s walking or driving so it’s much too dangerous for her to do either.

It’s amazing how quickly things deteriorated. It was just five months ago that Jeff and I shopped for new furniture and Els and I moved her into Victoria Mews. We had begged her to consider it a year ago but she was determined to stay in her own house. We still can’t figure out why, except that being there was a 55 year old habit. I wish she could have been more like David’s mother who has always known when it was time to change location for the better. Like when my father in law could not longer drive they sold their house and moved to the 6th fairway of the golf course. And when my father in law died she sold that house to a guy who happened to be walking down the street and liked the idea of living on a fairway. She sold it to him and moved into an apartment in down town Salt Lake. Then she decided that she was over Utah and she moved into an independent living apartment in northern California. She never looked back. No regrets as Edith Piaf would sing. But, as my mother would say, “What is, is”. (She also says, “what was, was - and dead’s dead” but I do not choose to pursue that line of thinking.) Our reality is that my mom never really wanted to look forward. As we left the rehab center yesterday David pretty much said it.... “There seems to be no joy in her life anymore.” Not that her family doesn’t make her happy, but she can’t remember why. We hope that will change as she heals.

And speaking of curtains and acts, we took Jordan back to school on Saturday. (Maybe I should talk about chapters and closing but I think stage jargon is far more interesting.) It’s impossible to believe it, but she is a Senior in college. We drove up and back within 24 hours but we had a chance to have some interesting conversation about her dreams and goals. At one point she was recounting a conversation with a friend and she confessed that she was as “cut throat as they come” in her business. This came as a total surprise to both her parents because Jordan is the sweetest child anyone has ever raised. (She has David’s disposition). Let me say, we were delighted to know that she “would push an actor down a flight of steps” to get a part. Now that may seem a bit gruesome, but in the theater business, in order to succeed, you have to be willing to be aggressive about what you want. We have always watched as she seemed to allow other people to get ahead of her “in line.” When we told her how happy we were to hear that she understood the nature of her business, she told us that we had underestimated her, and she was just smart about the way she operated. We all did high fives and took a deep breath. Can you imagine celebrating the fact that your kid is not always a nice person... Oh well, there goes that “try to be nice” training – thank God.

Anyway, the weather was beautiful, it’s getting to be fall in New England and there is no place prettier. The only downside to the trip was that we didn’t have the time or energy to make it to Plymouth to see Seth and Joyce and Zak. We had to be up and back in enough time to move mom’s stuff and I couldn’t lift anything (Zak is in that “over one pound can’t lift because of the surgery” category) so David and Chris had to do it without my assistance. Three people make it both faster and easier.

I' and Nana's stuff in the truck
This whole experience has made us realize how tenuous life is. One day you’re up walking around, being a pain in the neck and the next day you can’t remember if you went for a walk. Given all that we and so many friends are living through, it’s hard to decide if you want to live for the moment because you don’t know what the next moment will bring, or you want to invest in long term care, because you know what it means to be without it.

Leaving Rose's room at Victoria Mews for the last time

I guess we just need to look at life like it is a play. There are three acts with many different scenes. The first is how you became the person you are. The second is how you chose to live as that person. And the third is how you prepare or chose to say goodbye. How will you measure the impact you had on the world during the first two acts And what will happen when the final act is complete. I guess we’re all hoping for at least one curtain call. We’re just sayin...Iris